“Temptation” might be one of New Order’s most famous and beloved tracks, but given the song’s twisty history, it’s not unreasonable to ask, “yes, but which ‘Temptation’?”. And there’s actually a very simple answer to that one, but we’ll get to that.
The first documented appearance of the song was in the live film Taras Schevchenko, named for the East Village, New York venue where it was filmed in November 1981. That was released as FAC77 in August of 1983; the nascent version of “Temptation”, which clocked in at ten-and-a-half minutes, closed the set. The show was re-released in 2001 as part of the 3 16 live DVD retrospective.
The (first) official version was released on May 10, 1982, the band’s fourth single and their first self-produced without the guidance of Martin Hannett. For someone used to the polish of the later versions (spoiler alert), it’s almost shockingly rough-sounding but certainly more in line with their aesthetic at the time. And it was still good enough to reach number 29 on the UK charts.
The single was released simultaneously with a 12″ version which is essentially a different recording but confusingly shares the FAC063 catalog number with its more compact sibling – and famously includes the sound of Bernard Sumner getting assaulted with a snowball just before the one-minute mark:
“During the recording it started snowing and Rob [Gretton] and Hooky ran outside and got two massive snowballs. When I was recording the vocals they stuck them down the back of my shirt. If you listen to the 12-inch you can hear them coming into the studio and sticking it down my back.”Bernard Sumner to Mojo, September 2001 via New Order Discography
In 1987, the song – along with 1983’s “Confusion” – was re-recorded entirely for its inclusion in their landmark singles compilation Substance. Infinitely slicker than its previous incarnations, it has become the definitive version of the song because countless more people own and have heard that collection rather than the original singles, though those haven’t completely been redacted. The original 7″ version was included in the 2005 Singles compilation and the 12″ was re-released in its original form in 2019.
Despite being released multiple times, the single never received a proper accompanying music video, at least not until 2006. Filmmaker Michael Shamberg enlisted then-Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman to star in a short film entitled The Temptation of Victoria, in which Bergsman shoplifts her way across Paris.
A fourth “official” version of the song was released in 1998 that was more a single edit, though it’s definitely the rarity of the four – it only appeared on the fifth disc of the 2002 Retro box set, which was nominally four discs but had a limited edition (12,000 copies limited!) that included an extra disc, led off by this track.
They performed that version as part of the Commonwealth Games closing ceremonies in Malaysia in September 1998; they were there because the next games were being held in their hometown of Manchester, England. That performance also appeared in the 3 16 live video set.
And it’s that version that has become the de facto live arrangement, though it’s decidedly more sprawling these days. Here’s the version from their November 2018 show at London’s Alexandra Palace, which was released last year as Education Entertainment Recreation.
After leaving New Order in 2007, bassist Peter Hook has made a career of touring material from both that outfit and Joy Division with himself on vocals. Not surprisingly, “Temptation” is a staple of the sets.
For covers, surprisingly not that many out there (I find myself saying that a lot). Cleveland’s Cobra Verde, perhaps best known as the lineup of Guided By Voices on Mag Earwhig!, included a version on their 2005 collection of covers, Copycat Killers.
And yes, I am aware of the Moby cover.