"Love Will Tear Us Apart" is a song by the British post-punk band Joy Division. It was written in August 1979, and debuted when the band supported Buzzcocks on their UK tour in September and October 1979. It is one of the few songs in which singer Ian Curtis played guitar (albeit somewhat minimally). The lyrics ostensibly reflect the problems in Ian Curtis's 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 Curtis had the phrase "Love Will Tear Us Apart" inscribed on Ian Curtis's memorial stone.
The song was first released in June 1980 and became the band's first chart hit, reaching number 13 in the UK. Later that summer, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" peaked at #42 on the American disco/dance charts. It also debuted at #1 in New Zealand in June 1981. The band postponed their US tour after his 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 #3 in New Zealand during March 1984. In 1986 the 7" single was released in Poland by Tonpress in different sleeve under license from Factory and sold over 20000 copies. In November 1988, it made one more Top 40 appearance in New Zealand, peaking at #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 done 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 all the classic Factory packaging, down to 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, similar to the version the band played live, was disliked by Ian Curtis and Martin Hannett, so 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.
"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." Bernard Sumner.
Ironically, Stephen Morris disliked the re-recorded version;
"The version [of Love Will Tear Us Apart] 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." Stephen Morris.
"Talking to Ian Curtis is... or was a strange experience because he's very warm... he talked, there were 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, interviewed on RTE Radio, September 1980.
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 as they recorded the song. At the start of the video the door that opens and shuts is carved the initials of the band members. The video has production errors with colour being 'browned out' at some points. Another production error led to Curtis' vocals not sounding as intended. The song as originally recorded in the video sounds much more like their Peel Session version. Curtis later re-recorded the vocals separately with distinctive hint of melancholy. The oddly-shaped guitar played by Curtis is a Vox Phantom, often mistaken as the Vox Mark III.
"Love Will Tear Us Apart" has remained popular and was listed by NME as the best single of all time in 2002. The song was listed by Rolling Stone magazine at number 179 in its top 500 songs of all time. 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 none other than "Love Will Tear Us Apart".
The song has also been used in television programs and in films, such as the 2001 film Donnie Darko, in a pivotal scene before Donnie has to leave his girlfriend in order to save her. The song is included in the indie film Wristcutters, which takes place in an afterlife for people who have committed suicide. It was also included in a film about the Manchester music scene, 24 Hour Party People, during several scenes about the band and Curtis's suicide. It is heard in the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion". The film Series 7: The Contenders features a music video for the song which characters explain as being part of a school project. Their homemade music video is in the style of a cheaply made '80s video with actors dressed in stereotypical goth fashion. In the sci-fi comedy radio series Undone, the song is performed as a chime on an ice cream van. On 11 November 2009 it was featured in the opening scene of episode 7 of season 5 ("The Performer") of the television series Criminal Minds. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was also featured at the beginning of UK police drama, Silent Witness in the episode "Voids: Part 1". The song is featured in theAmerican Dad! episode "Escape from Pearl Bailey".
An edited version of the chorus is sung by Manchester United fans about winger Ryan Giggs ("Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart again"), along with Stoke City who began to sing an altered version against West Ham. Birmingham Cityhave also adapted the song and their fans sing the song about Chris Burke. Sydney FC also adapted the song for former star striker Alex Brosque. A similar version is sung by the Barmy Army, English cricket's official supporters group when spinner Graeme Swann is bowling.