Unknown Pleasures

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This article is about the album by Joy Division. For the film by Jia Zhangke, see Unknown Pleasures (film).
Unknown Pleasures
Unknown Pleasures Joy Division LP sleeve.jpg
Studio album by Joy Division
Released 15 June 1979
Recorded 1–17 April 1979
Studio Strawberry Studios, Stockport, England
Genre Post-punk
Length 39:24
Label Factory
Producer Martin Hannett
Joy Division chronology
An Ideal for Living
Unknown Pleasures

Unknown Pleasures is the debut album by the English post punk band Joy Division. It was recorded and mixed over three weekends at Strawberry Studios, Stockport in April 1979, and released in June of that year on Tony Wilson's Factory Records.

The album was produced by Martin Hannett, who added an atmospheric and dub influenced sound to the recording. Except for vocalist Ian Curtis, the band were unhappy with Hannett's work, and believed the album did not reflect their more aggressive live sound.

The cover art, designed by Peter Saville, shows an embossed representation[1] of radio waves from the first observed pulsar, PSR B1919+21. Factory did not release any singles from the album, and although the popularity of the band's debut single "Transmission", not included on the album, increased its sales, it failed to chart. Its reputation has grown over the years, and today Unknown Pleasures is regarded as a pioneering post-punk album.


Joy Division signed a recording contract with RCA Records in early 1978, and recorded a few demos. However they were rushed and under-produced and the unimpressed with their general treatment with the label, the band asked to be released from the contract.[2][3] These recordings became their first release on the self-produced extended play (EP), An Ideal for Living, in June 1978. Joy Division made their television debut on Tony Wilson's local news show Granada Reports that September.[4] The band received a £70,000 offer from the London based Genetic Records.[5]

The band's manager, Rob Gretton, approached Wilson about releasing an album on his Factory Records label.[6] Wilson explained that Gretton had calculated that given Factory's 50/50 split of profits, the band could make as much money with the indie label as it could by signing to a major. Wilson added that one of Gretton's main reasons for approaching Factory was so "he wouldn't have to get on a train to London every week and 'talk to nuggets'. No one could use the word 'cockney' with as much contempt as Rob".[6] Gretton estimated that the album would cost £8,000 to produce; however Wilson said in 2006 that the up-front costs alone were around £18,000.[6]


Unknown Pleasures was recorded at 10cc's state of the art Strawberry Studios in Stockport. 10cc were at the height of their fame at the time, and the studio was decked in typical 70s style carpets, [7] The sessions took place three weekends between 1 and 17 April 1979. A weekend was spent recording the basic tracks, another layering overdubs, during the final weekend Hannett, alone,[7] mixed the tracks.[8] Joy Division had entered the studio with trepidation; disillusioned with the way they had been treated during the rushed "An Ideal for Living" sessions, although believed they now had much strong material. The experience turned out to be the antithesis of their earlier experience.[9] Curtis and Hannett formed and immediate bond, and for the other band members Curtis' approval was enough to reassure them. By the time the band entered the studio all of the songs were fully written, had been fully rehearsed and in most cases had been played live.[10]

Joy Division, c 1979

The sessions were especially rewarding for Sumner, as Hannett showed him how utilise a recording studio as an instrument itself, and not just as a "giant tape recorder".[8] Hannett had a small AMS sampler and the guitarist immediately grasped its potential.[10]

Describing Hannett's technique and approach, Hook recalled how "you can take a group that have got on brilliantly for 20 years, put them in a studio with Martin and within five minutes, they'll be trying to slash each other's throats."[11]


Hannett included a number of unusual sampled sounds on the album; including a bottle smashed against a wall, someone eating crisps, the recording of guitar played backwards and the sound of studios lift with a Leslie speaker "whirring inside".[12] He also used the sound of a basement toilet,[13] as well as several AMS 15-80s digital delays and a couple of Marshall Time Modulators, tape echo and bounce.[14] Hannett recorded Curtis's vocals for "Insight" down a telephone line so he could achieve the "requisite distance". Referring to the recording sessions, Hook remembered, "Sumner started using a kit-built Powertran Transcendent 2000 synthesiser, most notably on 'I Remember Nothing', where it vied with the sound of Rob Gretton smashing bottles with Steve and his Walther replica pistol."[12] In his words, "Morris ... had invested in a syndrum because he thought he saw one on the cover of Can's Tago Mago: "you triggered it by hitting it. [Hannett] frowned on it because he wasn't the one doing the triggering."[12]

The band members' opinions differed on the "spacious, atmospheric" tone of the album, which was not reflective of their more aggressive live sound. According to Sumner; "The music was loud and heavy, and we felt that Martin had toned it down, especially with the guitars. The production inflicted this dark, doomy mood over the album: we'd drawn this picture in black and white, and Martin had coloured it in for us. We resented it ..."[15] Curtis was very enthusiastic[16] and declared it an instant classic, while Morris was generally favorable. However, Sumner and Hook believed the album stripped the songs of the power the band was able to achieve in a live setting.[17] Hook said, "I couldn't hide my disappointment then, it sounded like Pink Floyd."[12] Morris disagreed, saying, "I was happy with Unknown Pleasures. My theory on things at the time was that the two things—listening to a record and going to a gig—were quite different. You don't want to hear a record when you go to a gig: you want something with a bit of energy."[12]

Hook conceded in 2006 although "It definitely didn't turn out sounding the way I wanted it ... [now] I can see that Martin did a good job on it ... There's no two ways about it, Martin Hannett created the Joy Division sound." Hook noted that he was able to hear Curtis's lyrics and Sumner's guitar parts for the first time on the record; during gigs the band played too loudly and those elements were drowned out.[6]

Cover art[edit]

Peter Saville, earlier commissioned for Factory club posters in 1978, designed the cover of the album.[18] Sumner[19] chose the image used on the cover, which is based on an image of radio waves from pulsar CP 1919, from The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy. Saville reversed the image from black-on-white to white-on-black and printed it on textured card for the original version of the album.[12] It is not a Fourier analysis, but rather an image of the intensity of successive radio pulses, as stated in the Cambridge Encyclopaedia.[20]

This image has become iconic.[21] Susie Goldring, reviewing the album for BBC Online said, "The duochrome Peter Saville cover of this first Joy Division album speaks volumes. Its white on black lines reflect a pulse of power, a surge of bass, and raw angst. If the cover doesn't draw you in, the music will."[22]

The inner sleeve features a black-and-white photograph of a door with a hand near the handle. It was some years later before Saville discovered that the photograph was Hand Through a Doorway, a well-known picture by Ralph Gibson.[18] Author Chris Ott suggests that the album title was probably a reference to Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.[23]


Unknown Pleasures was initially printed in a run of 10,000 copies.[16] Sales for the album were slow until the release of the non-LP "Transmission" single, and unsold copies occupied the Factory Records office in the flat of label co-founder Alan Erasmus. Following the release of the single, the album sold out of its initial pressing in the space of weeks, and prompted further pressings. Unknown Pleasures earned approximately £50,000 in profit, to be shared between Factory and the band; however, Tony Wilson spent most of it on Factory projects.[24] By the conclusion of a critically acclaimed promotional tour supporting Buzzcocks in November 1979, Unknown Pleasures had neared 15,000 copies sold.[25]

The album did not reach a position on the UK Albums Chart; following Curtis's suicide in May 1980 and the release of their second album, Closer that July, Unknown Pleasureswas reissued and reached number seventy-one in August.[26] On the UK Indie Chart, it placed at number two on the first week published in January 1980, and went on to reach number 1 following its reissue, charting for 136 weeks in total.[27]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[28]
Christgau's Record Guide A−[29]
NME 10/10[30]
Pitchfork 10/10[31]
Q 5/5 stars[32]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[33]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[34]
Select 5/5[35]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 9/10[36]
Uncut 5/5 stars[37]

Reviewing the album for Melody Maker, Jon Savage called Unknown Pleasures an "opaque manifesto" and declared "[leaving] the twentieth century is difficult; most people prefer to go back and nostalgize, Oh boy. Joy Division at least set a course in the present with contrails for the future—perhaps you can't ask for much more. Indeed, Unknown Pleasures may very well be one of the best, white, English, debut LPs of the year."[38] In Rolling Stone, music journalist Mikal Gilmore described the album as having "a doleful, deep-toned sound that often suggested an elaborate version of the Velvet Underground or an orderly Public Image Ltd."[33] By August of that year the album's stature as a favourite of critics for the year was established.[39]

Writing about Factory for Melody Maker in September 1979, Mary Harron was less impressed: "I found at least half of [Unknown Pleasures] to be turgid and monotonous, and the vocals heavy and melodramatic—Jim Morrison without flair."[40] Robert Christgau said that it was Curtis's "passionate gravity that makes the clumsy, disquieting music so convincing".[29]

More recent music journalists have been unanimous in praise. Stuart Maconie of Select deemed Unknown Pleasures "music without a past or a future but with the muscularity of all great rock" and "one of the greatest first albums ever."[35] Ned Raggett, reviewing the album for AllMusic, described Unknown Pleasures as "All visceral, all emotional, all theatrical, all perfect—one of the best albums ever."[28]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Disorder"   3:32
2. "Day of the Lords"   4:49
3. "Candidate"   3:05
4. "Insight"   4:29
5. "New Dawn Fades"   4:47
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "She's Lost Control"   3:57
7. "Shadowplay"   3:55
8. "Wilderness"   2:38
9. "Interzone"   2:16
10. "I Remember Nothing"   5:53
Total length:


Joy Division
Production team



  1. ^ Brought to him by Bernard Sumner
  2. ^ Ott (2004), 42
  3. ^ Gimarc, 135
  4. ^ Curtis (1995), 202
  5. ^ "30 Years of Joy 1979–2009". NME. London: IPC, 20 June 2009. 24–27
  6. ^ a b c d Wilkinson, Roy. "Ode to Joy". Mojo Classic: Morrissey and the Story of Manchester. 2006.
  7. ^ a b Sumner (2006), 112
  8. ^ a b Sumner (2016), 110
  9. ^ Sumner (2016), 109
  10. ^ a b Sumner, 111
  11. ^ "In a lonely place". BBC Manchester, 13 April 2006. Retrieved on 3 July 2008.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Savage, Jon (2007). In Unknown Pleasures [CD booklet]. London Records 90 (2564 69778 9)
  13. ^ Ott (2004), 62
  14. ^ Ott (2004), 63
  15. ^ Savage, Jon. "Joy Division: Someone Take These Dreams Away". Mojo. July 1994.
  16. ^ a b Curtis (2007), 77
  17. ^ Sumner (2016), 113
  18. ^ a b Wozencroft, Jon (Summer 2007). "Out of the Blue". Tate Etc. (10). Retrieved on 17 April 2013.
  19. ^ Hook, 193
  20. ^ Christiansen, Jen (18 February 2015). "Pop Culture Pulsar: Origin Story of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures Album Cover". Scientific American. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  21. ^ Klein, Joshua (29 October 2007). "Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures / Closer / Still". Pitchfork. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  22. ^ Goldring, Susie (10 September 2007). "Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 5 November 2008.
  23. ^ Ott (2004), 82
  24. ^ Ott (2004), 90
  25. ^ Ott (2004), 99-100
  26. ^ Roberts, David (ed.) (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums. 19th edition. London: HiT Entertainment. 291. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  27. ^ Lazell, Barry (compiled by) (1997). Indie Hits 1980–1989. London: Cherry Red Books. 124. ISBN 0-9517206-9-4.
  28. ^ a b Raggett, Ned. "Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  29. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1990). "Joy Division". Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s. Pantheon Books. p. 222. ISBN 0-679-73015-X. 
  30. ^ "Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures". NME. 17 September 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  31. ^ Klein, Joshua (29 October 2007). "Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures / Closer / Still". Pitchfork. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  32. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (October 2007). "Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures". Q (255). 
  33. ^ a b Gilmore, Mikal (28 May 1981). "Unknown Pleasures". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  34. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon & Schuster. pp. 442–43. ISBN 0-743-20169-8. 
  35. ^ a b Maconie, Stuart (September 1993). "That Was The Bleak That Was". Select (39): 95. 
  36. ^ Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. p. 203. ISBN 0-679-75574-8. 
  37. ^ Mueller, Andrew (9 October 2007). "Joy Division – Reissues". Uncut. Archived from the original on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  38. ^ Savage, Jon. Unknown Pleasures review. Melody Maker. 21 July 1979.
  39. ^ Ott (2004), 97
  40. ^ Harron, Mary (29 September 1979). "Factory Records: Food For Thought". Melody Maker. 


External links[edit]