The 20 best singles released on Factory Records
12 November 2023, 20:00
30 years after the legendary record company closed, Radio X looks at some of the best tracks to come from the Manchester label.
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Founded in 1978 by TV presenter and journalist Tony Wilson and local actor Alan Erasmus following the success of their Manchester club night, Factory Records was, in the words of Wilson, a "social experiment" as much as a method of releasing music,
The label was made famous by Joy Division, whose manager Rob Gretton and producer Martin Hannett, became partners in the company. When the band's singer, Ian Curtis, took his own life in 1980, Factory continued into the new decade, founding the infamous Manchester nightclub The Haçienda and becoming part of the new "acid house" movement, with bands like Happy Mondays.
The label had an eclectic and often frustrating approach to marketing - everything (including buildings and even ideas) had to have a "FAC" catalogue number, but they didn't like the idea of treating music as product and refused pluggers and advertising campaigns.
The Haçienda quickly became a drain on the label's funds as the 90s dawned and Happy Mondays' attempt at recording a new album in 1992 went wildly over-budget and ultimately sank the label, which declared itself bankrupt on 22nd November that year.
While any discussion of the Factory catalogue is often dominated by the giants Joy Division and New Order, plus the upstarts Happy Mondays, the label released many gems in their lifetime. Here are just a select few...
Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]
This classic song was released a month after Ian Curtis's death in May 1980 and gave Factory its first taste of chart action, creeping up to Number 13. It wasn't the label's biggest hit (that would be New Order's 1990 World Cup song, World In Motion), but Love Will Tear Us Apart is probably the company's best-known track.
New Order - Blue Monday
New Order - Blue Monday (Official Lyric Video)
After the demise of Joy Division, the surviving members reconvened to form New Order and found their own way after a few false starts. This mammoth track, released in March 1983, was influenced by the band's experience of New York clubs and it's claimed that Blue Monday is the biggest selling 12" single of all time in the UK. The futuristic cover design by Peter Saville is based on a floppy disk and signals New Order's full-on embrace of electronica.
Happy Mondays – Hallelujah (Club Mix)
Happy Mondays - Hallelujah (Club Mix)
Signed to Factory in 1985 and regular visitors to The Haçienda, Salford's Happy Mondays bridged the gap been the indie rock of the 80s and the dancefloor obsessions of the 90s. With frontman Shaun Ryder bringing the swagger, brother Paul offering up danceable basslines and the mysterious Bez supplying the "vibes", the Mondays were the right band at the right time. Andy Weatherall and Paul Oakenfold remixed the 1989 track Hallelujah to superb effect.
Electronic - Getting Away With It
Electronic - Getting Away With It (1989 Official Music Video) [HD Upgrade]
A Manchester supergroup! With New Order on a hiatus after the release of their album Technique and The Smiths now a distant memory, the former's Bernard Sumner collaborated with the latter's Johnny Marr for this one-off single... which later brought forth a full-length album. Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant joins in on vocals, making this a pure 80s delight.
Northside - Shall We Take A Trip
Northside - Shall We Take A Trip?
One of Factory's latter-day signings, Manchester's Northside issued their one and only album on the label in 1991, which spawned this censor-baiting ode to a good night out.
Section 25 - Looking From A Hilltop
Looking from a Hilltop (Megamix)
Blackpool's Section 25 were an early signing to Factory and championed by Joy Division's Ian Curtis. This pulsating 1984 single was produced by Bernard Sumner of New Order and his techno influence can definitely be felt.
The Wendys - Pulling My Fingers Off
The Wendys - Pulling My Fingers Off (Official Video)
This baggy classic by Edinburgh's Wendys was produced by Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds, but the release of the accompanying album Gobbledygook came around the time that Factory began to experience business troubles and they didn't record a follow-up for another eight years.
The Durutti Column – Sketch For Summer
The Durutti Column - Sketch For A Summer
A beautiful instrumental from one of Factory's first album releases, The Return Of The Durutti Column, it was later issued as a single in Australia.
Joy Division - Transmission
Joy Division - Transmission (Official Lyric Video)
The band's first "real" single release (as opposed to an EP), this stunning track was issued shortly after the all-time classic debut album Unknown Pleasures was unveiled to the world.
A Certain Ratio - Shack Up
A Certain Ratio: Shack Up
The Manchester post-punk outfit were dear to Tony Wilson's heart and their take on the 1975 Banbarra funk track is a perfect cover.
Cabaret Voltaire – Yashar (John Robie remix)
Cabaret Voltaire - Yashar (John Robie Remix) (Official Video)
Sheffield's Cabs were one of the first acts on Factory - they appear on FAC 2, A Factory Sample EP - but they quickly moved to fellow indie Rough Trade for further releases. That is, until this 1983 12" which saw their track Yashar remixed by New York club producer John Robie.
New Order - True Faith
New Order - True Faith (1987) (Official Music Video) [HD REMASTERED]
Needing a new track for their 1987 career retrospective Substance, New Order collaborated with producer Stephen Hague to create one of their finest songs. The accompanying video, directed by Philippe Decouflé, won a BRIT Award.
Happy Mondays - Wrote For Luck
Happy Mondays - Wrote For Luck (Official Music Video)
The Mondays' 1988 album Bummed was produced by Joy Division producer Martin Hannett and the results inspired a generation. This hypnotic track was later remixed by Erasure's W.F.L. - the first time he'd ever re-worked another artist's material.
James – Hymn From A Village
James - Hymn From A Village
The Whalley Range collective released their first EP, Jimone, on Factory in 1983, and this quirky entry from the James II EP in 1985 gives some idea of how the band would develop over the next decade.
The Railway Children – Brighter
The Railway Children - Brighter
A Wigan band, who released their first material on Factory and then headed for the major Virgin shortly afterwards. A fine example of Smiths-era indie.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Electricity
Electricity (Factory Version) - OMD
Liverpool's OMD were first spotted by Tony Wilson's wife Lindsay Reade, who heard their demo tape playing in her husband's car. This was their first single, released on Factory before the duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys left for DinDisc, a division of Virgin. Chart success soon followed and the pair became one of the most famous synth pop acts of the 80s.
Revenge - Pineapple Face
Revenge - Pineapple Face (Album Version)
AKA Hooky's Revenge, Peter Hook's answer to Bernard Sumner's side-project Electronic. Revenge only issued one album (1990's One True Passion), but Hooky would be back later in the decade with a new set-up: Monaco.
Electronic - Get The Message
Electronic - Get The Message (Official Music Video) [HD Upgrade]
Another choice cut from Electronic's self-titled album from 1991, Get The Message offers more of Sumner and Marr's guitar skills. Johnny likes this song so much, he still plays it at his solo live shows.
A Certain Ratio - Do The Du
A Certain Ratio - Do The Du (Official Audio)
One of the very first bands to come to the attention of Factory, this superb indie-funk tune appeared on their debut album (or, rather, cassette) The Graveyard And The Ballroom, but was later issued as a single in the US.
The Other Two - Tasty Fish
The Other Two - Tasty Fish
If Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook could go solo, what about the other two members of New Order? Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert's side-project was, naturally enough, called The Other Two and proved their classic pop credentials perfectly.