❉ The story of how New Order’s Blue Monday broke all the rules.
“This shouldn’t have been anything like a perennial classic which many see as a huge influence on the future of music yet as of December 2017 it remains the 80th biggest selling single of all time according to the Official UK Charts Company. Its length and structure and sales format make it feel like the ultimate anti-hit. Something which should never have worked its way so convincingly into the consciousness of a nation and yet that’s exactly what it did.”
It’s hard to know where to begin with this. John Peel played it first and that’s where it belonged, one of those records which would dent the lower reaches of the Top 40 for a couple of weeks and then spend the rest of its natural life in the upper reaches of the indie charts; a record for the terminally hip alternative crowd.
Back in 1983 music was still a very tribal affair. Most people didn’t listen outside their comfort zones – judging by the ubiquity of the likes of Ed Sheehan one could probably say the same today – but it was clearer cut back then and the general rule was that boys (and indie music has always been predominantly about boys) didn’t dance. Yet Blue Monday broke all the rules. It didn’t just disappear after a couple of weeks in the lower reaches of the charts, it stayed forever, it was a darkly melancholic, and an indie record you could dance to.
Blue Monday is essentially made up of Klein & MBO’s Dirty Talk bass-line (with a dash of Ennio Morricone for good measure), the beats and synths from Donna Summer’s Our Love, and the choral parts littered throughout Kratwerk;s Radio-Activity. In many ways it wasn’t original. It was only available as a 12 inch single, there was no indication of the song title or the name of the group anywhere on its sleeve which was famous for costing more to make than the wholesale price of the record, and there was no radio friendly edit available.
This shouldn’t have been anything like a perennial classic which many see as a huge influence on the future of music yet as of December 2017 it remains the 80th biggest selling single of all time according to the Official UK Charts Company. It’s probably even better put in perspective by looking back when Channel 4 counted down the best selling UK singles in 2002 when it was 76th and sandwiched between Simon May Orchestra’s Theme from Van Der Valk, Eye Level, and Long Haired Lover From Liverpool by Jimmy Osmond. Those are the kind of records that sell a million copies, New Order definitely didn’t fit the mould.
Yet for all the talk of it being the first indie dance record, it wasn’t. In fact it wasn’t the first one on Factory Records or really even the first by New Order. Label-mates and fellow Mancunians A Certain Ratio had been making their own brand of funky records since 1979 and in their earlier incarnation, as Joy Division, New Order had made Transmission and She’s Lost Control, both of which owed a debt to dance music. Once they had lost lead singer Ian Curtis their sound had been edging slowly towards something more dance friendly. Early singles Everything’s Gone Green and Temptation chart a clear course towards this and in 1982 the band recorded a session for John Peel which included the track 5-8-6 which sounds eerily like a prototype.
The other key catalyst was a visit to New York to see A Certain Ratio, who had been recording in there, where they were introduced to the vibrant club scene of places such as Dancetria, The Mudd Club, and The Paradise Garage where the music was a mix of early electro and alternative dance. Some even called it Mutant Disco, which sums it up rather well. It was the drum and bass sounds the group heard there which provided the inspiration for not just Blue Monday but the band’s whole future direction.
The story of the making of the song is well documented but began with the band trying to link their home made electronic equipment with a drum machine Stephen Morris had purchased. A computer programming friend of producer Martin Hannett, designed a circuit which would allow the machines to work with each other. Once they were all switched on the song started to generate itself from their programmed sequences. Due to a slight error in programming, the synth part is very slightly out of synch with the rhythm track but this is probably just another unintentional reason as to why it’s such a distinctive track. The same could be said of the lyric. There’s no verse or chorus and it feels strangely fragmented, more poem than lyric, which doesn’t appear until over two minutes into the track and then just stops after about four and a half minutes with only a brief snippet later on.
When reading about the making of certain records there are some which the creators will often confess that they knew they’d made something special from the beginning. Sifting through all the tales of the making of Blue Monday one never gets the feeling that this was the case at the time. Its length and structure and sales format make it feel like the ultimate anti-hit. Something which should never have worked its way so convincingly into the consciousness of a nation and yet that’s exactly what it did. Without it there might not have been The Hacienda, or perhaps even Madchester and everything that stemmed from it. Blue Monday might not have been the first but it was one of the biggest and best of its kind. 35 years later it feels familiar, almost over played, yet it cast a long shadow and to many, changed everything forever.
❉ “Blue Monday” was released as a 12-inch single on 7 March 1983 through Factory Records and later as a 7-inch single through Tonpress in 1985. It appeared on certain cassette and CD versions of the band’s second studio album, Power, Corruption & Lies.