Number Ones: #70


  • NEW ORDER Shellshock (Factory)
  • Week Ending 10th May 1986
  • 1 Week At #1


Their profile in Britain may not have been at its highest, following the failure of both 1985 singles (The Perfect Kiss and Sub-Culture) to even make the Top 40, but in America things were beginning to fall into place for New Order by 1986.

The club scene in New York, which the band immersed themselves in from the summer of 1983 onwards, had influenced their sound to the extent that Sub-Culture bore a very strong similarity to Let The Music Play by Shannon. UK fans were not quite ready for these dour Mancunians to be making music like this; Blue Monday had proved massively successful but it still had that indie feel to it, with the almost disembodied, funereal vocals. The sound of singer Bernard Sumner yelping about while being drowned in a cacophony of breakbeats and stabs of sampled strings…..the prospect of New Order making….shock, horror….bloody disco records? Well.

New Order were, as ever, ahead of the game. That said, their earliest attempts to really find their own style are flawed, a wide-eyed enthusiasm (possibly drug-enhanced) to capture the rush of this music they had embraced as patrons of the New York establishments not yet materialising as tracks to stand comparison with their previous work.

Shellshock, then, is a mess. A clattering, jittery, stop-start kind of mess. There are brilliant bits, which you’d expect from New Order, but the stuttering edits and toy-box of sound effects are overplayed. The 7″ mix, unusually, is the superior version; the 12″ mix is just a racket. For once I was glad my penny-pinching streak didn’t allow me to buy the 12″ single, as I would normally do with a New Order release.

In the UK it peaked at #28, not great although better than any of the singles since 1984, but the real story was happening across the Atlantic. New Order were treated as part of a growing “alternative pop” movement from Britain, bands already established over here but only starting to gain traction in the States. The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, O.M.D. and Echo & The Bunnymen were notable members of this “College Rock” brigade, gaining support from local radio in areas with student populations.

Come the start of 1986, none of them had made great strides in cracking the Billboard Hot 100, but a key development was the adoption of these bands’ music in the films of John Hughes, especially Pretty In Pink. The film would not go on general release in the UK until the summer, likewise the actual soundtrack album, but two specially-recorded new tracks were issued as singles in April 1986 to tie in with Pretty In Pink‘s US release. Shellshock was one, If You Leave by O.M.D. the other.

If You Leave would go on to reach #4 on the Billboard chart, but Shellshock‘s presence on the soundtrack – and its use in the film itself – would help the band establish themselves with mainstream America. Along with two of their next three singles…..more of which in due course.


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