And then suddenly, in 1983 a new 12-inch was there, containing futuristic dance music by New Order. Where the music by the band, from which New Order originated from, almost drowned in its own doom, Blue Monday seemed to promote dancing on the volcano. The same primal feeling as Joy Division, but the performance made it, relatively, happier and more optimistic.
I don’t know how it was received in other countries, but in the Netherlands the song caused quite a fuss. Joy Division was sanctified and the ‘people with good taste’ (music snobs is the more accurate term I believe) thought Blue Monday was (of course) nothing less than musical repudiation. Like they were stung by a bee, they reacted to the electronic sounds of the latest New Order release (a bit like today’s ‘music lovers’ react to Kanye West).
New Order’s first album (following Ian Curtis’ premature death) was Movement, an album that stayed true to the Joy Division sound. But now? Disco!? I remember discussions on the radio whether or not ‘that song’ was allowed to be played by certain radio broadcasting organizations (VARA and VPRO), because this could/was not to be tolerated…
I remember reading somewhere that Blue Monday was New Order’s gadget song. For that moment in time, it most certainly was. It makes use of a number of digital instruments:
- Powertran sequencer, home-built by Bernard Sumner
- Oberheim DMX drum machine
- Emulator 1, one of the first samplers
- Moog Source synthesizer
Only Bernard Sumner’s voice and Peter Hook’s bass are analogue.
When playing live shows the band didn’t do encores. Everywhere they went, audiences reacted the same: disappointed and oftentimes irritated. The idea was born to record a song that could be played instead of doing an actual encore. The band would enter the stage, press Play and leave again. Consequently, the song would be played.
During the course of the recording, the band grew ever more enthusiastic over the song. It turned into the first new single. It was going to be released prior to the upcoming album Power, Corruption & Lies.
According to Bernard Sumner, Blue Monday is influenced by Dirty Talk by Klein + M.B.O., Our Love by Donna Summer and Geiger Counter by Kraftwerk. The choral sounds in Blue Monday is a sample of Kraftwerk’s Uranium.
Thirty-five (!) years ago, this song was released. At the time I used to go dancing at the local discotheque every week. After 01:00 AM until closing time, entrance was free and other music, than the standard disco, was played there. I danced to this song a lot, under the (stroboscope) lights.
The 1985 song The Perfect Kiss may be even better, but Blue Monday‘s impact was huge. Something else was happening, something new. Dance music, but not the regular type. The overall feel of the song was mixed. Gloomy and festive at the same time. The doom sound of the vocals was rooted in the Joy Division era, but musically it also reminded of the happier carefree days of the 1970’s and the disco of that era.
The start of the song is impressive, to this day. That 4/4 beat and that bass drum with its machine gun kicks. The music that slowly but gradually swells, the beautiful bass-line, from the Moog Source as well as from Peter Hook’s bass.
Blue Monday is the best-selling 12-inch of all time. Funny enough, Blue Monday was not part of the album Power, Corruption & Lies, which was released on May 2nd, 1983.
The iconic cover for Blue Monday, designed by Peter Saville and Brett Wickens, is beautiful as well. Peter Saville got the idea when he saw Stephen Morris fiddling about with floppy discs (on which the sequencer information was stored).
The cover was meant to mimic a 5¼” floppy disc. The front doesn’t contain words, but it does contain the artist-, song- and label-information in (colored) block-code.
The original cover had cut-outs and a silver-colored innersleeve. Costs for the cover were so high, that Factory Records actually lost money for every copy that was sold. When the single became an unexpected (to New Order and Factory Records) hit, the cover was subtly changed, to make the costs acceptable.
The song has been released three time. The original in 1983 (with B-side The Beach), in 1988 followed by Blue Monday ’88, an adaptation by producer Quincy Jones. Blue Monday ’95 was the third version.
The first version is the best. I never understood the value of the reworked and/or remixed releases. The second and third releases had ‘ordinary’ covers.
As stated above, the original single is the best selling 12″ single of all time, but in spite of the impressive sales figures the single never reached the Gold status, because record company Factory Records was not a member of the British Phonographic Industry Association.
After Blue Monday
With the money of Blue Monday, New Order decided to buy their own club: The Haçienda in Manchester. The club was to play an integral part in (the development of) Madchester and became one of the hippest place in England.
Blue Monday is regarded as the link between 1970’s disco and late 1980’s dance and house.
The lyrics of Blue Monday are said to be about saying goodbye. The almost dull delivery by singer Sumner give the lyrics (and the song) a kind of distant feel:
How does it feel to treat me like you do?
When you’ve laid your hands upon me
and told me who you are
I thought I was mistaken,
I thought I heard your words
Tell me how do I feel
Tell me now, how do I feel
Those who came before me
lived through their vocations From the past until completion,
they’ll turn away no more
And still I find it so hard
to say what I need to say
But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me
just how I should feel today
I see a ship in the harbor
I can and shall obey
But if it wasn’t for your misfortune,
I’d be a heavenly person today
And I thought I was mistaken,
and I thought I heard you speak
Tell me, how do I feel
Tell me now, how should I feel
Now I stand here waiting
I thought I told you to leave me
when I walked down to the beach
Tell me how does it feel,
when your heart grows cold, grows cold, cold
Written by Bernard Sumner, Gillian Lesley Gilbert, Peter Hook and Stephen Paul David Morris
What do you think of Blue Monday? Let me know!
New Order – Blue Monday – Bass drum intro image: musicnoteslib.com/apoplife.nl
New Order – Blue Monday image: afactoryalphabet.blogspot.com
New Order – Blue Monday – Colorcode image: wharferj.wordpress.com
New Order – Blue Monday – Top Of The Pops 1983 image: rockmusictimeline.com
The Haçienda, Manchester image: aidan.co.uk