Adam Brent Houghtaling, author of This Will End In Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music, reveals the greatest re-imaginings of Joy Division's post-punk classic.
Written and debuted live in the fall of 1979, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” existed only briefly before it became inextricably linked with the rise and fall of troubled Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis.
The song’s lyric clearly enough references the emotional turmoil of Curtis’ life during his final months, specifically the confusing distance he felt in regards to his wife Deborah, whom he had fallen in love with when he was 16 and who was now the mother of his daughter. He was also becoming disillusioned with Joy Division according to Deborah, who wrote in Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division that the singer had no interest in recording anything beyond the “Transmission” single and Unknown Pleasures—“Love Will Tear Us Apart” just didn’t factor in.
But he did make it to the studio to record it. Twice. After hearing the first recording from January 1980 Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson suggested to Curtis that he listen to some Sinatra and give the song a more hopeless croon. He did and it was re-recorded in March in a more brooding take that became the song’s most popular incarnation.
It’s been released as a single multiple times—first in April 1980 and then again following Curtis’ suicide just a month later, followed by releases in 1983, 1995, 2007, and 2009—and remains one of the greatest independent songs ever—NME even went so far as to name it the “best single of all time” in 2002.
As such the song has been covered so many times that it’s hard to keep track of them all—though London artist and designer Peter Crnokrak did an amazing (and now sold-out) limited-edition poster chronicling the song's many singers.
After lots of digging here are the 9 best cover versions—studio renditions only, I should note—of one of the most glorious miserabilist pop songs of all time.
2. SUSANNA AND THE MAGICAL ORCHESTRA
3. WORM IS GREEN
4. FRANCIS DUNNERY
5. INVISIBLE LIMITS
A collaboration between Matmos, Kid 606 and Jay Lesser that focused on sampling and the re-appropriation of defective and broken compact discs crafted an amazing IDM version of the post-punk classic for their 1998 album Gaijin for Vinyl Communications that is nearly impossible to find these days.
8. P.J. PROBY
9. ALBERT KUVEZIN
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