"Love Will Tear Us Apart" is a song by English post-punk band Joy Division. It was written in August 1979, and debuted when the band supported Buzzcocks on their UK tour in September to November 1979. It is one of the few songs in which singer Ian Curtis played guitar (albeit somewhat minimally) on live versions. The lyrics ostensibly reflect the problems in his marriage to Deborah Curtis, as well as his general frame of mind in the time leading up to his suicide in May 1980. The title is an ironic reference to "Love Will Keep Us Together". Deborah had the phrase "Love Will Tear Us Apart" inscribed on Ian's memorial stone.
The song was first released as a single in June 1980 and became the band's first chart hit, reaching number 13 in the UK Singles Chart. That October, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" peaked at number 42 on the American disco/dance chart. It also reached number 1 in New Zealand in June 1981. The band postponed their US tour after Curtis's death, performed a few short sets as The No-Names, then finally renamed the group as New Order. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was re-released in 1983 and reached number 19 on the UK charts and re-appeared at number 3 in New Zealand during March 1984. In 1985, the 7" single was released in Poland by Tonpress in different sleeve under license 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 originally appeared as one of the single's B-sides.
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.
The song was originally recorded 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. Ian Curtis and Martin Hannett, however, disliked the version and, as a consequence, the band reconvened at Strawberry Studios, Stockport in March to re-record it. Whilst Curtis played guitar on the song live – the band taught him D Major specially – the guitar on the recording was a 12-string Eko guitar played by Sumner. Sumner recalls:
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... I think Ian used to play only on "Love Will Tear Us Apart"... no I'm wrong, there was another track too. Maybe "Heart and Soul"? I do remember Ian used to play just one chord, which was D. 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. On the record I played guitar, a twelve string Eko guitar, an Italian guitar that actually sounded pretty good.
Stephen Morris disliked the re-recorded version:
The version that everyone knows, I actually hate... 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!" [smashes up imaginary phone]. 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.
While Joy Division were recording "Love Will Tear Us Apart", U2 were in the studio to see Martin Hannett about producing their first album, Boy. Lead singer Bono said of the encounter:
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.
Bono has since often sung snippets of the song during live performances, often during extended versions of "With or Without You".
The video was shot by the band themselves on 28 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 committed suicide less than three weeks after the video was recorded.
Ian Curtis's grave marker, laid in 2008 to replace a similarly inscribed one stolen that year
"Love Will Tear Us Apart" has remained popular and was listed by NME as the best single of all time 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, it 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 reached number 1 in the inaugural Triple J Hottest 100 music poll of 1989 and again in 1990. When being interviewed for New Order Story, Neil 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 forty-six songs that changed history of popular music in his 2007 book 45 obrtaja: Priče o pesmama.
Track 1 recorded at Strawberry Studios, Stockport, early March 1980
Tracks 2 and 3 recorded at Pennine Sound Studios, Oldham, 8 January 1980
In her biography Touching from a Distance, Deborah Curtis explains that the reason for the two versions of the song, one on each side, was a result of Curtis's slightly different singing in each one; one vocal take was allegedly done when other band members told Curtis to sing "like Frank Sinatra".
Like other Joy Division releases, including Transmission and An Ideal For Living, the 7" and 12" versions share the same tracks, but have different sleeves.
The chorus of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" features heavily on the last third of Sufjan Stevens's epic song "Christmas Unicorn" from volume 10 of his second Christmas-themed box set, Silver & Gold (2012).
Soul Asylum also covered "Love Will Tear Us Apart" on their EP No Fun Intended, released on 16 July 2013.
Love Will Tear Us Apart is an EP by the New York band Swans, its ninth release. It features a cover version of the Joy Division song. It was originally released in two different versions with Jarboe (black sleeve) and Gira (red sleeve) providing vocals, along with two semi-acoustic versions of songs from their 1987 LP Children of God. On some versions, a fourth song was appended: A solo acoustic version of "New Mind".
^Floman, Scott. "Joy Division – Substance (Qwest '88)". Retrieved 23 October 2013. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is simply a lovely synth pop song with affecting lyrics that linger in listener's memories long after the last note.