The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #59: Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #59: Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division.

Back in the 1970s, there were all manner of songs that ended up becoming hits. One of the sweetest was a song by a husband and wife duo, Captain and Tennille, called, “Love Will Keep Us Together”. The song was a sugary Pop gem and ended up being included in a lot of mix tapes being made as expressions of love from one lover to another. In the song, the lyrics speak to Love as being the key ingredient in a relationship that helps it to survive the ups and downs, the struggles and the temptations of life. It is all Hallmark sweet and special; helping Captain and Tennille reach the top of the charts for the only time in their career.

As mentioned, for many couples, “Love Will Keep Us Together” was a song that symbolized all that was good between them as couples. This song had it all….the romance, the pledge of fidelity, the commitment, too. But, as much as this song spoke to many young lovers, it also had the exact opposite effect on those who found themselves in relationships that weren’t all hearts and flowers. One such couple was Ian Curtis and his young wife, Deborah Woodruff. To Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, every time “Love Will Keep Us Together” played on the radio, it grated on his very last nerve. To him, it was a reminder of everything he didn’t see in his own relationship. He and Woodruff had married when they were still very young. Emotional maturity is often difficult to come by when you haven’t experienced much of life yet. It is, especially, difficult when you are, also, battling a variety of mental illnesses, such as Depression, some physical conditions, such as epilepsy, all the while starting up one of the most exciting and influential bands of the late 70s/early 80s, Joy Division.

So, in response to the Captain and Tennille song, Ian Curtis wrote, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. This song describes a marriage that has grown cold and is excruciatingly painful to endure. The funny thing about this song is that, despite the dark and dour nature the song’s subject matter, the fact remains that “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a really great sounding song. Written at the dawning of the era of Synth-Pop, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” has a driving beat and a loud, intense, powerful lyric-driven foundation. It must not have been easy to for Ian Curtis to sing this song on stage but, it may have felt cathartic, too. In any case, his boozy, slurred delivery is one of the defining aspects of what makes this song so great. As a listener, you can feel the passion and the earnestness coming through in his voice. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” remains Joy Division’s most recognizable hit song. It is a song about the ending of a marriage, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” that remains a hugely popular song to sing aloud, whenever it airs in a pub or on the radio.

Just to show how small and incestuous the music community can be at times…..when Joy Division were in the studio recording, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, a very young U2 were in the studio next to them, recording one of their first hit songs called, “11 O’Clock, Tick Tock”. Both bands wandered back and forth between their respective studios, listening in on what the other was doing, trading stories and, generally, just hanging out. In the end, U2 recorded their song and returned to Ireland, while Joy Division recorded, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and roared up the music charts. Not long after this, Ian Curtis committed suicide. When asked for a comment, Bono, from U2, spoke of the strange energy emanating from Ian Curtis. He described him as being almost pathologically shy and self-deprecating but, in front of a microphone, he transformed into a beastly-strong performer who made you feel every emotional coursing through his body and soul. For many, that description also seems fitting for the song, itself. It is a painful song that possesses an amazingly powerful energy and forcefulness. It is a song that you shouldn’t find yourself liking but, you do. It is the perfect example of the paradoxes that encompass so many of us.

When Ian Curtis died and was laid to rest, his estranged wife, Deborah, had his tombstone engraved with the words that will forever be associated with her and her husband. Some marriages stand the test of time. Others, like that of Ian and Deborah, become immortal for how unhappily ever after it all was.

The link to the video for the song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Joy Division, can be found here.

There was a movie made about Ian Curtis life called, “Control”. The many difficulties faced by Curtis and Woodruff lay a prominent role in the film. The link to the trailer for the movie, “Control”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain and Tennille, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “11 O’ Clock, Tick Tock” by U2, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting the music of the very best bands and artists, regardless of genre. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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