After a couple of years of punk dominance, Joy Division were the band that people didn’t know they were crying out for. Toeing the line betyween arthouse and intense visceral songwriting, the group provided a balance of explosion and implosion. Their track, ‘Transmission’ played a pivotal role in their short but crucial journey.
‘Transmission’ was a song that Joy Division always knew had the potential to be career-defining, but it took time to get it right, and the version we all adore today isn’t the first incarnation of the classic. The Macclesfield motley crew tinkered with the track, adjusting the tempo and the version that became their first-ever single — that they had been so arduously searching for when making their debut album — never saw the light of day.
Joy Division knew that they had to get their first single right, so much so that they aborted the whole of their eponymous debut album. Tracks like ‘Transmission’ were simply too good to throw to the wayside, but it needed to be re-worked for Joy Division to become the band they knew they were.
Although it didn’t make it on to Unknown Pleasures, the release of ‘Transmission’, as a single, bridged the gap between their two albums and kept the hunger at bay for new Joy Division material. Even though it didn’t appear until a couple of years after they wrote it, ‘Transmission’ marked a pivotal moment in the band’s career.
“The first time I noticed anything different was when we’d written a song that weekend,” Peter Hook recalled to Radio X. “And we had a gig on the Thursday, so we thought we’d play that song at the gig.
“We played the new song, which was ‘Transmission’ – and everyone in the whole place stopped literally what they were doing to listen and to turn round and watch us. It was an absolutely bizarre moment. It really made the hair on your arms stand up and shivers down your spine,” Hook went on to say.
On this isolated version, you feel those same shivers running down your spine as Curtis’ painful vocals grab you by your lapels and give you an old fashioned shake. The emotion is only amplified when Curtis hasn’t got the brawn of the band to hide behind, and it’s impossible not to feel the torment that the singer infiltrates the track with.
Nobody else could write a song like Joy Division could in 1978, and Curtis was a true one-off in both lyric writing and vocal performance. He used music to escape from his struggles with epilepsy and poured his torment into his work. Curtis’ haunting lyrics were accidentally revolutionary, and on this isolated vocal version, they rise to the forefront in spectacular style.