This September at Riot Fest, after 15 years of fandom, I’m finally going to see New Order live for the first time. On that day, I’ll hold out the same hope that fans at the band’s Glastonbury performance last year held: that, in an answer to prayers and failed petitions everywhere, they’ll actually, finally play the song “World in Motion” live again.
Written as the theme song to England’s 1990 World Cup campaign, the synthpop banger (which also features the talents of comedian Keith Allen and national team player John Barnes) always feels undervalued in estimations of New Order’s catalog. It’s also a rarity in the band’s live show; according to Setlist.fm, New Order has only played “World in Motion” live five times, most recently at Glastonbury 2005.
That changes today. It is my belief that “World In Motion” is actually the best song in the band’s vast catalog, and that it trumps the melancholy of “Elegia,” the wistfulness of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and…whatever’s going on in “Age of Consent” put together. Any and all dissenters can be directed to the evidence below.
Also: somebody please forward this to Bernard Sumner.
It’s New Order’s Only #1 Single in England
Read that again. Maybe one more time. Now, let that fact sink in, along with the knowledge that all of your more-beloved New Order classics couldn’t attain the same feat as a song whose video features Lily Allen’s dad ogling a soccer player’s butt. The competition wasn’t even that stiff; when “Blue Monday” peaked at No. 9 in October 1983, it was still behind covers by Tracey Ullman (Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know”) and UB40 (Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine”). Their love of Nigel Farage and fish-based pies aside, the Brits obviously knew something we didn’t.
It Has That Sweet Synth Choir Patch
Mmmm. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin that’s located inside of a Roland D-50? Enough to whip up the best celestial choir this side of the Ghostbusters II soundtrack.
It Single-Handedly Propelled England’s Team to Near-Glory…
Since their win in 1966, the English national team hadn’t done better than the quarterfinals in the World Cup before powering their way to the semis in 1990 on the strength of “World of Motion”‘s irresistible beats. Without the revitalizing power of the song, the subsequent years found the team returning to reality; they missed qualifying for the 1994 World Cup completely, and have yet to advance past the quarterfinals in any subsequent tournament.
Are we saying that the polished arrangements of Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, and not the goal-scoring heroics of veteran English striker Gary Lineker and newcomer David Platt, are what ensured the team’s success in 1990? Yes, we are. “But correlation doesn’t equal causation!” you mewl, wiping away tears with the liner notes to Power, Corruption and Lies. Stuff it. This is Riot Fest. If you have a problem with our methods, take it up with the pragmatic folks over at Logic Fest.
…While Saving The Image of English Football Itself
Although the national team was thriving at the time, the state of English club football was much more dire. In the last years of the ’80s, the nation’s teams had earned a reputation for killing a whole lot of people, whether through its poorly administered stadiums (the 1985 fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade, the 1989 Hillsborough disaster in Sheffield) or the loutish hooliganism of its fans (1985’s Heysel Stadium disaster, which earned all English club teams a five-year ban from European competitions). “World in Motion” (along with plenty of government regulations and personal-level soul-searching) helped clean up that lawless image; in particular, it gave everyday fans the chance to prove they weren’t all brutes who ate pint glasses whole and could choke out three men with a Millwall scarf without noticeable exertion.
It’s Secretly Loved By Critics
Judging by their reputation in the popular imagination, music critics should be the first ones to deflate the feel-good bubble around the song. Instead, most totally like it, and that includes people other than the noted contrarians at VICE or the breathless hype masters at NME. U.K. critic Tom Ewing put it best (and undercut the premise of this whole article) in 2010 when he wrote:
I sometimes get the feeling New Order fans–Americans in particular–see “World In Motion” as a novelty or an aberration, when really it’s a validation: this is a band at their peak, following their best album. They’ve gone through grim times, found a kind of salvation on the dancefloor and played their part in taking a whole culture with them.
SEE? WE LIKE STUFF TOO SOMETIMES!
It’s the Only New Order Song to Feature a Rapping Athlete
That is, unless you count Shaq’s unreleased cover of “Touched By the Hand of God” (which we do not).
It (Probably) Inspires Intense Hatred from Joy Division Fans
If you could see behind the sweet Ray-Bans that Bernard Sumner wears in the video for “World In Motion,” you’d probably catch sight of the furtive glee he felt about taking the final step out of Ian Curtis’s long, dour shadow. The mood was reportedly high; according to James Nice’s Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records, Sumner showed up to the shoot “driving a Cadillac [and] dressed in a white Elvis jumpsuit” and cracked to a journalist present “This should be the last straw for Joy Division fans.”
In a bit of equally mordant irony, the song and its celebratory vibes were released just three days after the 10th anniversary of Curtis’s death. As galling as this might’ve been, Joy Division partisans couldn’t even take solace in their Unknown Pleasures t-shirts; after all, that cover was designed by Peter Saville, the two bands’ longtime collaborator and the man responsible for the “World in Motion” cover depicting the world map as two giant fucking soccer balls. Saville? More like savage.