Take Cover! Radiohead Vs. Joy Division

When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Radiohead takes on Joy Division’s “Ceremony.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!

Joy Division was a living, breathing entity for barely four years in the late ’70s and into 1980, but an incalculable fusion of mythology and reverence have ensured the continued relevance of the Manchester band long after the twilight of its tenure. The mythology has manifested itself in films, books, derivative music and clothing styles, while the reverence has been enshrined in seemingly countless covers of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and, to a lesser extent, “Ceremony,” which is perhaps better known as a New Order song. This is probably the case because Joy Division never recorded a proper studio take of “Ceremony,” but more likely because New Order scored a minor hit with it. Regardless, three live versions of Joy Division’s original have surfaced since the band’s demise, the most stirring of which appeared on 1981’s Still, which in-part documents the band’s final concert at Birmingham University 16 days before Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s now iconic singer, committed suicide on May 18, 1980.

In its own way, Radiohead already enjoy the cult status that Joy Division has accrued over the last two decades, and it’s probable the band will have a mythology of its own in future debates about this era of popular music. It’s unfortunate that Joy Division never had the time to evolve in the manner Radiohead has had, though it almost goes without saying that both bands will be considered lions of influence for decades to come. So, it should be unsurprising that in the build up to 2007’s In Rainbows, a record that saw Radiohead pay homage once more to its rock/punk roots, that the Joy Division classic would be ripe to cover during one of its many awesome webcasts. Besides small tweaks in tone and lyrics (Bernard Sumner altered a few lines of “Ceremony” when he replaced Curtis due to the inaudibility of the words in all three live versions), Radiohead’s take essentially is the original; the guitars are brash and beautiful, the vocals are throaty, but endearing, and the rhythm section provides an instantly memorable architecture for the whole song. In a sense, then, your choice comes down to student vs. teacher.

The Cover:

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The Original:

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9 Comments

  1. Posted July 7, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I understand I shouldn’t be irritated by the poll results but you can’t win them all. On an intellectual level it is frustrating that people can’t disassociate their fandom to see that covering a song is simply an homage and often does not transcend that level. While the radiohead version is good… it is simply another copy of the original. All the Radiohead fanboys and girls out there should understand that distinction and not vote with brand loyalty in mind.

  2. Spencer
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I think New Order’s version is best.

  3. Posted July 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    new order perfected it.

  4. Posted July 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I always felt the JD versions were “works in progress” so agree with the New Order is best comment. On another note, it is amazing to see how staggeringly young they were at the time that Ian created these lyrics and the band created these sounds. Have to go watch my old JD DVD again (that I transferred from the Factory Beta tape awhile ago).

  5. pickle
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    The Radiohead version is fantastic and I’m a big fan of them, but they sound so much alike I’ll have to give this one to the guys who originally created the song. I do have to admit I like the vocals on the radiohead version better. Overblown reverb on the vocals that doesn’t match the reverb of the musicd is a trait of 80s music I could do without.

  6. Xox
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I fourth the New Order comments. To call this a Joy Division song is a mistake.

  7. littlebit
    Posted July 14, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget the Galaxie 500 version: http://www.last.fm/music/Galaxie+500/_/Ceremony

  8. Posted July 14, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Great song, but the New Order version tops the stellar Galaxie 500 cover version, which tops the good Radiohead cover version.

  9. t. drew hardin
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Tough call. I reluctantly vote against one of my favorite all-time bands just because I disagree with the comments concerning Radiohead. I mean, when you think about it, they are playing this Rolling Stone-raw. Thom Yorke gewts cookin’ with the vocals that induce the other members to follow suit. Don’t believe me? Check out johnny Greenwood and Phil Selway on a tear reminding me of Keith Richard on guitar and Charlie Watts on drums, respectively. It might not be at that ragged edge forever but on this version it was.