Okay, I know you’re prolly thinking it’s sacrilege to highlight a cover of one of the most beloved songs of the 80s (and then some) before highlighting the original, but it’s really not meant to be sacrilegious, I swear. It’s just my history with the song is a bit different than most folks.
As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I listened to mostly Top 40 music for many years and had a late start getting into Alternative music in the 80s. Then, in 1988, I was dating someone who had a radio show at her college, and long story longer, upon my first listen to the Red Version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by the New York City Experimental / Avant Rock band, Swans, I fell in love with it immediately. And, believe it or not, at the time, I honestly didn’t know it was a cover of a song by a Greater Manchester, England band called Joy Division, the precursor to another band I was late to get acquainted with (but had by 1988), New Order.
The love for Joy Division’s original “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was massive in New Zealand, where it spent a week at No. 1 in 1981, and it was also a hit in the U.K. and Australia, and a couple years later in Ireland (and again in the U.K. and New Zealand). Over the years, the international love for the song grew, and has since been covered many, many times. In 1988, Swans released two different versions on their 4-track LOVE WILL TEAR US APART EP.
The first version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on the EP, and my favorite version, is the Red Version, with vocals by Swans leader, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Michael Gira. The other version is referred to as the Black Version, sung by keyboardist / vocalist / songwriter (Jane) Jarboe. This version was a bit more stripped down and intimate than the Red Version.
Later on, Michael Gira called their version(s) of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” a mistake, but mistake or not, it was not only popular with yours truly, it was a hit at college stations around the country, (climbing the Independent charts in June 1988 and almost reaching No. 1), and brought the band a record deal (albeit short-lived) with Uni/MCA Records.
Since “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” there have been nine Swans live albums released, nine studio albums released, including this year’s THE GLOWING MAN, three EPs, and a whopping 12 compilations – all with Michael Gira still at the helm.
In 2006, for the 10-year anniversary of my little 80s radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), I compiled a list of the “80 Best 80s Covers Of The Past 25 Years (1980 – 2005),” and the Swans’ Red Version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was ranked at No. 1.
Nearly 30 years after its release, I don’t know if it’s just because I was introduced to this version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” before the original Joy Division classic, but – and again, I don’t want to sound sacrilegious – I have to say it remains my favorite version of the song. And I adore the Joy Division original, I really do. I guess it’s one of those (maybe?) rare cases where you actually like the cover version better than the original song. Maybe a blog post idea for another time?
It’s more than okay if you don’t agree with me. And, don’t worry – love will NOT tear us apart over whichever version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart “ (Joy Division or Swans) you prefer. Either way, “there’s still this appeal, that we’ve kept through our lives…”