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Great B-Sides: 1963 by New Order

After Ian Curtis’ passing, Joy Division transitioned into New Order, with Bernard Sumner taking over the front-man role, and Gillian Gilbert joining on keyboards. It’s hard to be too critical of Sumner as a wordsmith, given that he only accidentally inherited the mantle of lyricist, but he’s an interesting case. His lyrics run the gamut between painfully forced rhymes and moments of genuine inspiration, although his laddish charm generally wins out.

This couplet from ‘Slow Jam’, from 2001’s Get Ready, may be the most jarring verse in all of popular song:

The sea was very rough
It made me feel sick
But I like that kind of stuff
It beats arithmetic

Given the frequent awkwardness and lack of ambition of Sumner’s lyrics, ‘1963’, the b-side of the 1986 single ‘True Faith’, is a surprise. In the song, Sumner creates a hypothetical historical scenario whereby Marilyn Monroe is still alive in 1963. In Sumner’s account, John F. Kennedy has ordered an assassination on his wife Jackie so that he can shack up with Marilyn, but the assassination attempt goes awry, killing JFK instead, with Monroe killing herself in grief.

New Order were astoundingly good throughout the 1980s, and ‘1963’ proudly stands among the best songs from their 1980s catalogue. The song was too good to stay tucked away on a b-side – it was later re-reworked and included on the group’s 1994 Best Of, while it was also re-mixed and released as a single in 1995.

It was January, nineteen-sixty-three
When Johnny came home with a gift for me
He said I bought it for you because I love you
And I bought it for you ’cause it’s your birthday, too
He was so very nice, he was so very kind
To think of me at this point in time
I used to think of him, he used think of me
He told me to close my eyes
My gift would be a great surprise
I saw tears were in his eyes
He never meant to hurt me

Oh, God, Johnny, don’t point that gun at me
There’s so many ways our lives have changed
But please, I beg, don’t do this to me
Johnny, don’t point that gun at me
Can I save my life at any price?
For God’s sake won’t you listen to me?

And though he was ashamed that he had took a life
Johnny came home with another wife
And I often remembered how it used to be
Before that special occasion, nineteen-sixty-three
There was too many ways that you could kill someone
Like in a love affair, when the love has gone
He used to think of her, she used to think of him
He told me to close my eyes
My gift would be a great surprise
I saw tears were in his eyes
He never meant to hurt me

Oh, God, Johnny, don’t point that gun at me
There’s so many ways our lives have changed
But please, I beg, don’t do this to me
Johnny, you keep on using me
Can I change my life for any price?
Oh, Johnny, won’t you listen to me?

He told me to close my eyes
My gift would be a great surprise
I saw hatred in his eyes
But he never meant to hurt me
Oh, God, Johnny, don’t point that gun at me
There’s so many ways our lives have changed
But please, I beg, don’t do this to me

Johnny, you keep on using me
Can I change my life for any price?
Oh, Johnny, won’t you listen to me?
I just want you to be mine
I don’t want this world to shine
I don’t want this bridge to burn

Oh, Johnny, do you miss me?
I just want to feel for you
I will always feel for you
I will always feel for you
I will always feel for you
I will always feel for you

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