The Infinite Jukebox: Love Will Tear Us Apart

Welcome to the Infinite Jukebox.
We all have this in our heads, a marvellous machine into which, at any time, we can insert the shiny 50p piece of our imagination and set up a platter to play. No buttons needed, no disappointed peering for songs we want to hear, the only limitation is memory and hearing. There are songs for every emotion we want to express to ourselves.
This is the first one.

The first time I heard this song for the first time, it was being played live on stage. Fifth song of an eight song support set at the Apollo Theatre, the Buzzcocks headlining. They were the band I’d paid to see, but Joy Division were a glorious bonus. I’d seen them live at the end of February, supporting John Cooper Clarke in Nottingham, four guys in varying shades of black, white and grey, unannounced, uncommunicative, astonishing. This was still 1979, when PA systems were still crap, when the only words you could hear on stage were the ones you knew in advance, and new songs were incomprehensible. What it was called, I hadn’t a clue: it was the synthesizer riff that captured me from the moment it first ripped across the stage, a simple, elemental riff that slid into your head like a stiletto between ribs. It was magic, and I craved it again.
The second time I heard this song for the first time, it was part of Joy Division’s second John Peel session, in the February of 1980. The moment he announced the band were on, I had my tape recorder at the ready. Surely that incredible song had to be part of the session? And it was, and it was called ‘Love will tear us apart’, and I could play it over and over again.
The third time I heard this song for the first time, I was back in Manchester and Peely had the long-awaited single, and I raced back out of the bathroom to tape this. Ian Curtis was newly dead, a suicide whose inquest had been conducted by a partner in the Stockport firm I’d just joined, who was also the Coroner. And I sat on the edge of my bed, listening to the words as if I’d never heard them before, as I’d never understood them before. Why is the bedroom so cold? Turned away on your side. The break-up of Curtis’s marriage had, I’d been led to believe, been behind his death, and the unconsidered words were a route into Curtis’s head, a path that made me shiver, made the song too personal, made me feel as if I should not be listening to something so private.
I’ve listened to ‘Love will tear us apart’ an unbelievable number of times. It’s a song that’s grown in stature ever since, rightly so, but still it shakes belief that something so personal, so open and raw, something that was a minor hit for a short-lived band, a punk band at that, unloved and unwanted and despised, should have become a top 5 candidate for Song of the Century. On Radio Two.
It’s a strange world. Let’s keep it that way.
Nor does familiarity breed even dullness. The riffing guitar, the sonic clarity of the acoustic, so fiercely strummed, Morris’s powerful, rhythmic drumming kick-starting itself like a jet about to cram it hell for leather down the runway and, at once the backbone of the music yet gloriously alone and supreme above it, that synthesizer, that riff, that melody. The jet leaves the runway, the song soars, Curtis’s deep, almost sepulchral, itself a void, speak-sings words that even today are a window into a place none of us really wants to look. There but for grace go you and I, and some of us have had to look through windows of our own into places we no more want to see.
And on it goes, in effortless flight, powered by that unique rhythm section of Hook and Morris, until Curtis reaches the end of words. In the video, he turns his back to us, Torn Apart a final time, as the song shifts in mid-air, prepares to come to Earth.
That video was never seen when the song had its first and most successful chart run, reaching no 13. There was no Top of the Pops for two months, exactly enclosing the band’s run. It was shown in the summer, on a Saturday morning kid’s portmanteau show set on something like a ferryboat, and it was out of time and incongruous and I watched it in silence, Curtis’s eyes already dead.
I used to joke, for many years, that this was my theme song, along with the Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love (with someone you shouldn’t have?)’ and the Assembly’s ‘Never Never’. If pushed for what is my favourite song ever, I would still pick this. It’s A1 on the Infinite Jukebox, forever.

When New Order weren’t New Order

As a Joy Division fan, I was lucky enough to see the band perform live twice, given that for the majority of their effective career, I was living seventy miles away in Nottingham. I had barely returned to Manchester when dear old much-missed John Peel gave us the horrible news of Ian Curtis’s suicide.
Naturally, I became a New Order fan, and they were my favourite band for much of the Eighties, at least before they came under serious challenge on my discovery of R.E.M.
Being back in Manchester, I had far more chances to see the new band in concert, at various venues, from my first gig at the Haçienda in 1981, and my last, also at the Hacienda, in 1987.
That first gig was not, to be honest, the best of experiences. It was my second gig in as many days, the previous night having been taken up with The Nolans at the Free Trade Hall – and the Nolans were the better night.
But that was the only time I had to make that complaint, and perhaps it was something to do with the band still being in that early period of uncertainty when they were still cleansing their souls of the traits of Joy Division. From 1983 onwards, New Order were powerful and focussed, and at its best, their music was propulsive and overpowering when performed live on stage. It had a tremendous physicality to it that I’ve never experienced in quite the same manner from any other live band.
So the gigs racked up, and they were great fun every time: Salford University when the nascent Happy Mondays were in support, and you can hear my voice roaring on the bootleg when Barney announces they’re doing an encore because Man United have beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup Replay that evening, G-Mex for the eleven hour Festival of the Tenth Summer concert, finishing the day by inspiring my first and only indoor Mexican Wave.
Encores were always something to think about at New Order gigs. The band rarely did them, and most of the time, once they left the stage the house lights went on and it was up to you whether you chanced it and stayed, more in hope than expectation.
This was certainly so the night I last saw New Order on stage.
It was May 1987, back at the Hacienda again. The band’s fourth album, Brotherhood, was out, but not yet True Faith, which would break the commercial mode for the band. By 1989, New Order would have recorded Treatment, their most overtly dance music oriented album, and the first break in the continuity of my enthusiasm for their music.
But the gig was another stormer, from beginning to end. I had taken my usual position on the balcony, clinging to the front, overlooking the floor below. One thing I didn’t like was the band’s habit of not coming on before 11.00pm, meaning a finish somewhere about or after 12.30am. Add in the return to my car and the drive back to South Manchester, I wasn’t getting into bed until 1.00am, and getting up again at 7.00am to get ready for work.
This time it was 12.40am when they finished the last number and went offstage, the Hacienda house-lights coming up immediately. There was a buzz in the air from the gig. Some people drifted out, but the majority of the audience stayed, me among them. There were no indications – there never were – that they might come back, and it was late and I was tired and I had work in the morning, but I stayed. There was something in the atmosphere, something telling me to stay, that it would be worth it to me if I did.
So I hung around, dehydrated, clammy from the set, whilst nothing happened. Then, without a change in the lighting, or an announcement, the band drifted out again, plugged their instruments in and prepared to play an encore. It had been worth waiting.
It had been more than worth the waiting. The rush of chords, the insistence of drums were instantly recognisable and a cold thrill went through me: they were playing Love Will Tear Us Apart
I’d only once heard that song live before, at the Apollo, that Saturday night in 1979, supporting the Buzzcocks. To hear it again, by the only band who, in my mind, had the right to even think of playing that song, was an astonishment and a dream. I was there. It had happened to me, as it had for a tiny number of audiences over the past three years, as the band chose a solitary gig, near the Anniversary, to remember Ian Curtis. I’d got the bootlegs of those three instances, but now I was here for one.
But the strangest thing of all was the band. They were the same four people, dressed in the same clothing that they had worn during the ninety minutes of their set, the four who had gone off-stage more than five minutes ago, but they were no longer New Order. They weren’t Joy Division, but for the four or so minutes that they played that song, with Barney misremembering the words, but with that oh-my-god, so brilliant a riff that I had missed so very much in the hearing live, they were… different. It was if the song existed in its own zone, into which everyone that entered had to leave their selves behind.
And it was over. There wasn’t the voice in the world with which to scream my delight, my gratitude, my delirium at what had happened.
I went home, undressed, got into bed. It wasn’t a deliberate decision on my part not to see New Order live again: the chance just didn’t happen for long enough that my enthusiasm began to dim, my loyalties shift from Manchester, England to Athens, Georgia. By then it had become fitting that the last song I’d heard New Order play had been the only time I’d heard them cover Joy Division, and become something different in the process.
They had touched magic, and I was there.

Joy Division – ‘Unknown Pleasures’

joy-division-unknown-pleasuresApart from holidays, and a month spent filling in at my then-firm’s London Office, I’ve lived my whole life in Manchester, except for one period. From March 1978 to Match 1980, whilst doing my Articles of Clerkship, I lived and worked in Nottingham.
It wasn’t an auspicious time to move to the East Midlands. When I arrived in Nottingham, Forest were a couple of weeks away from winning the League Championship, and when I left, they were not much further away from securing their second consecutive European Cup, which made the place not that good an environment for a Manchester United fan.
Musically, it wasn’t much better. The pure punk movement had run its course, but the public phase had gathered momentum throughout 1977, and I was just developing a fascination with Manchester’s own Buzzcocks when I was suddenly removed from ‘the scene’ to Nottingham, which was not a punk town, no sir, indeed not. It didn’t even have its own local concert venue, like Manchester’s Apollo Theatre or even the Free Trade Hall. I mean, if you wanted to go gigging, you were left with the Assembly Rooms in Derby or the De Montford Hall in Leicester which, without a car, were a bit remote.
Nor was the radio much better. Nottingham was a death trap for MW, which made Radio 1 on 247m impossible to pick up, except for the lifeline of John Peel five nights a week, on the Radio 2 FM band. Even the change to 275 and 285m in 1979 made only a marginal improvement, so I was restricted to the local commercial Station, Radio Trent, except during those hungry ten hours a week (reduced in 1979 to eight when Friday night was given to Tommy Vance for hard rock) when Peely brought you strange, weird and exciting sounds. Oh, and before I forget, I could actually get BBC Radio Nottingham on FM (in Mono) until 7.00pm, with a non-pop show that openly loathed punk and new wave. Exciting, eh?
So it was something of a change to get out on a Sunday night in February, to Nottingham Playhouse, a small arts theatre at the furthest end of the City Centre, to see John Cooper Clarke.
The venue was probably large enough to host about 200 people, and there was kit on stage: drums, amps, stands for bass and guitar: a backing band? But Clarke came out on time, alone, shopping bag full of notebooks which he dumped by his side, He rattled off three poems at top speed, then retired from the stage. Four guys, dressed in various combinations of black, white and grey, came onstage and took up the instruments. One guy behind the drumkit, the bassist stage right, facing into the wings, the guitarist stage left, facing into the wings, the grey-shirted singer ashen-faced, staring blankly into the audience.
Then they started. It was an ten song, 40 minute set, during which the guitarist and bass-player faced outwards the whole time, the drummer pounded away mercilessly and the singer intoned to a stunned audience, occasionally bursting in short and furious spells of dancing, arms and legs flailing, like somebody doing TISWAS’s ‘Dying Fly’ stood up.
They didn’t speak a word to the audience. Not then, nor when they dismantled their gear and removed it from the stage, afterwards. Clarke reappeared on a bare stage and went into the main set with a will, leaving the audience howling with laughter and at least one member stunned by the support band, but in complete ignorance.
They weren’t down on the ticket. There was no posters indicating a support band. Neither they nor Clarke gave their name. No-one knew who they were. They were just fucking amazing and totally anonymous.
And I’m not just saying in retrospect that they were fucking amazing, I have the diary entry I wrote that night to prove that I thought it then (although being a well-brought up and fairly shy young man, I did not write words like fucking in my diary. Not then). One track, in mid-set, has stuck in my mind ever since, for not only featuring a syndrum solo (which prior to then I had only ever heard in disco music) but the soundboard sent the sound rolling around the theatre, the sound coming from every possible point of the aural compass. It’s an effect I’ve never experienced since.
Who were this band?
I didn’t get my answer for six months, until August 1979. I had probably heard, but not registered, the Peel Session they’d made, and the same goes for the early singles, or maybe I just missed the nights on which such things were played, but Peel was now playing the début album from Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures. And he played the track Insight, the one with the syndrum solo, and insight flowed into my head. That band who had supported Cooper Clarke: that’s who they were!
I play Joy Division less now than I did. For many years they were the constant companions, the soundtrack to a dull, unfulfilled life. Though I’d deny that the term fitted either the band or myself, it’s not inappropriate to suggest that the music and my then-life could be described as “shoe-gazing”. To me, Joy Division were the band who understood my depressive states, when I would do all I could to hit the bottom all the faster, as that was the only way to break through and re-surface.
This is an album that detonates on the lowest level, an utter nihilism that, paradoxically, in facing the worst, offers the promise of recovery by facing it with openness and honesty. Its sleeve – which features neither the band’s name nor the album’s title (‘unknown’ pleasures indeed) – presents a matt, textured black surface with only a striking white pattern upon it. The image was found by Albrecht, in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy, and presents successive pulses from the first pulsar ever discovered, PSR B1919+21. The deliberate obscurity, the rejection of convention, was to be characteristic of Joy Divsion and New Order both.

It’s also the most composed, complete, sure and entire début album I’ve ever heard (only the Stones Roses’ first album pushes it close), a thing of balance and strength, grace and passion on the kind of knife edge that feels as if a single altered note will cause it all to collapse inwards.
The album opens with Disorder, one of only a handful of tracks with a fast tempo. Hooky’s bass leads into the song, creating a pattern that the album as a whole rests upon: bass as lead, a strong, steady, powerful percussive underpinning, Albrecht’s guitar angular and cutting across the rhythm, and Ian Curtis, intoning as much as singing, mixed provocatively forward, unlike the general tendency of punk to absorb the vocal into the razor of sound.
There’s an immediate alienation that remains unbroken until the album’s end. Curtis is seeking a guide, is seeking sensation, something to make him feel that he is alive, and not merely some observer. His alienation is accelerating, literally, It’s getting faster, moving faster now, it’s getting out of hand.
Where will it end? Curtis repeatedly asks in Day of the Lords, a gothic pile, slow, intense, but he’s singing about the start, the room where it all began, whilst the band build mountains of sound around him.
Candidate (one of only a few Joy Division titles to have a direct relation to the lyrics) adopts an even more glacial pace. Curtis is facing the collapse of all previous certainties and finds himself apologising for what he’s tried to say: Oh, I don’t know what made me/What gave me the right/To mess with your values/And change wrong to right. The effect’s been too powerful, the reaction too extreme. I tried to get to you/You treat me like this.
This is followed by Insight. Years ago, a BBC Radio documentary on Joy Division and New Order went out in two parts, drawing their titles from lyrics: “I remember when we were young” and “Now that we’ve grown up together”. The lines perfectly encapsulate the difference between the two bands, three members of which were both groups. The Joy Division line comes from this song: it opens with the sound of a lift door closing, sustains itself upon an almost bubbly bass-line, and breaks out into that astonishing electronic syndrum break, but through it all is Curtis, still sinking towards a bottom growing ever more unfathomable. Dreams end, times are wasted,  I remember when we were young… but the line repeated most often is the defiant I’m not afraid anymore.
And he isn’t.
Side One – for this is an album from the primitive times when there was such a division – ends with the monumental New Dawn Fades. There is still no escape. Curtis has reached the centre of what affects him and here, as Hook sculpts the melody and Albrecht creates shapes above and behind the voice, Curtis stands alone in the dark, facing his failures. The song builds towards a peak as his voice alters, at last escaping contemplation and rising in passion as he metaphorically skewers himself, the butterfly pinned to the card. The guitar builds up to carry the song towards its eventual dying fall.
Side Two (which is not described as such: the first half of this album was titled Outside, the second half Inside) escapes this aural loneliness but only into the personal. She’s Lost Control operates on an emphatic, almost dancing beat, laid down by Morris with that syndrum popping, only to grow ever more ambitious around the static beat. Hook and Albrecht riff. There’s a girl having an epileptic fit, and Curtis knows about epileptic fits, being a sufferer himself. Though the beat is maintained, the growing momentum of the riff makes it feel as if it gradually accelerates
Joy Division made only two television appearances in their short life. This song, and its immediate successor, Shadowplay, were two of only three songs in which they could be seen performing.
The song begins with cymbals, adds a bass-line that is one of Hooky’s most propulsive, adds a storming guitar that mixes heavy-laden riffing with high, slowing lines, coming together to make one of the band’s finest ever tracks. Curtis is in search of someone, has been drawn into the centre of the city to look for her. He finds an elaborate, strangely ritualistic scene, the assassins all grouped in four lines/dancing on the floor, but his only outcome is a confession of failure that makes him an improbable rescuer: I let them use you for their own ends. There is no excuse.
If Unknown Pleasures falters at all, it is in the next two tracks, Wilderness and Interzone (the latter title taken from William Burroughs). These are the two shortest songs on the album, brief and intense, sonically closer to the punk sound with their driving guitar-dominated speed, and both employ a call-and-response lyric which the band don’t use elsewhere. In the first, Curtis asks and answers himself on an unusually impersonal journey into the past that suggests he has decamped to Biblical times, finding again only cruelty and terror. In the latter, Hook actually sings the lead and Curtis a slightly mixed back counterpoint, creating the odd effect that there are two songs going on at the same time, but each in their tale of journeying into an abandoned zone looking from different angles.
But it’s not a falter. The relative primitivity of these two songs, their brief, violent interruption is but a prelude to the album’s closing track, I Remember Nothing. It’s a counterpart, a balance, to New Dawn Fades, its equivalent on the other side. It’s long, slow, monumental in sound, and it’s where producer Martin Hannett is at his most overt. A sub-choral drone hangs over the song, filling in the massive gaps between Hooky’s funereal bass, Morris’s subdued rhythms and Albrecht’s little interjections. Found music, noises, effects, slip into and out of the mix, building the cathedral-like acoustic. Curtis’s singing is deliberately kept down: in places he is almost speaking his words in resignation.
Paradoxically, in all its drawn out, aural morbidity, the song offers, in the album’s closing minutes, a suggestion of hope, a suggestion that the worst may have been faced and defeated. We were strangers/for way too long. But the word is ‘were’. The suggestion is that something has changed, that were strangers are not strangers now. There is no daylight in this extreme, intense, powerful and utterly dark album.
But there may be a place after this experience from which daylight might be seen. What remains after the worst?