The song centers on Peter Hook's cool, droning, minimalist bassline formed over a methodical and mechanistic drum beat courtesy of Stephen Morris. The beat came together after each drum was recorded completely separately, as Martin Hannett obsessively pursued clean drum sounds with no "bleed through" (when one drums sound is added to the signal of another drum unintentionally) on songs he considered potential singles. In dramatic contrast, Bernard Sumner's guitar work is sharp and clipped, and bears a striking resemblance to Dave Davies' work on early Kinks singles such as "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All Night". Ian Curtis' lyrics concern a girl having an epileptic seizure (i.e. "losing control"), a condition which Curtis himself suffered from, and Curtis' delivery is nervy and paranoid, reflecting the ominous music. Many indie bands have covered it, as well as Siobhan Fahey and Grace Jones.
Live, the song would be played at a faster pace, and much more aggressive, Curtis often shouting the lyrics before the bridge sections. The electronic drum used would often be more abrasive and louder in the mix than it was in the studio recordings. On later live recordings, Ian Curtis would play a keyboard line during the outro, one of only a few songs where Ian himself would play an instrument.
The name of the song is referenced in the title of Control, a biopic of Ian Curtis, which includes the incident inspiring the song, and also the recording of the song, showing Morris using an aerosol can sprayed into a microphone as percussion.
The film 24 Hour Party People includes a scene dramatizing the recording of the song, and suggests that Morris recorded the drum beat on the roof of the studio, as well as continuing to play the beat long after the other band members recorded their parts and left the studio. This could have been simply for humour, or making reference to Martin Hannett's eccentricity (in a previous scene, he is depicted recording "silence" atop a hill).