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.