The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #67: Ceremony by Joy Division/New Order (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #67: Ceremony by Joy Division/New Order.

I have written before in this countdown about how the band, Joy Division ended and morphed into a new band called, New Order. *(You can read those posts here and here). That transition from one band to the other was necessitated by the death, by suicide, of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division. For the purposes of this post, the story I wish to tell about the death of Ian Curtis is what he left behind for others to discover after he was gone.

Just days prior to his suicide, Curtis had been working out the rough edges of a new song he had written called, “Ceremony”. He left behind no written lyrics. But, there were three mumbly, rehearsal-type recordings that Curtis had made. His bandmates saw it as an almost sacred trust that they care for their friends final words and make it into something beautiful. So, once the mourning had passed and the sadness had ebbed somewhat, the remaining members of Joy Division…..Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris….decided to carry on in Ian’s name and they formed a new band called, New Order. The first single New Order ever released was “Ceremony”.

Because there were no high quality audio tapes of Ian Curtis singing and no record of the lyrics having been written down anywhere, the boys from New Order had to try and decipher the lyrics as best they could before recording their own version. In the tapes that existed, Curtis’ recorded words were almost inaudible. Consequently, in order to get as close to an authentic take as possible, the Curtis audio recordings were run through a graphic equalizer in order to clear out as much of the extraneous noise as possible. From that process, New Order were able to come up with a set of lyrics that they felt were as close a match as possible to what their friend had written. Then, they recorded “Ceremony” with Bernard Sumner taking over the lead singing duties. The song was well-received by fans and critics, alike. Everyone felt that New Order was showing great respect to their dear friend and had formally connected the two super groups in a way that felt appropriate to all who cared about their music. The song, itself, ends with lyrics that speak of “watching love grow…..forever, watching love grow”. It almost seemed like Curtis knew that his own life was ending and wanted his friends to know he would always be there with them in spirit. New Order, for their part, replied in kind by immortalizing Curtis’ words, in song.

As touching a story as this may be, the best is yet to come. Several times throughout this countdown, I will post, what I call, a “lyrics” video, instead of a live performance of the song of the day,. In those cases, the lyrics to the song will display on the screen so that you can follow along as the song goes along. Sometimes, I have done this because the quality of the audio is murky or else, the singer is singing so quickly that it may be hard to keep up with what is being sung. Sometimes, I have wanted you to see the lyrics because I have felt there was poetry in them and wanted that beautiful language to wash over you. In most “lyrics” videos, the quality is amateurish; with the lyrics tele-typing themselves across a screen that has stock photos for a background. It wasn’t until I saw the “lyrics” video for “Ceremony” that I finally found a video that was really well done and measured up to the quality of the song being sung. So, you are getting the lyrics version of “Ceremony” today. But wait, let me tell you more!

What makes this video so great is that the lyrics appear onscreen along with the Academy Award-winning, 1956 short film, “The Red Balloon”. This movie was shot on the streets of Paris. There is a red balloon that symbolizes the concept of Love and Innocence and Faith. The film and the song, “Ceremony” are a perfect fit. As you watch the story of the boy and his balloon, the last words ever written by Ian Curtis flow by, matched with the music of his friends from New Order. The combination of the lyrics and a show, give added poignancy to the closing lines of “watching love grow…..forever, watching love grow.”

So, without further delay, here is my favourite “lyrics” music video of all-time for the very special song, “Ceremony” that started out as a Joy Division song and came to full life as a New Order song. Enjoy. This is truly beautiful.

The link to the video for the song, “Ceremony” by Joy Division/New Order, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Joy Division, can be found here.

The link to the official website for New Order, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting music and artists who tell the best and most important of stories. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

2 thoughts on “The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #67: Ceremony by Joy Division/New Order (KEXP)”

  1. I saw The Red Balloon in likely grade 5 or 6, but I don’t remember any discussion about what it meant or what the balloon symbolized. I think it would be good one to show nowadays to get students talking about their interpretations of love and life. A perfect background for the lyrics of ‘Ceremony’. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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