Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tony Wilson & Joy Division

I just watched a movie on Comcast On Demand called 24 Hour Party People. It was about Tony Wilson, somebody I had never heard of, who started Factory Records, was involved with promoting Joy Division, and had a famous club in Manchester called Hacienda, which I had never heard of.

Joy Division

What was really striking to me in the movie was the scenes in the beginning showing clips of bands performing music in the late 1970s that was not in any way the music I associate with the 1970s. And yet, it was in the 1970s that these bands began. In 1977, Joy Division was playing a kind of music that I associate with the 1980s. I mean, in 1977, the music in my world was all that big, artsy amphitheater rock like Boston, Kansas, Styx, and Queen, plus harder rock outfits like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. But while that was all the new music I knew at that time (in terms of rock, anyway), on the other side of the big pond in a town called Manchester, a whole new music scene was emerging that I would not become aware of until 1982.

I think there are two particularly memorable periods in pop music, two 5-year periods when the pop music scene was bubbling with astounding creativity. The first was 1964-1968. The second, which occurred when I was in college, was 1979-1983. I wrote a blog article about that period, called “1979-1983: From The Death Of Disco To The Rise Of Alternative.” It was amazing all the new sounds that came out during that time.

I knew Joy Division existed in the late 1970s, but I was not familiar with any of the band’s music, so it never stuck with me. Tonight in the movie was a clip from Siouxsie and The Banshees, a group I didn’t discover until 1988. In the 1990s, I bought a CD of theirs, a greatest hits from the late 70s to early 80s, and that’s where I learned they had been around that long. I have a record by The Human League from 1980, but it wasn’t their first album, so they were making music in the 1970s too. There were other bands mentioned in this bit of the movie that I knew, but had never thought of as existing in the 1970s. It really struck me how this new kind of music that I didn’t discover until 1982 was already in existence when I was completely oblivious, in my world of what is now called classic rock.

After the lead singer of Joy Division committed suicide in 1980, the band re-formed under the name New Order, still recording for Factory Records, which Tony Wilson founded. I got my first New Order album, Low-Life, in 1985, when I was living in the coal mining hills deep in eastern Kentucky. In 1988, I got their double-CD compilation of 12” singles called Substance. I also have six 12” singles by New Order. It was interesting to see in the movie tonight some history behind this music I’ve enjoyed for years.

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