Shriek of the Week: Joy Division, “Atmosphere”
The reason it’s not my favourite song is it’s always associated with funerals. Every funeral I go to, they play bloody ‘Atmosphere’. The most popular song at weddings is ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams and the most popular song at funerals is ‘Atmosphere’. When I went to [Factory Records boss] Tony Wilson’s funeral and they put ‘Atmosphere’ on at the end, I wished we had written fuckin’ ‘Angels’.
— Peter Hook, as quoted in Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s [read the Joy Division excerpt posted at SPIN here]
It’s hard to argue with Hooky that Joy Division‘s “Atmosphere” isn’t funereal. And that’s why I’ve made it this week’s Shriek of the Week, to honor Ian Curtis during the week of the anniversary’s of his death 34 years ago. (He hanged himself on the morning on May 18, 1980.)
“Atmosphere” was released as a double A-sided single with “She’s Lost Control“. “Atmosphere” was the A-side for the UK release but the B-side for the US release (which is the one I own). The front of the sleeve is beautiful and haunting, much like the song.
But what really escalates this song to all-time-great status is the video, which was not released until the song’s re-release in 1988 (on the Joy Division compilation album Substance). It contains characters wearing black-hooded cloaks and white burial shrouds – a tribute to Curtis. It was directed by Anton Corbijn (who in 2007 directed the Joy Division documentary Control, based on the book Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis & Joy Division by Ian’s widow, Deborah). Atmosphere is as close to a perfect song as you will ever hear. It’s hard to believe that a video could have done it justice. But Corbijn’s masterpiece does.
In the meantime, to celebrate the life of Ian Curtis, tragically cut short way too young, I welcome you to go back and read my piece on Curtis. RIP Ian.
Joy Division – Atmosphere – Official Video