Songs that saved your life: New Order – “Everything’s Gone Green”

click image above to play clip

NEW ORDER – Everything’s Gone Green (1981)

After releasing tentative product either heavily indebted to Ian Curtis’ doomy worldview (Joy Division actually rehearsed both sides of the “Ceremony”/”In A Lonely Place” single) or scared shitless in the wake of his suicide (Movement is a fine album, if easier to admire for its sound and style than for any number of great songs), New Order‘s first hall of fame moment arrived in September 1981 with the “Procession” single. A gorgeously fleet dream-pop number written by drummer Steve Morris, “Procession” introduced the gleaming synth-wash effect that dominated so many of New Order’s ruminative mid-period songs. But it’s the B-side whereupon they ripped up the rules and staked their claim as the most influential British group of the decade.

Said B-side, “Everything’s Gone Green” is a five-star sunburst, its exhilerating physicality sometimes only partly conveyed in early live versions (like the one linked above, hailing from a November ’81 NYC show). But the song’s essence was perfectly realized in the studio recording, leaving hardly any room for improvement or expansion of ideas in a concert setting. A perfect record, then, its je ne sais quoi the byproduct of studio whimsy.

Singer/guitarist Barney Sumner, on the signature sequencer line running throughout the song:

We triggered it by Steve playing a hi-hat beat into a 24-track tape machine and then sticking a wire into the tape machine’s VU meter and connecting that to the synthesizer. Somehow it just worked. It really was just about sticking a wire into something and seeing what happened.

 

Taking a logical, nay crucial, cue from Giorgio Moroder’s Donna Summer records, the band and producer Martin Hannett hot-wired Eurodisco’s rigid sequencer synthetics to post punk’s doleful thrum, using Morris’ sloppy brilliance as its fulcrum. As a drummer, Morris’ uncanny time-keeping played chicken with technical imprecision, meaning he could flit about the kit like a spasmodic Stewart Copeland, tom tom hits spilling everywhere, only to hop back on the beat for the next bar. In later years he refined his approach to playing fills over loops, but in those days he sweated every drum hit with beautiful abandon. Tracking that hi-hat pattern to a sequencer, “Everything’s Gone Green” found its heartbeat. Peter Hook’s droning bass lead and Sumner’s wrist-burning guitar shanks gave it its soul.

The definitive 12″ version of “Everything’s Gone Green” (audio only): hhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJNOkQ-jqCE

“Everything’s Gone Green” doesn’t have a chorus, per se. It’s a three-act song, with a lengthy intro and outro bookending a series of vocal refrains. Sumner never could sing and play guitar credibly at the same time. In New Order’s rough-and-tumble early records, the breaks following his vocals provided a spot for all those pent-up notes. Sometimes the passages were serenely beautiful. Sometimes they were beastly rhythm workouts. Sometimes they were both. On “Everything’s Gone Green,” they were minimally hypnotic, scraping, furious.

The primal scream kicks in around the three-minute mark on the recorded version (see audio link above), after Sumner’s last verse. Someone turns the blipping sequencer line way up, Morris starts throwing live drum fills around like he’s in a caber toss, and the guitaring – brittle, bone-dry and rudimentary – leads the two-minute charge to its dizzying end. Hook’s imperious bassline never strays from its role at the eye of the swirling mass, admirably restrained. At full throttle, the song’s maruading coda is like none other, and it is possibly the most exciting passage I’ve ever heard in post punk music.

Tethering rock instruments to computer-generated rhythms wasn’t unheard of in 1981, but New Order’s glowering genius kept ’em ahead of the pack. To a peer group then fuelling pop’s last great singles era, largely still awed by Joy Division’s legacy, this bold music showed the way. Breaking from the sad-eyed languor of the first post-Curtis records, New Order’s embrace of dance rhythms brought sunlight to the playground. Legend has Brian Eno bursting into a Bowie recording session for “Heroes” in 1977, clutching Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” 45, announcing he’s “just heard the sound of the future.” Four years later, I wonder how many jaws dropped when the needle touched down on “Everything’s Gone Green.”

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