Single Stories: Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Monday, February 12, 2018
Single Stories: Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” is one of the most beloved songs in Joy Division’s all-too-limited discography as well as one of the best known – indeed, many would argue it’s the band’s signature song – but do you know the origins of this famous track? If not, then stand by: we’re about to change that.

The song was composed by, or at least credited to, all four members of Joy Division – in case you don’t know them all off the top of your head, we’ll just reel them off for you: there’s Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, and Bernard Sumner – and the title was intended as an ironic nod to the classic ‘70s pop song made famous by The Captain and Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Joy Division originally recorded the song at Pennine Studios on January 8, 1980, but the end result of the session – a version of the song which has come to be known as the “Pennine version,” appropriately enough – was not to the satisfaction of either Curtis or producer Martin Hannett, although Morris has repeatedly gone on record about how much he preferred that version to the re-recording of the song a few months later.

In a moment of coincidence which seems tailor-made for a bio-pic, the members of U2 happened to visit the studio the day Joy Division were recording “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” though they were there not to see the band but Hannett, hoping that he would be willing to produce their debut album, BOY. (In fact, he did not: that task was taken on by Steve Lillywhite instead.)

Although “Love Will Tear Us Apart” went on to become Joy Division’s hit on the UK Singles chart when it was released in June 1980, climbing to #13, Joy Division themselves had already been torn apart by that point, with Curtis having committed suicide on May 18. In turn, the surviving members of the band evolved into a new musical entity – New Order – and carried on their careers. Although Curtis didn’t live to see the song’s success, its legacy is considerable: in 2002, New Musical Express declared it to be the best single of all time, and although there was clearly a disconnect with its success across the pond, Rolling Stone was still willing to cite it at #179 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

Sad but sweet post-script: the song’s title can be found on Ian Curtis’s gravestone, a decision made by his widow, Deborah.

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