Watch rare footage of Joy Division performing ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ live in 1979
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is viewed as Joy Division’s magnum opus, and for good reason. The track still sounds as fierce and chilling over 40 years on from its release. The emotions which the song evokes make it one of the most important tracks in the history of alternative British music and seeing Ian Curtis lead his not-so-merry men through the powerful anthem which still never fails to strike a chord with the listener.
There was no greater band on the planet than Joy Division who were, without doubt, the most special act to have graced the earth during their short time as a unit. Together, they were a true enigma, one that embodied the spirit of punk but brought a whole new edge to the genre which it was previously devoid of. The darkness of Joy Division and the juxtaposition between the euphoric music which backed the eerie vocals of Ian Curtis made the group a total force to be reckoned with. There is no greater example of the fine black magic that these northern souls created when they stepped into a room together than this emphatic version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
The track is somewhat of an anomaly for Joy Division, arriving at a time when they were searching to find their next direction following the underground success of Unknown Pleasures and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. The song was an attempt to test out a new sound between albums and, inadvertently, this throwaway non-album single would become their most well-known song.
After the group’s first attempt to record the track with producer Martin Hannett, ever the perfectionist, he decided that he didn’t like the direction that the band had taken it in and was tinkering with the song until he got it just right. Hannett’s attention to detail, however, has meant that drummer Stephen Morris has no fond memories over that session, “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,” he once commented. “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’.”
Adding: “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.” But Hannett had a vision and he, along with the band, were determined to continue their sonic evolution.
“I think ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a very poppy, very ‘commercial’ I suppose you’d say riff – it’s very memorable,” Peter Hook later told Gigwise, “The thing is that allied to the very dark lyrics in the song, I suppose it makes it very bitter-sweet, it lasts longer than it would have done if it was just a ‘normal’ pop song.
“It’s quite a frightening song lyrically. It’s completely at odds with the music. I think that’s very Joy Division actually – it sort of lulls you into a false sense of bonhomie and then rips your heart out,” he added.
Bono of U2 happened to be courting Martin Hannett to produce their album Boy around this time and he reflected on the song’s power and Curtis’ life: “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.”
He continued: “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.”
This footage of Joy Division ripping through a powerful version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart‘ is bittersweet. While it’s always emotional watching Ian Curtis with the tragic circumstances that led to his death, on the other hand, the footage also acts as a reminder of his great mercurial talent and what a hypnotising live act they were during their reign of destruction.