Welcome to Joy Division, one of the most influential–and least joyous–bands of the post-punk era in the UK. With titles like “Dead Souls,” “Disorder,” and “Atrocity Exhibit” set to dark, icy, claustrophobic soundscapes, the group provided a template for the goth and alternative scenes of the 80s and 90s. (Kittens!)
Their most well-known song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” is also their least representative, as lead singer Ian Curtis croons over a driving, uptempo, make-you-wanna-dance backing track. (Rainbows!)
Not normally thought of as “jam” band, that’s precisely how Joy Division wrote the majority of their music, spending hours making up beats and patterns and picking out the best bits from which to build their songs. Ian Curtis didn’t play an instrument, but it was he who recognized the strength of the “Love Will Tear Us Apart” riff, and while the band focused on perfecting the music, he went off to work on the lyrics. Ostensibly about the dissolution of his marriage, Curtis’s words, in hindsight, could also be seen as a premonition of his suicide a few months later. (See? There’s nothing cheery about Joy Division.)
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” was released as a posthumous single in the spring of 1980 where it proved to be the band’s only hit. In America, the record made the lower reaches of the dance chart and was highly sought after by that generation’s music geeks. The remaining members of Joy Division added a keyboard player and changed their name to New Order — this incarnation of the band proceeded to change the musical landscape over the rest of the decade with massive artistic and commercial success.
So grab someone you love, and don’t let anything tear you apart.
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” also serves as an object lesson in how to create a catchy riff and permanently drive it into the skull of your audience. After the furiously strummed opening bars, the synth comes in playing the main riff. Then the guitars pick up the riff during the verses. Then Ian sings it because it’s also the chorus melody. You are never not hearing that riff. And now it’s in your head. Forever!