In The Style of Mondrian

New Order Singles Ranked, 1-10

Originally Published on Facebook Notes (May 7, 2017)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really 100% satisfied with my rankings here and things get particularly dicey here in the top 10. I struggled with figuring out whether I still like some of these songs as much as I used to or whether I’m experiencing a sort of phantom of a part love. I mean, nostalgia, right? The 1982-87 tracks in particular conjure up some pretty vivid emotions and memories (nothing especially interesting to anyone but me) for me that are probably inseparable from the songs at this point.

I am satisfied with #1. So there’s that.

Here we go:

10. Run 2

From the 1989 album Technique, Third Single

Garbage Lyric Highlight:

“Run 2” is the version of “Run” that was released as a single – it eliminates the instrumental outro, adds a chorus, and seems to tone done the echo/reverb from the original. What’s left is a lovely little rock ballad about missing the one you love. There’s a sample of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” embedded here so Mr. Denver receives song writing credit. In this remix, Hook’s bass and Sumner’s guitar are really pushed to the fore, which is great because their work is both expert and contributing to the whole. One of the things I like about New Order is that it almost never feels like any of the different players are showboating – every note and beat always sounds focused on supporting the song.

9. Temptation

Stand-Alone Single from 1982, Their Fourth Overall

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
I’ll give this one a pass

“Temptation” finds New Order halfway between being Joy Division and becoming their ultimate dance/rock self. It has a slight flavor of XTC (the band) but almost everyone in the UK did at one point or another. Sumner is coming into his own a vocalist, the keyboard work is starting to be more prominent (though its not the dominant sound yet) and Hook and Sumner continue to trade leads on guitar and bass. Plus there’s those great “oooo” vocals and that “Oh you’ve got green eyes” sing along section. With their very next single, New Order transformed themselves (and made a significant impact on dance and rock), but one wonders what songs might have developed if they’d lingered in this tantalizing aural space for a little longer.

8. Bizarre Love Triangle

From the 1986 album Brotherhood, First Single

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
This is a rather good lyric

My wife has, from time to time, asked me to sing this song to her. I’m not sure its exactly a love song (indeed, it seems to be about having to choose between two lovers, hence the title) but its catchy as all get out and I have at least the vocal range (if not the smoothness and ability to stay on pitch) of Bernard Sumner. “Bizarre Love Triangle” was not actually a top 40 hit in either the UK or the USA but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that because it was all over MTV and because we college DJs played it to death. I suspect every college student in the late 80’s heard this song at least a thousand times before they graduated. I have this theory that there are songs that set up the big hit for groups. For example, The Romantic’s “What I Like About You” was not a big hit, but it was well loved and got a ton of airplay so when they released the inferior “Talking in Your Sleep,” that song became their top 40 hit. “Bizarre Love Triangle” was not a big chart hit but its status as a much-beloved song set up the success of “True Faith” (and their subsequent hits) in the USA.

7. Blue Monday

Stand-Alone Single from 1983, Their Fifth Overall

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
I don’t quite know what they’re on about, but the lyrics here pass muster

Wikipedia host an excellent description of both the creation and importance of this song. I knew the song existed when I was in college but I’d never heard it. We didn’t have a copy of the 12” (the best selling 12” of all time) at WRBC (presumably because at least one person opted to steal the best selling 12” of all time instead of purchasing it) so I ended up going to the listening lab at Ladd Library at Bates to listen to it. I listened to probably around 10 times. This means that some poor library intern had to keep picking up the needle and restarting the album because that’s how we did things before CDs. I checked it out of the library to play on my show at least twice. Fortunately, my brother (as I mentioned earlier) gave me a copy of Substance 1987 for my birthday during my Junior year and I was able to play the song to my heart’s content in a crystal clear digital form (some bands don’t sound quite as good on CD a they did on vinyl – New Order sounds better on CD). I could go on and on about all the things that make this single excellent to my ear, but it really all comes down to that opening drum beat followed by that synthesizer line. New Order originally started composing this track so they could have an encore – specifically an encore where they walked on stage, flipped a switch on the synthesizer and then walked off while it was playing. And they wonder why they have a reputation of being detached from their audience.

6. Crystal

From the 2001 Album Get Ready, First Single

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
Here comes love
It’s like honey
You can’t buy it with money

Damn it, Sumner, you can buy honey with money. Love is also like honey, I suppose, but not in that particular regard. I am sure these are intended as separate thoughts, but, I mean, sputter rant sputter. That aside, “Crystal” is the best of New Order’s 21st century compositions. While Gillian Gilbert was absent during the recording of this album and her electronic presence is generally missed, this song is perfect just as it is with its bass and guitars and drums and great, great backing vocals. And then the chorus starts and the keyboards kick in itching and scratching and the song transforms into a great Garbage track – and I mean that as a high compliment. Man, I’d love to hear Garbage cover this song. I was sold on Get Ready as soon as I heard this and bought it almost the day it came out. Its been 16 years since they put that album out now and I still think of this as a new song because that’s what it means to get old.

5. Thieves Like Us

Stand-Alone Single from 1984, Their Seventh Overall

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
Oh, love is found in the east and west
But when love is at home, it’s the best
Love is the cure for every evil
Love is the air that supports the eagle

It pains me to take issue with this on one of my favorite songs of all time, but the first couplet is a painfully obvious statement followed by a cliche and the second couplet is a trite homily followed by a “wind beneath my wings” cliche and a forced rhyme. I can’t ignore it.

But that lyric only ever bothers me when I think about it because I love the rest of the song so much. I loved this song so much that my friends and I actually drove all the way to a semi-mythical record store in Waterbury so I could pick up a copy of the 12”. I was in high school and a drive from Newtown to Waterbury was a big deal. We’re talking a drive of up to 30 minutes if you include picking up your friends and traffic. This is a song that inspired that kind of dedication in me. And for a 12”! Not even an album! New Order were busy settling into their new identity by the time they recorded this song and, in my brain, this is what classic New Order sounds like – a driving dance beat, dominant keyboard work, bass work that often carried the melodic burden, and Bernard Sumner’s newly confident vocals. There’s a hundred little details that I love about this song – like the little call and response keyboard business before the vocals kick in or the fact that the bass seems to be part of an entirely different song in the chorus. Despite my criticism of that one chunk of lyrics, it was exciting to hear a song on college radio in the early 80’s with a “life is awful, but love is awesome” theme. I’m a cynical romantic at heart.

4. The Perfect Kiss

From the 1985 Album Low-Life, First Single

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
I have always thought about
Staying here and going out
Tonight I should have stayed at home
Playing with my pleasure zone

Bernard Sumner has no idea what this song is about. Well, there you go. I’m just going to pretend “pleasure zone” is his word for “home entertainment system” and walk past that because… this is a tremendous piece of music. Really, just amazing. If not for the lyrics (which are questionable almost the whole way through) it would easily be my number one pick, but I just can’t get over the lyrics. This is arguably the archetypal 80’s New Order song – the song that all other songs by the band must be compared to. The video so captures them, too – looking detached, uncomfortable and awkward as they play (except for Peter Hook who looks like he’s willing to set the whole place on fire). The reason is takes so long to show them playing anything is because the first minute or so is just Gillian Gilbert turning on the sequencers. There’s nothing to see except them waiting. This is why Daft Punk wears helmets I think. At least you can look like an alien while you wait to flip your next switch. New Order makes it all seem so simple, which of course is the trick because it takes a ton of work to make something like this even possible. In fact, when they switched keyboards, it was a few years before they played this live again because programming it anew was so difficult.

3. True Faith

From the 1987 compilation albums Substance 1987, First Single

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
I’ll give this one a pass

“True Faith” was New Order’s first US Top 40 hit – it reached 32. For those to those of us in the college radio world, felt a little bit like vindication. Before we busted out the “you sold out and we hate you” pitchforks for bands we loved that became successful, we spent a little time wallowing in “we were right about this band all along” self-congratulation. Yes, this first collaboration with Stephen Hague perhaps suggests a move towards more pop and less rock, but its one of their best crafted songs. They really are master songwriters/arrangers (if you ignore a chunk of the lyrics). I also love the video which features strange elf-like creatures beating each other up to the beat and watching New Order on their headgear. I’m just going to assume this is how New Order views their fans.

2. Confusion

Stand-Alone Single from 1983, Their Sixth Overall

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
Well… hmmm… I think… ok, no… this one is all right

If “Blue Monday” was influenced by the 80’s club scene, “Confusion” embraces the sound without hesitation. They retained legendary producer Arthur Baker (who remixed a number of their later tunes too) to help them construct this 12” and it really paid off. Both Hook and Sumner play bass on this track (just around the time Spinal Tap was making it cool to have a band of nothing but bass players) but the real star here to my ear is the rhythm track and the backing/chorus vocals – both the shouts of “Confusion” and the actual delivery of the chorus. I apparently like my New Order when they embrace the dance floor a little more. I have memories of dancing to this song in a club we used to go to somewhere across the New York border (this would have been when I was in college). I can’t 100% confirm that this actually happened (because its been like thirty years now) but I’m certain I’ve danced to this song in a club with friends in the 80’s. Dressed pretty much exactly as you’d imagine.

1. Round & Round

From the 1989 album Technique, Second Single

Garbage Lyric Highlight:
Actually, I’m all right with this one, clunkers and all

I didn’t realize this was going to be my favorite New Order song when I started this list, but the more I listened to my playlist, the more I realized that this was the song I looked forward to hearing the most every single time. When it was released in 1989, I was initially repelled by it. I wanted stuff from New Order that sounded like “Perfect Kiss” or at least like “True Faith.” I had forgotten that some of my favorite singles by the band were the early 80’s dance club tracks. I think the first time I really liked this song was when it was played at a party at Bates and I actually danced to it. That was my “a-ha” moment (and not in a “Take On Me” sense). The late 80’s were not kind to many of my favorite bands. Something about the production technique at the time made everything seem sort of plastic. New Order managed to weather that time period by continuing to explore and develop their sound – in this case by embracing Eurodisco. Anyhow, Sharon and I have been singing this in the car occasionally from time to time (when she’s not making fun of the “World (The Price Of Love)” lyrics). I dig this one, yes I do.

Coming Next: The B-52s. Still not Bjork.

New Order Singles RankedJoy Division 1-631-4121-3011-201-10