Radiohead’s cover of Joy Division’s ‘Ceremony’ in 2007 is timeless
Back in 2007, following the release of their critically acclaimed album In Rainbows, Thom Yorke and the rest of Radiohead didn’t go out on tour immediately. No, instead, the band opted for something, which at the time, may have felt a little strange; they decided to broadcast a series of in-studio webcast performances through a stream.
During the livestream, they delivered perhaps the best Joy Division and New Order’s cover of all time with their rendition of ‘Ceremony’. It’s one moment which not only shows off the influence Ian Curtis and the rest of the band had on Radiohead and British culture as a whole, but also the sincere and vast talent at Radiohead’s disposal.
Always technologically advanced, way ahead of the rock ‘n’ roll curve, the webcast was fairly revolutionary at the time and spoke highly of a band always looking to evolve beyond normality. But during these particular performances, they weren’t always striving for unfolding sounds of the future, a musical evolution that would take them beyond the horizon — sometimes they found inspiration in the past.
The band chose the webcast to enact some covers of their favourite songs. It means this small session contains some of the most delightful moments of Radiohead iconography. It features a sumptuous cover of Thom Yorke’s favourite song ‘Unravel’ by Bjork as well as a take on The Smiths’ classic foot-stomper ‘Headmaster’s Ritual’.
Another of those inspirations for Radiohead, and perhaps one of the easier influences to connect with the band, would be Ian Curtis’s Joy Division.
Yorke and the group could have picked ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ as so many others have done when covering the Salford-born band, instead they picked one of the more hidden pieces of their canon, ‘Ceremony’. The track, beginning as a Joy Division song—in fact, it was one of the last songs Ian Curtis worked on prior to his suicide and was performed at their last ever gig in 1980—became a New Order track following their formation and featured in most of their live sets. It ranks today as some of both band’s best work.
However, the Radiohead cover leans more directly on Ian Curtis’ version and feels both authentic and yet expertly curated to pay homage to the original composition. The rhythm is metronomic; the guitar pushed through the speakers with a sharper edge, the iconic lead line is given a distorted hue all while Yorke toes the line between tribute and taking the song out all on his own.
It’s a cover played with a raw passion, a lack of inhibition and with a deep appreciation for the artist who created it. It’s as close to a perfect tribute as we’ve ever seen or heard. So sit back and enjoy.
Take a look below at the footage below and enjoy one of the greats paying homage to one of its inspirations.