Thanks for the terrific responses to the re-introduction of this series – there’s been a number of suggestions which are now forming an orderly queue along with a few that I had already picked out myself and pulled together an early draft.
As it turns out, I had already scheduled Atmosphere/She’s Lost Control as the next entry in the series when regular reader, Mark French, who I should also mention has supplied a fantastic ICA which I hope to have up very soon, suggested it would be a good addition for a Monday read.
It’s a timely addition as it was only around just after the turn of the year that I got my hands on a copy of the single after a gap of more than three decades. I did buy it back in the day, but sadly it was one of those pieces of vinyls which ended up being badly treated, not just by me but the various flatmates throughout the 80s, to the extent that the sleeve ended up grubby, discoloured, tattered and torn while the vinyl jumped, skipped, hissed and popped to the extent that it was unplayable. As such, it was one day thrown out with the rubbish…..
It’s long been on the list of things to try and pick up, but I was adamant I would do so by finding a copy in a second-hand or charity store as it’s the sort of release I would want to check for condition before making the purchase – I always feared Atmosphere, being such a quiet song in places, would have loads of unwanted background interference, while She’s Lost Control, like my own former copy, would be full of jumps from being played too much by drunks who were dancing too close to the record player.
But, with the COVID restrictions always seeming to be getting extended, I decided to plunge into Discogs with my fingers crossed. There was one seller who was asking for a little bit over the going rate, but his feedback scores from other buyers indicated that he wasn’t one who knowingly or even unwittingly rated his vinyl less than it really was. A Mint Copy, after all these years was out of the question, especially given that the white sleeve would be near impossible to keep perfect, but on the basis of the vinyl being ‘Near Mint’ and the sleeve being ‘Very Good Plus’, I took the plunge, and as you’ll hear, got a nice return:
As I’m sure most of you know, Atmosphere was originally released in March 1980 as a stand-alone, limited edition, 7″ single for Sordide Sentimental, a French label, with its b-side being Dead Souls. It is incredible to look back and realise that everyone was content to have it issued this way when it would have been a perfect single for Factory Records, or indeed more than worthy of being kept back for later inclusion on Closer, the album that Joy Division would record in London around the time Atmosphere was enjoying its release just over the channel.
It was only in the wake of the death of Ian Curtis, and with the ever-increasing number of fans pleading for a wider release, that Factory relented and issued the single, on 12″ vinyl, but with a different version of She’s Lost Control as the b-side. It was a very welcome move – I think just over 1500 copies of the Sordide Sentimental release were pressed up, and today you’re looking close to a four-figure sum if you want to get your hands on one of them.
Atmosphere is spellbinding; it’s the perfect marriage of the sorts of mesmerising music written by Joy Division with the studio genius of Martin Hannett. For a long time, it was still something of a secret to the outside world – the 1980 re-release sold only in reasonable numbers – and it wasn’t until 1988 when a fresh re-release, on vinyl and CD to accompany the Substance compilation, that it entered the charts, peaking at #34.
The 1988 re-release was also the occasion for the making of the haunting promo video, directed by Anton Corbijn, who would, of course, almost 20 years later, direct Control, the biopic of Ian Curtis which, when I saw it at one of its very earliest showings at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007 at the ungodly hour of 10am on a Saturday morning, (the tickets for the original screening the previous evening were impossible to get), reduced me to a blubbering wreck at the end when the opening notes of Atmosphere were played over the images on screen. It remains one of the most surreal experiences of my life, emerging out of the cinema to a dazzling midday sun trying to get my red raw eyes to adjust….even just thinking about it as I type these words sends a shiver down my spine.