One of the greatest songs ever written: Pete Mitchell on Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Absolute Radio DJ starts his new regular column with a paean to Joy Division's anthem

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division is undoubtedly one of the greatest songs ever written. Only the foolish would argue it has little or no merit. Released on Tony Wilson’s Manchester record label Factory, a chaotic and shambolic company formed with his aunt’s inheritance in 1978, it could have quite easily been long-lost and forgotten, if not for the surrounding set of tragic, heartbreaking circumstances.

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Joy Division defied commercial conventions and pop pretensions and are one of the most original and uncompromising bands this country has produced. The band to this day remain a powerful presence and absence. They were the musical half-light, bathed in a grey, mysterious and perturbing shadow, and Love Will Tear Us Apart reflects a band at their creative zenith.

This generational anthem was written in late 1979 and produced by Martin Hannett at Pennine Studios in Oldham in January 1980.  The foreboding 12’’ cover artwork depicting a tombstone was chosen before the tragic death of singer Ian Curtis in May. He had taken his own life on the eve of what was to be the band’s first American tour. His beautiful epitaph has charted a dozen times since its original release.

So how did the group produce this twisted and dark song of love? Peter Hook explains, “It was one of the quickest songs we ever wrote, the track was literally recorded in an hour and a half. Ian Curtis loved the riff and took it home that night to write the lyrics for it. He came back the next day with a scrap of paper with Love Will Tear Us Apart as a finished lyric. When you compare it to say Blue Monday, which took us six months to complete, Perfect Kiss nine months to finish, its remarkable. It’s just so intangible as to what makes a certain song so anthemic, it’s extraordinary. In a strange way to be recognised as one of the greatest songs of all time is just so perfect for Ian. Where could we have gone after that, how do you follow up such a perfect piece of work?”

Well we could talk about their new incarnation as New Order and the electro masterpiece Blue Monday, the pulsating epic True Faith, the breathtaking Temptation or the heartfelt strains of Regret for starters, they are all equally unique and groundbreaking.

Out of chaos comes creation and we have not even discussed the money-draining shenanigans of the Hacienda nightclub, the biggest tax fine ever handed out to a pop group by the Inland Revenue, or the subsequent deaths of label owner and impresario Tony Wilson, the laconic manager Rob Gretton, the troubled producer Martin Hannett or the colossal fall out of Hook and the rest of New Order, which has now reached Greek tragedy proportions and is very much on-going and heading to a high court near you very soon.

On a personnel and professional level, Joy Division’s short-lived journey is littered with greatness and sadness in equal measure and cuts deep into the heart and soul, but the juxtaposition of their image and sound is one of enlightenment, hope and joy. Their legacy grows day by day without a hint of decay or sentimentality, and the image of a startled Ian Curtis hangs over the Cheshire town of Macclesfield like a shard of brilliant bright light cutting through its heavy grey canopy.

Pete Mitchell talks to Peter Hook this Saturday night 4 May at 10pm on Absolute Radio

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