If not for Galaxie 500’s version of “Ceremony,” I probably wouldn’t like that song all that much.
OK, so while the commenters busy themselves sharpening their claws and crayons to inform me that I’m an idiot who knows nothing of music and should immediately be fired, let’s talk about the song. “Ceremony” was an ill-starred entry into the later Joy Division catalog. No proper studio recording was ever made, so the version most fans know best is the live version on the posthumous JD release Still, from which about half the vocals are AWOL. A different version, culled from a rehearsal tape, appeared on the boxed set Heart & Soul. The vocals are all present, but are largely unintelligible, and there’d never be another chance to get it right, as the group’s singer Ian Curtis took his own life days after that tape was made. I’ve heard that another live version exists, a crummy bootleg of a soundcheck, but I’m aware of no extant version with Curtis’ vocals clear and complete. (If I’m wrong on that, for the love of all that matters in this shitsack world, post a link, PLEASE.)
Joy Division, ”Ceremony,” version from Still
Joy Division, ”Ceremony,” version from Heart and Soul
That might have been the end of that song had the surviving JD members’ subsequent band New Order not elected to keep it in their early repertoire, making it their first single. And it’s a pretty damn good song as early New Order goes, but Bernard Sumner’s unemotional, deadpan singing lacks the emotive depths of Curtis’ legendary baritone, and so fails to sell lyrics like “I’ll break them down/no mercy shown.” Plus, for me, New Order didn’t really become New Order until 1983, with the atom bomb that was the “Blue Monday” single. Before that, their output feels to me like a noble, but scattered, hit-and-miss struggle towards a post-JD/post-IC identity. I realize that plenty of perfectly well-informed and tasteful people disagree with that.
New Order, “Ceremony”
In 1990, Galaxie 500 released a soaring, luminous, and heartbreaking version of “Ceremony” on their “Blue Thunder” EP, and completely changed the way I’ve felt about that song since. Really, as far as I’m concerned, it may as well be the definitive recording of the song. Though they were a wonderful band, they were the object of some critical derision for wearing their devotion to the Velvet Underground too forwardly on their sleeves—I remember some asshole reviewer handwaving Galaxie’s excellent album This Is Our Music with the remark “this is their record collection.” But since their 1991 breakup, time has been very, very forgiving to that pecadillo, inasmuch as they became inarguably influential to much indie-rock from the ‘90s to today. And their cover of “Ceremony” was goddamn beautiful. It was eventually rereleased on the band’s boxed set, and again as part of the most recent repackaging of On Fire.
Galaxie 500, “Ceremony”
A month ago, Galaxie 500’s singer Dean Wareham, currently touring in support of his first solo album, did a live-in-studio show for Seattle’s KEXP, who are kind enough to make high quality video documents of their guest performers. His band includes Britta Phillips (his wife and longtime collaborator in the bands Luna and Dean & Britta), drummer Roger Brogan (The Idaho Falls, Spectrum), and Brogan’s one-time Idaho Falls bandmate, guitarist Raymond Richards, a producer and multi-instrumentalist with a loooooong list of credits. Their set, wouldn’t you know it, included a version of “Ceremony.”