Quite the storyteller is our Bernard. His alternate JFK universe is a fine piece of songwriting, told from the perspective of Jackie Kennedy; she being the one facing death (albeit in January 1963) at the hands of an assassin, but in this case as arranged by (if not done by) John F. Kennedy himself in order that he could be with another (Marilyn Monroe?)! Unique and heartfelt; particularly as it’s told retrospectively in the victim’s first person. As I sit here listening to it carefully I might go so far as to say it’s one of Bernard’s finest songwriting moments, especially in how he portrays Jackie’s desperation, sorrow, and terror, and how he switches between the event itself and it being a distant memory, as her spirit begins to ‘feel free’. The final lines in the original version are beautiful: “I just want you to be mine, and 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 free…” Even if not pitched on an alternative timeline, the song offers a poetic take on the real events of 1963.
Musically the song is gorgeous, and I can understand the indecision on whether to release it or True Faith as the A-side at the time. Back-to-back True Faith / 1963 is the band’s finest single. The band and Stephen Hague did a wonderful job on this piece of alt/electronic melancholy. The instrumentation is pitch-perfect; particularly the many layers of strings, and choppy synth bass sound. The vocal production is beautiful as well. Bernard has a strong sibilance in his singing, and Hague achieves a fantastic mix with his choices of reverb and delay. It’s almost like Sumner’s voice blends into the strings. Stunning.
As with True Faith, Round & Round and Bizarre Love Triangle, 1963 was subjected – George Lucas-style – to some revision in the ’90s. At the time of the Best Of New Order compilation release, 1963 was remixed (both in terms of a re-mix of the original, and by way of new extended dance reinterpretations) and – some say finally, some say too late – released as as a single. 1963-94 is structured as per the original, with a number of major exceptions; not least of which the aforementioned wonderful final lines are excised completely – replaced for some reason with a repeat of the “He told me to close my eyes” bridge, and ultimately fading out over a loop of the chorus…
The ’94 version may be ‘tighter’ and ‘cleaner’ in its overall sound and balance, but it’s not necessarily better for it. Also there are quite a few subtle changes in instrumentation, and I think the power of the strings has been diminished. For the Nineteen63 single release the ’94 version was accompanied by a range of remixes by ol’mate Arthur Baker, Justin Robertson (Lionrock) and Joe T. Vanelli. Baker’s ’95 edit/mix – in fact the primary on the various forms of the single – is thankfully the best of these; faithful to the original but tastefully rebuilt, with new melodies, sequences, sounds and ambiance, and (importantly) not frigging around with the lyrical content. The outro in particular is very nicely done. Baker’s version also underpins the accompanying (and really odd choice of) video clip: Jane Horrocks-as-itinerant, with a suitcase that gets bigger and bigger. Perhaps someone can explain that to me…
Now I have a soft spot for Justin Robertson / Lionrock. He produced some really solid electronica during the early to mid ’90s and it was a good call by London to get him to take a crack at a New Order remix (I remember being excited in advance at the prospect), but how… in any way… do his Full Throttle, Sparse’n’Fast and M6 Sunday Morning mixes bear any resemblance to 1963? They’d be perfectly OK productions as a Lionrock release, but they’re not 1963. I’m even less enthusiastic about Joe T. Vanelli’s mixes. His Dubby Mix also bears no resemblance to 1963, except for a female (and later Bernard’s own) vocal sample that repeats ‘Johnny’, backed with – of all fucking things – a jazzy saxophone, and some truly horrible organ! … Vanelli’s Light Mix at least includes Bernard’s actual vocals, but they are completely stripped back from their proper context so they sound almost raw (lost), and the overall production is really substandard. These are the low-point examples of where the art of remixing went off-piste (and hit a tree) during this period.
All of this remix palaver detracts from the original, which is as fine a production as any from New Order, and a beautiful song – up there with the best.