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Remembering Joy Division's Ian Curtis 30 Years After His Death

Three decades after the powerful Joy Division singer committed suicide at 23, his music lives on

Ian Curtis of Joy Division.
Rob Verhorst/Redferns
May 18, 2010 5:19 PM ET

Thirty years ago today, the music world lost one of its most unique and powerful young voices when Ian Curtis, lead singer and songwriter of Joy Division, committed suicide just hours before the Manchester, U.K. band was scheduled to depart for their first tour of North America. In their short run, Joy Division left behind two classic albums that bridged the gap between punk and new wave: 1979's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer, both masterpieces of a dark, gloomy style of rock dubbed the Manchester Sound. Joy Division were a sharp, pop-minded band, as well: "Love Will Tear Us Apart," released one month before Curtis' death, would go on to become the band's highest-charting song and one of the most revered tracks of the '80s. It ultimately landed on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Remember More Rockers Lost Before Their Time

Though Curtis died tragically at the young age of 23, his life and music continue to resonate 30 years later. As a songwriter, he helped inspire the melancholy post-punk revival of bands like Bloc Party and Interpol. And as a mythic personality, his struggles with depression, epilepsy and burgeoning fame have been chronicled in excellent biopics like 2007's Control. Countless artists have paid their respects to Curtis, as well: Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, the Killers, U2, Arcade Fire, Fall Out Boy, Hot Chip, the Smashing Pumpkins have all honored Joy Division by covering the band's music over the years.

Look back on Curtis' musical impact with performances of some of the band's greatest songs below:

Transmission:

"She's Lost Control":

"Love Will Tear Us Apart":

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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