“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 from September to November of that same year. It is one of the few songs in which singer Ian Curtis played guitar (albeit somewhat minimally) on live versions. His 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 Billboard disco chart. It also reached number 1 in New Zealand in June 1981. The band postponed their US tour after Curtis’ 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, which has since become known as the “Pennine 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 this version, which has since become known as the “Pennine version”, and, as a consequence, the band reconvened at Strawberry Studios, Stockport in March to re-record it. Whilst Curtis, who generally did not play guitar at all, played guitar on the song live – the band taught him D major specifically – 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.
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 committed suicide less than three weeks after the video was recorded.