I’m currently working my way through Mark Radcliffe’s Reelin’ in the Years (2011), a book in which the 6 Music DJ picks a song for each year of his life and waxes lyrical about it. And so the book begins with the release of Cliff Richard’s ‘Move It’ in 1958 and finishes (spoiler alert!) in 2010 with Band of Horses’ ‘Factory’.
Which got me thinking: what songs would I come up with if I tried the same idea? I have no shame. This is a completely derivative idea. But also might be a bit of fun. So here goes.
As you might expect, I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to music in 1980, the year of my birth. I was too busy, to not point too fine a point on it, getting over the shock of having come into existence.
And I’m not really sure what music might have been playing chez Morris as I gurgled and pooped my way through the first year of my life. Although Mum can play piano and Dad spent much of his time in the Boys’ Brigade parping out various bugle calls, they’ve never seemed to have much time for pop music.
There’s a tape of ABBA’s Arrival knocking around their house somewhere and Dad picked up a copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water from the local garage once, but most of their music is classical or – in my dad’s case (and, I freely admit, it is pushing at the boundaries of the definition of the word “music”) – fairground organ music.
So I can be fairly certain they were not listening to Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ upon its release in June 1980. A shame really as the drummer from the band goes by the name of Stephen Morris.
There were perkier sounding songs released in 1980: Blondie’s ‘Call Me’, Lipps Inc’s ‘Funkytown’, Billy Joel’s ‘It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll To Me’, but why would you want to listen to them when you can luxuriate in a bit of Mancunian misery?
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is as autobiographical as songs get. It was written by frontman Ian Curtis while his marriage was in free fall – hastened, no doubt in part, by the affair he was conducting – mourning the way in which love has turned to something mundane, dull and listless:
‘When routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow…’
run the first four lines of the song. It’s a chronicle of entropy: the second law of thermodynamics in action.
For Curtis, the decline and fall of love is as good as guaranteed: ‘Love will [not may] tear us apart’, ‘When [not if] routine bites hard’, ‘emotions won’t [not might not] grow’.
It’s a done deal. The writing’s on the wall. The fat lady has sung. We’re all doomed.
It’s hardly surprising when you consider Curtis’ disposition. If there had been an academic school of melancholy, Ian Curtis would have been one of its leading professors. Following his suicide, Curtis’ widow, Deborah wrote in Touching from a Distance how ‘all Ian’s spare time was spent reading and thinking about human suffering.’
And yet, against that, there’s an unremitting energy to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Just listen to that introduction: the vigorous strumming of one guitar, the angular attack of another, Morris’ typically precise drumming entering into the fray followed by the ethereal keyboard motif.
If you didn’t know what words were about to pour forth from Curtis’ mouth, you might be inclined to expect some kind of anthemic rabble rouser of a tune. It’s a far cry from the staid, solemnity sounds of ‘Atmosphere’ or the claustrophobic angst of ‘She’s Lost Control’.
But it’s not so much of a mis-match of message and medium. Not really. The urgency and the energy that could be easily mistaken for something thrilling and exciting is actually the sound of inevitability hurtling faster, ever faster towards death, decay and eternal doom.
All of which makes for very gloomy reading. Morose and miserable as I am (and there’s a lot about this song’s lyrics that appeal to me because of just that), I’m still just about enough of a romantic to believe it doesn’t always have to be this way. I’m not entirely sure what Brian Cox would say on the matter, but I reckon it might be possible to take on entropy and win.
Of course, I’d never be daft enough to try and put such sentiments in a song; that way something as saccharine as 1981’s ‘Endless Love’ lies. And you’ll never find me doing that.
Your can download ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ on iTunes right here.