Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures: 10 things you didn't know

15 June 2022, 08:00

Ian Curtis performing live onstage with Joy Division in the Netherlands in January 1980
Ian Curtis performing live onstage with Joy Division in the Netherlands in January 1980. Picture: Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images

Joy Division’s classic debut was released on 15 June 1979 - here are some of the many legends associated with the album.

By Martin O'Gorman

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures album cover
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures album cover. Picture: TheCoverVersion / Alamy Stock Photo
  1. Unknown Pleasures wasn’t the first time Joy Division recorded an album

    Singer Ian Curtis had been hanging around the RCA label’s offices in Manchester so often in 1977 and 78 that the band were given the chance to record an album to try and get the company a punk band on their roster. The result was an 11-track album that would have been Joy Division’s debut and featured a new song called Transmission, plus a track that was never re-recorded called The Drawback.

    The band weren’t happy with the sound and the arrangement fell through, leaving Joy Division free to record their official debut with another label.

  2. New Dawn Fades was originally called Moderation

    In 2008, Joy Division manager Rob Gretton’s notebooks were published as a book called 1 Top Class Manager. Among the gems were the original titles of some classic Joy Division songs - the titles often had little to do with the lyrics, so it wasn’t a huge issue.

    As well as revealing that the song “Moderation” became New Dawn Fades, the notes also reveal that a song called “The Visitors” was renamed I Remember Nothing for its appearance as the moody climax to the album. Ironically, Swedish pop sensations ABBA would later release a song and an album called "The Visitors", so perhaps it was for the best.

  3. The album could have been called “Kinetic Outtake”

    Rob Gretton’s notebooks also feature scribblings on what he and the band thought of calling the finished album. They eventually whittle it down to two-word titles, including “Kinetic Outtake” and the disturbing “Convulsive Therapy” (disturbing because Ian Curtis had recently been diagnosed with epilepsy), before settling on “Unknown Pleasures”.

    Other titles noted down include “On The Threshold Of Collapse”, “A Voice In The Wilderness”, “The Will Of The Underworld”, “House Of Correction”, “Aura Of Violence” and “Bureau Of Chance”. Imagine asking for that in your local record shop.

  4. The track listing for side 1 could have been very different

    Several pages in Rob Gretton’s notebooks detail the discussions over the track listing of Unknown Pleasures, once the final ten tracks had been chosen. One of the running orders considered was as follows:

    Side One

    Day Of The Lords
    New Dawn Fades

    Side Two

    She’s Lost Control
    I Remember Nothing

  5. The cover artwork was taken from two different books

    It’s one of the most famous album covers of all time and was designed by Peter Saville… but the mysterious logo on the sleeve was taken from a book found by Joy Division guitarist Bernard Sumner in Manchester Library, while on a lunch break. The diagram is a plot of the waves emitted by the first radio pulsar ever discovered, back in 1967, which ended up in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy.

    Read the full story behind the Unknown Pleasures here.

    Meanwhile, the unsettling image on the record's inner sleeve was by photographer Ralph Gibson, from his 1970 book The Somnambulist.

  6. The album only took three weekends to make

    As late as March 1979, Joy Division were recording demos for producer Martin Rushent with a view to getting a major label deal, but Joy Division manager Rob Gretton was talking to Factory boss Tony Wilson one night and decided that they should release the album via the local record company. Joy Division had appeared on Factory’s first release - the Factory Sample EP - so the arrangement seemed obvious.

    Peter Hook, in his book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, recalls that the band members all had day jobs, so they would meet producer Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios in Stockport on Friday evening: “[We’d] record until seven in the morning, then return later in the evening on the Saturday and work until seven in the morning. We recorded for the first two weekends and Martin mixed the third weekend.”

  7. Some of the band didn’t like the album when it came out

    Peter Hook wrote in his Joy Division book: “Ian and Steve loved it. Me and Barney [Bernard Sumner] hated it. We thought it was too weak. I got the record home and put it on only to hear that it was absolutely shit. All the things I now love about the album - the spacey, echoey, ambient sound of it - were all the things I hated about it when I first heard it.”

    Ian Curtis and Peter Hook performing live onstage in London a few months after the release of Unknown Pleasures
    Ian Curtis and Peter Hook performing live onstage in London a few months after the release of Unknown Pleasures. Picture: Chris Mills/Redferns/Getty Images
  8. There were a number of tracks that didn’t make the final cut

    Over the two weekends that Unknown Pleasures was recorded on, Joy Division laid down a total of sixteen tracks. Ten made the final cut - the outtakes were:


    From Safety To Where…?

    Exercise One

    The Only Mistake

    They Walked In Line

    The Kill

    The first two tracks on the list were given to Bob Last, who ran Fast Records in Edinburgh, home of The Human League and Gang Of Four. They were released in October 1979 one one of the label’s regular compilation EPs, Earcom 2. The rest of the tracks were either unfinished or unmixed and the band returned to polish them in 1981 as they were making their debut album as New Order, with the results appearing on the posthumous Joy Division album, Still.

  9. The inner groove on the vinyl points the way to the second album

    Joy Division (and later New Order) were very keen on engraving messages and lyrics into the “run-out” grooves of their vinyl. Joy Division’s two sides were titled “Inside” (side 1) and “Outside” (side 2). The engraving on side 2 says “THIS IS THE WAY”, while side 1 replies with “STEP… INSIDE”. This, of course, is the main lyric to the song Atrocity Exhibition, which had been written and performed live in the summer of 1979, but wouldn’t be recorded in the studio until 1980’s follow-up, Closer.

  10. Interzone is based on an old Northern Soul single

    One of the hangovers from the aborted RCA album of May 1978 was Interzone - named after a location in the novel Naked Lunch by William Burrough (a favourite author of Ian Curtis). RCA’s A&R man Richard Searling was keen for Joy Division to cover one of his favourite Northern Soul singles, namely Keep On Keepin’ On, recorded by LA soul singer Nolan “N.F.” Porter in 1971. The Joy Division lads were a bit rubbish at covers, so their mangled take on Keep On Keepin’ On eventually turned into their own song, Interzone.


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