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Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division: Iconic Songs & the story behind them

Love Will Tear Us Apart

Joy Division

June 1980

Iconic Songs & the story behind them

Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a song by English rock band Joy Division, released in June 1980. Its lyrics were inspired by lead singer Ian Curtis‘ marriage problems and frame of mind before his suicide in May 1980

Recording

Joy Division first recorded “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at Pennine Studios, Oldham, on 8 January 1980, along with the B-side, “These Days”. This version was similar to the version the band played live. However, singer Ian Curtis and producer Martin Hannett disliked the results, and the band reconvened at Strawberry Studios, Stockport in March to rerecord it.

 Drummer Stephen Morris recalled:

Stephen Morris

Martin Hannett played one of his mind games when we were recording it – it sounds like he was a tyrant, but he wasn’t, he was nice. We had this one battle where it was nearly midnight and I said, “Is it all right if I go home, Martin – it’s been a long day?”

And he said [whispers], “OK … you go home”.

So I went back to the flat. Just got to sleep and the phone rings.

“Martin wants you to come back and do the snare drum”.

At four in the morning! I said,

“What’s wrong with the snare drum!?”

So every time I hear “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, I grit my teeth and remember myself shouting down the phone,

“YOU BASTARD!” …

I can feel the anger in it even now. It’s a great song and it’s a great production, but I do get anguished every time I hear it.

The guitar on the recording, a 12-string Eko guitar, was played by Bernard Sumner. While Curtis generally did not play guitar, to perform the song live, the band taught him how to strum a D major chord. Sumner said:

Ian Curtis

Ian didn’t really want to play guitar, but for some reason we wanted him to play it. I can’t remember the reason now … We showed him how to play D and we wrote a song. I wonder if that’s why we wrote “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, you could drone a D through it. I think he played it live because I was playing keyboards.

While Joy Division were recording, U2 were in the studio to see Hannett about producing their first album, Boy. U2 singer Bono said of the encounter:

Bono

Talking to Ian Curtis is … or was a strange experience because he’s very warm … he talked—it was like two people inside of him—he talked very light, and he talked very well-mannered, and very polite.

But when he got behind the microphone he really surged forth; there was another energy. It seemed like he was just two people and, you know, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, it was like [when] that record was released … it was like, as if, there were the personalities, separate; there they were, torn apart.

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart, 1995 Remastered Version (Official Video)

Releases

12" cover

Lyrics

“Love Will Tear Us Apart”

When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won’t grow,
And we’re changing our ways,
Taking different roads.

Then love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

Why is the bedroom so cold?
You’ve turned away on your side.
Is my timing that flawed?
Our respect runs so dry.
Yet there’s still this appeal
That we’ve kept through our lives.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

You cry out in your sleep,
All my failings exposed.
And there’s a taste in my mouth,
As desperation takes hold.
Just that something so good
Just can’t function no more.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

Joy Division

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” became Joy Division’s first chart hit, reaching number 13 in the UK Singles Chart.

The following month, the single topped the UK Indie Chart. The song also peaked at number 42 on the Billboard disco chart in October 1980.

 “Love Will Tear Us Apart” also reached number 1 in New Zealand in June 1981.

The single was re-released in 1983 and reached number 19 on the UK charts and number 3 in New Zealand during March 1984. In 1985, the 7″ single was released in Poland by Tonpress in different sleeve under licence from Factory and sold over 20,000 copies.  In November 1988, it made one more Top 40 appearance in New Zealand, peaking at number 39.

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” appears on the Substance compilation album. It was first recorded for a John Peel session in November 1979, then re-recorded in January 1980 and March 1980. It is the latter version that appears on Substance. The January 1980 version, which has become known as the “Pennine version”, originally appeared as one of the single’s B-sides.

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Pennine Version)

In 1995, to publicise the release of Permanent, the track was reissued, complete with a new remix by Arthur Baker and a new radio edit, also known as the “Permanent Mix”. On 24 September 2007, the single was again reissued, in its original configuration. This time, it was to publicise the Collector’s Edition re-issues of the band’s three albums. Although the single was now issued on the Warner label, it retained the classic Factory packaging, including the FAC 23 catalogue number.

Cover photo

According to Curtis’s wife Deborah, to create the single cover photo, the song title was etched upon a sheet of metal; this was aged with acid and exposed to the weather to create the appearance of a stone slab.

 For the 12″ version of the single, a photograph of a grieving angel on the Ribaudo family tomb in Genoa‘s Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno (sculpted by Onorato Toso circa 1910) was used. This photograph was taken by Bernard Pierre Wolff in 1978.

Music video

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]

The video was shot by the band themselves on 25 April 1980 as they rehearsed the song at T.J. Davidson’s studio, where the band had previously rehearsed during the early days of their career. At the start of the video, the door that opens and shuts is carved with Ian Curtis’ name; reportedly this was the beginning of an abusive message (the rest later erased) carved into the door.

Due to poor production, the video’s colour is ‘browned out’ at some points. Also, as the track recorded during the recording of the video was poor, it was replaced with the single-edit recording of the song by the band’s record company in Australia, leading to problems with the synchronisation of music and video. This edited version of the music video would later become the official version due to the improvement of sound quality.

This was the only promotional video the band ever produced as Ian Curtis hanged himself three weeks after the video was recorded.

Legacy

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” was named NME Single of the Year in 1980, and was listed as the best single of all time by NME in 2002.

In 2004, the song was listed by Rolling Stone magazine at number 179 in its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

 In 2011, the song was listed at number 181.

In May 2007, NME placed it at number 19 in its list of the 50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever, one place ahead of another Joy Division song, “Transmission”. The song is also listed as being one of the 5 best indie songs of all time in the “All Time Indie Top 50”.

The song reached number 1 in the inaugural Triple J Hottest 100 music poll of 1989 and again in 1990. When being interviewed for New Order StoryNeil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys stated that “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was his favourite pop song of all time.

At Christmas 2011, listeners of Dublin’s Phantom FM voted “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as their favourite song of all time. Furthermore, in 2012, in celebration of the NME‘s 60th anniversary, a list of the 100 Greatest Songs of NME‘s Lifetime was compiled, and the list was topped by “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Serbian rock musician, journalist and writer Dejan Cukić wrote about “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as one of the 46 songs that changed history of popular music in his 2007 book 45 obrtaja: Priče o pesmama. In 2015, the online magazine Pitchfork listed “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as number 7 upon their “200 best songs of the 1980s” compilation

Following Curtis’s suicide, his wife Deborah had the phrase “Love Will Tear Us Apart” inscribed on his memorial stone.

A greyish stone block with "Ian Curtis 18-5-80 Love Will Tear Us Apart" carved into it in a sans-serif typeface. There are several small pots of flowers and other objects on top.

In June 2013, Mighty Box Games released Will Love Tear Us Apart?, a browser-based video game that adapts every verse of the song into a level

My Thoughts ?

Epic and awesome on so many different levels and one of my fave tunes of all time. The melancholy lyrics and theme of the tune touch my heart and souls everytime I hear it and it never grows old. Truly a song that defined the music scene back then.

New Order – Love Will Tear Us Apart [Live in Glasgow]

THE CURE – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division COVER)

Joy Division: The Story Of the Band & Death of Ian Curtis

Love Will Tear Us Apart – Nerina Pallot

See: Joy Division open up about ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’

See: Ian Curtis

See: Joy Division