Why We Love ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’

At a time when the image of Ian Curtis sporting Mickey Mouse ears has been on our radar, it seems like a fitting time to banish such thoughts and ponder Joy Division’s best-loved track, which kicks off our new Classic Song video series.

‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was released in April 1980, one month before Ian Curtis’ death. It is, to quote Paul Rambali’s NME review from the time, “a tombstone”. Lyrically, it reveals itself like a virtual suicide note. Hopelessness is everywhere you look in Curtis’ language from the opening line (“Routine bites hard and ambitions are low“) through to the second verse confessional (“There’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold”).


Curtis’ vocal (inspired by Frank Sinatra, as it turns out) is as intense as intense can get. But it’s not just his delivery and poet’s touch which makes this song so brilliant. Stephen Morris’ belt-snapping drumming and Peter Hook’s hurtling bass make the track fly to the rafters. It’s exactly this juxtaposition that makes the song work so well.


For obvious reasons, the track has been adopted by the goth fraternity. But it’s so much more than an anthem for the miserable. Just looking at the broad spectrum of acts who’ve covered it proves the song’s versatility. There’s the bossa nova version by Nouvelle Vague, Squarepusher’s cinematic Bond-theme take on the track. It’s one of those songs that can be covered in loads of different ways. Just don’t tell Simon Cowell, eh?

We asked our @NMEmagazine Twitter followers to explain what ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ means to them:

No fewer than six people sent in pictures of their ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ tattoos.

Mireia Nicolas Sánchez

Sian Long

Adam Price

Ciaran Berrells

Kieron Wardrope

Rich Fowler

Here’s a few comments from our Facebook:

Jordan Summers

Still get chills and must have played it well over 1000 times. Truly amazing song. Ian Curtis and Joy Division were on another level.

Jodie Berdar-Calvaresi

I think it’s difficult for people who truly love this song to ever properly explain why they love it so much. It’s just one of those songs that you carry with you your whole life. The times may change, but the meaning stays the same.

Jason Stevens

It will always remind me unrequited love. There is always someone who lingers in the back of your mind. An old school chum. Your first love. The person drowning emotionally that you can not save. This song got me hook, line and sinker. I wore the T-shirt everyday.

Milosh Paunovic

Forget the Beatles, THIS is the biggest thing that british modern music ever produced. Timeless, and yet a bit of a failure in its own time. Mancunian type of greatness I guess.

Wayne Roberts

Eight years ago this song changed my life. I went to a rock nightclub at a time when I only listened to hip-hop and chart music. This song came on and i was blown away, realised there was a whole world of music I knew nothing about.

Laura Tiainen

For every mood and moment of my life, This is the song I want to hear, both soothing and daunting, everything…

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