Saturday, 17 July 2010

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: Joy Division

The site A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, discusses various artists' credentials for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After finishing my analysis of the Rock Hall backlog, I always intended to analyse artists who have never been discussed by the Nominating Committee, but still might have credentials to justify induction. The aim of the process is to find out whether, on the basis of the Keltner list for a Hall of Fame, the Nominating Committee really is completely ignoring artists who have undeniable credentials to be in the Hall.

I do admit that there are some problems with the criteria, especially given known biases of the Nominating Committee and how they effect who is already in the Hall, but still I cannot see any better alternative.

I have so far done six Keltner tests on undiscussed artists:
My next artist, first eligible in 2003/2004, is Joy Division. They formed in 1977 in Salford as a reaction to the Sex Pistols' shows in Manchester. Guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook were the initial members, and were soon joined by vocalist Ian Curtis, who when Sumner and Hook met them had
on the back of his jacket. Terry Mason joined as drummer, and the band maned themselves Warsaw after a song from David Bowie's album Low. After a single gig, Mason became the band's manager and Tony Tabac, the Steve Brotherdale, joined as a drummer, only to be replaced because he wanted Curtis to join his other band Panik.

When they asked for a replacement drummer, there was only one response, a schoolmate of Curtis in Steve Morris. Because another London punk band was called Warsaw Pakt, at the start of 1978 the band renamed themselves Joy Division after the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp. Their debut EP, An Ideal for a Living, was released at the beginning of June 1978, but during that period Joy Division made many other recordings that were never issued. They contributed in September to a compilation EP titled Short Circuit and very soon after signed with Factory Records and recorded along with the Durutti Column, John Dowie and Cabaret Voltaire for A Factory Sampler, the label's debut release.

After this Joy Division began work on their first full-length album Unknown Pleasures. Released in 1979, it was critically acclaimed from the beginning, but failed to sell even in the UK. Since that time, however, it has become one of the most acclaimed albums of its era.

Following the release of Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division had a number of appearances on BBC2 television and made a nationwide tour during the autumn of 1979.

They then released the single “Transmission” during November and the devoted following they developed earned them the nickname of “cult with no name”. The beginning of 1980 saw the band tour Europe, but Ian Curtis experienced tonic–clonic seizures, and lack of sleep and long hours completely destabilised him. The latter half of March saw Joy Division record their second album, Closer, and May saw them planning to tour the United States for the first time.

However, on the eighteenth of May 1980, all Joy Division’s plans were thwarted immediately when vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide. He had been diagnosed as an epileptic in 1979, and had been taken ill earlier that year. By May, Curtis was suffering from a failed marriage and he hanged himself after visiting his wife on the seventeenth.

Following Curtis’ suicide, interest in Joy Division’s music continued to rise, and Closer peaked at number six on the British albums chart and later charted even higher in New Zealand. The single “Love Will Tear Us Apart” charted also in Australia. The remaining members of Joy Division, who had vowed before Curtis’ suicide that they would change the name of the band if he left, continued with Morris’ girlfriend and later wife Gillian Gilbert as New Order. (New Order might themselves have some case to be in the Rock Hall, and some have suggested that they could be combined with Joy Division for a more viable Rock Hall candidacy, though nobody in Cleveland has ever thought of this and probably never will.)

An evaluation of Joy Division's Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame follows.

1) Were Joy Division ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while Joy Division were active, ever seriously suggest Joy Division were the best artist in rock music?): This is very doubtful. Joy Division had many rivals in terms of critical acclaim and name-dropping by musicians amongst the post-punk bands of the late 1970s, and at no time did they really stand out from such bands as Television, Wire or X, plus there was such bands as proto-thrashers Motörhead and hardcore punks Black Flag to compete with even if purely artistic merit is one’s criterion.

2) Were Joy Division ever the best artist in rock music in its genre?: The same thing, in essence, applies here. Even after Lloyd and Verlaine split up, there were such new bands as X and Wire emerging to equal them or nearly do so. Then there are such lesser-known and even less commercially successful bands as Pere Ubu and The Pop Group who were even more artistically adventurous and difficult to listen to, and who writers like David Keenan and Piero Scaruffi have considered as definitely superior.

3) Was any member of Joy Division ever considered the best at his instrument?: No. Ian Curtis’ despairing lyrics might have been viewed as outstanding, but none of the band's members have dominated polls for lists of best at their individual instruments.

4) Did Joy Division have an impact on a number of other artists?: Yes. Their dark, brooding sound is cited as the key to understanding first-generation U2 and their use of electronic rhythms inspired the mainstream emergence of groups like The Cure who began at the same time, and as Joe S. Harrington points out, later even The Smiths.

5) Were Joy Division good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?: No. They disbanded when Ian Curtis committed suicide, and even if we consider New Order as a successor to them, New Order did not play after they began declining in the early 1990s.

6) Are Joy Division the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: Certainly not. They had a very brief career that despite its considerable influence in the world of electronic music and the development of synth-pop cannot be considered of overwhelming significance artistically compared to many other bands like the MC5, Captain Beefheart or Can. Nor were they at all commercially successful in the United States.

7) Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: No. Even with the 2009/2010 induction of the Stooges, most of the important critically slaved alternative bands remain out of the Hall of Fame. One can list Big Star, Television, Wire, the Buzzcocks, Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Black Flag and the Misfits have rarely been considered.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that Joy Division were significantly better or worse than is suggested by their statistical records?: There is little to say here. Ian Curtis' personal problems were in no way unique for a post-punk band, and there is nothing of note that might have influence on one's judgment.

9) Is Joy Division the best artist in its genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: in the field of synth-pop, yes artistically as they were ahead even of Depeche Mode who have already been discussed by the Nominating Committee. However, Joy Division were too experimental at large to be considered a pop group, and as I have said in 6), they cannot be seen as the most essential omission from underground rock groups eligible for thw Hall.

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did Joy Division have? Did Joy Division ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Joy Division nominated?: Joy Division never dented the Billboard Top 200 whilst active, and even in Europe and New Zealand where they did have some significant success, they did not have anything approaching a number one single or album.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Joy Division have? For how long of a period did Joy Division dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Joy Division appear on? Did most bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: As said before, Joy Division never won a Grammy and they dominated the music scene for a single small year at best. Very few bands wiht this lack of impact are likely to go into the Hall of Fame.

12) If Joy Division were the best artist at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?: Probably not sufficiently. In comparison with most bands of the time there are not many live documents of Joy Division, and those are not discussed nearly as much as other artists from the “punk revolution”.

13) What impact did Joy Division have on rock history? Were they responsible for any stylistic changes? Did they introduce any new equipment? Did Joy Division change history in any way?: Yes. Joy Division made synthesisers a legitimate part of alternative rock and in doing so helped pave the way for modern electronic music. They also changed post-punk music away from the “hard and fast” standard into a slow drones that were very influential in indie rock in the 1980s and 1990s.

14) Did Joy Division uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: Ian Curtis’ suicide can make one think that they did not do so, but overall apart from that they had few problems either as Joy Division or alter as New Order.

Verdict: There is a pass on very few criteria as Joy Division, so one feels the verdicts has to be “don’t induct”. One could consider inducting them together with their spinoff New Order, but unlike with Parliament and Funkadelic this has never been considered by the Nominating Committee (who haven’t actually discussed New Order).


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Anonymous said...

You, sir, are a babbling, uninformed moron.