“Decades” by Joy Division

There are some colorful interpretations available as to the meaning of this Joy Division’s “Decades”. But as generally understood what Ian Curtis is speaking to – fictionally it can be said, to some extent, since he’s relaying the lyrics from a first-person perspective – is, more simply interpreted, the atrocities of war.

Such is a subject matter which has been covered many times in song, especially, it would seem, circa the era in which this track was dropped. This was right after the climax of the Vietnam War, which was also around the first time the brutalities of modern warfare were televised to the masses. 

Also to note, that the early 1980s wasn’t really that long after World War II, i.e. being a time when many people who witnessed the conflict firsthand were still around. Additionally, going back to Vietnam in particular, this was a time in Western history where normal citizens, like musicians, began to more deeply question why their governments would send them half way around the world, to kill or be killed, to begin with.

“Decades”

So if “Decades” is interpreted as a poetic portrayal of the psychological ramifications of being a soldier out on the field, well, it definitely isn’t such that it’d have listeners lining up to join the army anytime soon. For as depicted, doing so only results in “trauma and degeneration” while in action. Furthermore, it also births never-ending “sorrows” afterwards. 

Or put otherwise in that latter regard, the second verse in particular not only appears to be speaking to PTSD but also the reality that some veterans, as with those Americans who served in Vietnam, coming home to a less-than-welcoming reception. And such a concept, i.e. soldiers being scarred from war for the rest of their lives, may also explain the titular term.

That being said, it should be noted, that said term is not found in the lyrics of the song.

But again, the above is a theoretical interpretation of this highly-poetic piece. For instance, nowhere present in the lyrics is terminology pointing directly to warfare. But that’s also the beauty of this song, if you will, that it is able to paint such an effective picture of psychological suffering without ever revealing the actual source of such.

Joy Division, "Decades" Lyrics

When was “Decades” released?

This is a song that came out, courtesy of Factory Records. It was released as part of Joy Division’s album “Closer” on 18 July 1980. This track was not issued as a single. However, according to a list compiled by The Guardian for instance, it is generally considered one of the better pieces the group ever put out. And there is also a biography of Joy Division (as well as New Order, the spinoff band that followed) named after this track.

The aforementioned Guardian list contained a ranking of all 47 songs released by Joy Division. At number one was “Atmosphere“.

The top 5 spot of the list were occupied by these classics:

“Decades” was placed at number 8 on the list.

Credits

The four core members of the short-lived Joy Division are credited with writing “Decades”. They are:

  • Bernard Sumner
  • Peter Hook
  • Stephen Morris
  • Ian Curtis (1956-1980)

The song’s producer was Martin Hannett (1948-1991). Martin worked very closely with the band while they were extant.

Decades

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