How ‘Still’ Collected the Remnants of Joy Division
Joy Division didn’t end with the suicide of Ian Curtis. Within a few months of the singer’s death on May 18, 1980, the post-punk band put out a studio album (Closer) and two singles (“Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere”) that the group had completed before Curtis’s demise. But there was more, and it was released on Oct. 8, 1981 as Still.
Despite only existing for a few years, Joy Division had accumulated a wealth of dark, mysterious and jagged recordings, both in the studio and on stage. Curtis had talked about the band’s extra recordings a few months before his death.
“When we were doing the [Unknown Pleasures] album, we had quite a few tracks left over. We recorded 16 in all and just put 10,” Curtis told Radio Blackburn. “It’s often hard with Factory [Records] because obviously they’re limited financially, you know, they can’t just put out a record you know when they’ve got other things planned. Um, if we’ve no room on the LP we tend to look for other outlets for them really and see what we can do.”
Some of those leftovers had been issued on samplers, singles and EPs shared with other artists, but others had never seen the light of day, at least not officially. With Curtis’s death, every vestige of Joy Division had become sacred to fans and a wave of bootlegs had appeared, collecting the Manchester band’s outtakes and performances.
In response, the two-LP Still included material that had been recorded at sessions for Unknown Pleasures between 1978 and 1980 and a few singles. It also included live performances by Joy Division – notably a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” (to close the first disc) and selections from the band’s final concert on May 2, 1980 (to make up the second disc).
In hindsight, these rough recordings also helped make the transition between Joy Division and New Order, the band that was formed by remaining members Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris. Before Curtis had killed himself, theys had agreed to form a new group if any one of the four musicians left Joy Division.“We didn’t really think about it afterwards, it just sort of happened,” Hook told NME years later. “One day we were Joy Division and the next time we got together, we were a new band.”
The new band helped get their start with two old songs. “Celebration” and “In a Lonely Place” were written with Curtis, but never properly recorded by Joy Division.
“We had to decipher the lyrics from a practice cassette,” Hook said, in order for Sumner to know what to sing. New Order cut the tracks and issued them as either side of its debut single in March 1981.
By the time Still came out, fans could hear the song in its original Joy Division incarnation… sort of. The kick-off track to the live half of the set is missing Curtis’ vocals for part of its duration. Some reissues have replaced the incomplete live version with a warm-up version that turned up later. That’s not the only discrepancy between editions of Still. “Twenty Four Hours” was cut from side three on CD versions of the album due to time constraints. Additionally, a 2007 deluxe edition provided an additional disc of live recordings taken from a February 1980 show.
Regardless of the edition, Still remains the band’s highest charting record in the U.K. (No. 5), besting two studio albums and the highly regarded Substance compilation. The album has been called “an uneven odds-and-ends collection,” but one that collects some important moments in the Joy Division’s history.
“The thing with Joy Division’s music is that each member was playing like a separate line. We hardly ever played together; we all played separately,” Hook said in Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s. “But when you put it together, it was like the ingredients in a cake. When you eat the ingredients separately, they don’t taste very nice, but when you mix them together, they taste wonderful – if you do it right, of course. And in Joy Division, you got that right very easily. Once we got to New Order, we had three of the ingredients, but there was always an ingredient missing.”
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