This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #484: True Faith by New Order.
In 1980, just as Joy Division was about to embark on their first North American tour, lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. The death of a lead singer has lead to the death of many a band throughout musical history. But not this group. The remaining musicians were still young and enthusiastic enough that they opted to continue on together but not as Joy Division. That band did truly end when Ian Curtis passed away. So, instead those left behind…guitarist Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris and bassist, Peter Hook formed a new band and called it New Order.
While the early offerings from New Order still contained the residue of Joy Division’s guitar sound and the melancholy that comes from the loss of a dear friend, what makes New Order a significant band in modern music history is what they evolved into next. In the early to mid-80s a new form of music making was taking hold called electronic music. This was not music created by electric guitars but, instead, it was music created using electronic equipment such as synthesizers, drum machines and the like. This new music first gained popularity as House or Rave music but, thanks to groups like New Order, it soon went mainstream and was dubbed Synth-Pop, among other names. This was form of music could be created without any of the traditional instruments on stage. How it worked was that the sounds from various instruments were recorded and stored inside of the synthesizers. In this way, sounds could be manipulated to play faster, slower, at varying pitches and so on. What New Order and other Synth-Pop groups were on to was a way of digitizing sounds. Their creativity in playing these sounds back in a melodic way was what made their songs so appealing to masses of new listeners.
Accompanying the rise of the synth-pop bands was the inevitable backlash from musical “purists” who insisted that if it wasn’t played with real guitars and drums, for instance then, it wasn’t really rock n’ roll. Regardless of which side of this debate you position yourself on, the question that was really being raised was “what was music”? For bands like New Order, the answer was that music could be played live with instruments and that there was nothing wrong with that. But, from their point of view, digitizing music opened up a whole range of musical possibilities that couldn’t be realized on stage, in real time, with instruments and humans playing them.
A straight line can be drawn from this period in time through the rest of musical history. Groups like New Order inspired much of what was exciting about early Hip Hop, with DJs sampling recorded verses and phrasings on turntables while rappers rapped. This led to digital sampling which gave rise to Grammy winners like Beck and Radiohead. In the year 2021, you will find a whole host of bands/performers who give off a full, rich sound without a single instrument being on stage with them. Groups like Chvrches, Purity Ring, Grimes, Chemical Brothers, Deadmaus, just to name a few. You will be amazed at the sounds that come from these little electronic boxes and crystals used by these bands/artists. Sounds that can all be traced back to the pioneering efforts of groups like New Order.
The music video for True Faith by New Order can be found here.
New Order have a really good website that you can check out by clicking on the link here.
Thank you KEXP for creating your own list of 500 great songs that, in turn, helped inspire me to make this post as part of my series on 500 great songs. The link to their website can be found here.