"Atmosphere" By Joy Division

Voted the greatest song of the millennium in 2000 on John Peel’s BBC Radio One show, it was also used to close out 2007 Ian Curtis biopic ‘Control’.


Produced By Martin Hannett
Written By Ian Kevin Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Paul David Morris and Bernard Sumner.
Album: Substance

Walk in silence
Don't walk away, in silence

[Verse 1]
See the danger
Always danger
Endless talking
Life rebuilding
Don't walk away

Walk in silence
Don't turn away, in silence

[Verse 2]
Your confusion
My illusion
Worn like a mask of self-hate
Confronts and then dies
Don't walk away

[Verse 3]
People like you find it easy
Naked to see
Walking on air
Hunting by the rivers
Through the streets
Every corner abandoned too soon
Set down with due care.

Don't walk away, in silence
Don't walk away

The song is about the breakdown of a relationship and abandonment - 'walk in silence' being the main lyrical motif. It sounds like a funeral march. The original music was written by Peter Hook and Stephen Morris in Joy Division's rehearsal studio - hence the bass-driven melody and military drumbeat.  Many of Joy Division's song titles just sound nice (Stephen Morris apparently chose many of the titles) and do not have much to do with the lyrics.  'Atmosphere's' title and lyrics are related: 'People like you find it easy/Aching to see/Walking on air'.  It is about a person who can easily walk away from a relationship, feeling no burden doing so.  It may have something to do with Ian Curtis's troubled marriage and his love affair with a young Annik Honore. The song is about walking away from a relationship without feeling weighed down - as if treading on the atmosphere or 'walking on air'.  The original lyrics to 'Chance' had 'rules are broken/false emotions' instead of 'your confusion/my illusion/worn like a mask of self-hate/confronts, and then dies'.  The earlier, changed, lyrics tell us something about the later lyrics.  The witness in the song, the person who has been 'abandoned to soon/set down with due care', is saying the other person was deceitful - creating an illusion of being emotionally affected or confused, while in reality they wore a 'mask of self-hate'.  The person who walked away simply loved lightly.  Curtis sings in a damning tone, 'people like you find it easy', then, later, 'hunting by the rivers, through the streets/every corner/abandon too soon' - suggesting that such people who walk away from love are predatory and find "love" on in the 'streets' and 'every corner'. 

The chime effect was actually part of a tambourine that was placed on a disc and recorded in echo by Morris and Joy Division producer Martin Hannett.  It is amazing how much information there is on this obscure band with such a short recording history. 

This was not a hit when it was first released, following the death of lead singer Ian Curtis. It only entered the UK charts when it was re-released eight years later. The song was also played at the funeral of Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, who worked with Joy Division.

About Joy Division

Joy Division were an English rock band formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. Originally named Warsaw, the band consisted of singer Ian Curtis, guitarist and keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bass player Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris.

Formed by Sumner and Hook after the two attended a Sex Pistols gig, Joy Division soon moved beyond their punk roots to develop a sound and style that helped pioneer the late-1970s post-punk movement. The band's self-released 1978 debut EP, An Ideal for Living, drew the attention of the Manchester television personality Tony Wilson, who signed the group to his independent label Factory Records. Joy Division's debut album Unknown Pleasures, recorded with producer Martin Hannett, was released in 1979 to critical acclaim.

As the band's popularity grew, singer Curtis suffered from personal problems that included depression, a failing marriage, and epilepsy. He found it increasingly difficult to perform live concerts, during which he sometimes suffered seizures. In May 1980, on the eve of the band's first American tour, Curtis committed suicide, aged 23. The band's second and final album, Closer, was released two months later; the album and preceding single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" became the band's highest charting release.

After Curtis's death, the remaining members continued as New Order and achieved critical and commercial success. Although their career spanned less than four years, Joy Division continues to exert an influence on a variety of subsequent artists.

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