“I’ve never liked to be hidden, and I don’t like to be patronised. I don’t buy into the idea that the bass player is the quiet one” — Peter Hook
Peter Hook indeed had a very clear vision of how he wanted to be perceived and how he wanted his music to be. With this vision, he co-founded a band that later came to be known as Joy Division, along with childhood friend Bernard Sumner. Inspired by a Sex Pistols concert that Hook and Sumner attended separately, the two decide to join forces and make music. Considered to be one of the most influential gigs of all time, Pistols as a group “destroyed the myth of being a pop star, of a musician being some kind of god that you had to worship”, according to Sumner.
The group’s beginning was fraught with hardship that was exercised from an outside source and hence, beyond their control. Though their short journey as Joy Division followed a rough track, their impact was immense. Hence, when the trio of Hook, Sumner and Morris decided to reform their band under the name of New Order, following Curtis’ death, people considered it to be a career suicide. The band, under Hook’s strong leadership, rose like a phoenix from ashes and pushed their boundary further, introducing rock music to the dance floors.
Hook’s bass playing style though evolved through the time, remains an inspiration to many musicians. Recalling the time when he went to purchase his dream guitar with £35 borrowed from his mother, he said: “The guy in the shop asked which one I wanted and that stumped me, I just kept saying ‘bass’ guitar. He must have thought, ‘God, I’ve got a right one here, another idiot from that Sex Pistols gig!’” explaining that he didn’t know the function and purpose of a bass guitar. But he was so passionate about music that he not only learned but mastered the instrument in a blink of an eye.
From high-pitched basslines during his Joy division days to a more melodic and rhythmic style, Hook’s remarkable transition has been smooth and effortless. His basslines were, in fact, the driving force for most of the tracks.
On the occasion of his 65th birthday, let’s delve into Hook’s most defining renditions, that echo in the listener’s ears.
Peter Hook’s six definitive songs:
The band’s dark and mysterious debut album Unknown Pleasures was shortly followed by the release of the single, ‘Transmission’, in 1979. The song was originally made for the band’s aborted self-titled album Warsaw but was shelved for a year and re-structured by increasing the tempo later. “We were doing a soundcheck at the Mayflower, in May, and we played ‘Transmission‘: people had been moving around, and they all stopped to listen. I realised that was our first great song,” recalled Peter Hook.
Although the song shines because of the commendable individual contributions, it is Hook’s intense bassline that sets the song apart. The song in a way represents their difficult beginning as a team and marks the moment when they finally broke free from the imposed restrictions to pursue music the way they wanted.
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’
Released in 1980, a month after Ian Curtis’ suicide as a non-album single, the song was inspired by Curtis’ struggles with marriage and mental well-being. It is a bittersweet song about the things we could have had. Peter Hook told Louder Sound that “the great thing about being young as a musician is that you’re not overdrawn at the riff bank yet. You come up with a lot of riffs [seemingly] very quickly. As you get older, they come much slower. When we started off as Joy Division, every riff we came up with felt like a gift from God.”
Adding: “One in particular, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart‘, Ian then took as the vocal melody line of the song and he gave me, I suppose, my best-known bass riff of all. It was really simple; it was written in three hours from start to finish. It was basically all around the bass riffs, and it was one of the easiest, simplest things. I can’t remember any song being as easy as that one,” said Hook while talking about one of the best songs written in the history of rock music.
Though written and recorded by Joy Division before Curtis’ death, the song was released by New Order in 1980 as the group’s debut single. However, it was reimagined and re-recorded for this purpose as the band swore not to use any Joy Division song. Releasing twice, the second edition featured the band’s new addition Gillian Gilbert.
A mid-tempo rock song, Hook’s driving bassline is the highlight of the song. It is mellow, delicate and yet has a mysterious vibe about it.
‘Age of Consent’
The song featured in the 1983 New Order album Power, Corruption and Lies. Apparently, the drum-track that we hear Stephen Morris play in the record was recycled from ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’s Hannett version and presented with slight alterations.
Peter Hook’s powerful bass guitar laid the foundation for the rest of the track. Hook, while talking about the song, one said, “To a bass player, it was such a gift. The song is led by the bass and it’s very melodic. That’s my favourite New Order one.”
After a long gap of six years, New Order produced their second single in collaboration with Stephen Hague. One of the band’s most popular songs, the title never appears in the lyrics. In fact, it was a typical feature of the band in that phase.
The lyrics were frequently changed, especially the line “Now that we’ve grown up together/They’re all taking drugs with me” whose latter part was replaced by “They’re afraid of what they see” for the recording. Engaging in an impromptu addition of lyrics, Sumner inserted the line “When I was a very small boy, Michael Jackson played with me/ Now that we’ve grown up together, he’s playing with my willy” during a 1993 live performance in Reading, referencing the sexual abuse allegations against Jackson.
Although New Order ventured in a new direction of electronic dance music in the mid-eighties, Hook’s basslines continued to dominate their tracks, shaping the songs how he saw fit. With Hook’s lesser engagement with the band, his occasional contributions became more and more important. As in this song, Hook’s buzzing and the vibrant bassline are what makes the song worthwhile.
‘World In Motion’
New Order’s name is almost always associated with the FIFA World Cup circa 1990. Produced as a companion song for the campaign of England’s football team, it became a massive hit, rising to number one position for the first time in the band’s history, in the UK Singles Chart. The lyrics were co-written by the comedian Keith Allan and featured a guest rap by the English footballer John Barnes in the track.
Considering Hook’s vision of music, he probably didn’t approve of the song and the occasion it was being used for. But nonetheless, his contribution to the track remains unique. Hence, we might as well cherish it just like the other Joy Division or New Order songs.