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35 years: how does it feel now? New Order and “Blue Monday”

On March 7 1983, the biggest-selling 12″ single of all time was released. You’re probably danced to it a few times. And possibly played ‘air drums’ along with it too.

“Blue Monday” by New Order wasn’t created in a vacuum, it’s a song born of multiple parents – not least the band themselves, who created the song to allow them to perform an encore without the requirement to actually be on stage. Press ‘start’ on the sequencer, and wander off for a cuppa.

The song essentially completes the band’s metamorphosis from Joy Division to New Order. The band’s songs before “Blue Monday” had begun to incorporate synths and drum machines. But this was where the electronics took centre stage. They were the song, with the traditional guitars and bass relegated to support status. Even the bass lines were played on a Moog Source, overlaid with Peter Hook’s stringed bass.

By common consent, “Blue Monday” was heavily-influenced by three songs: “Dirty Talk” by Klein + M.B.O. provided the general arrangement, the sequencer line and beat were from “Our Love” by Donna Summer, and electronic music Gods Kraftwerk provided the choir ‘voice’ through a sample of their song “Uranium“.

The band even cannibalised their own “586” from second album “Power Corruption and Lies” for many of the sounds and the ‘feel’ of “Blue Monday”.

“Good artists copy; great artists steal.” So the saying goes. And, whilst the ideas that helped create the song are obvious, “Blue Monday” is much more than the sum of its parts.

The drums. THE DRUMS. Those incessant drums. Within a second you know you’re listening to “Blue Monday” because of *that* drum pattern and the power of the Oberheim DMX drum machine. DUM-DUM-DADADADADADADADA-DUM-DUM-DUM. 

Then the sequencer starts to fade in. Becoming more insistent the louder it gets. Then pre-intro turns into intro proper as the thudding bassline starts to push everything along. At around the one minute mark we have those solo cymbal crashes and the whole soundscape starts filling up again.

The bass riff (Hooky always being more a lead guitarist – who just happens to play bass guitar – than a ‘traditional’ basisist). The tom tom fills. The snare break. The Kraftwerk choir. The keyboard lead line. It all comes seemingly out of nowhere but easily slots in to fill the aural landscape.

And then the most deadpan vocals in pop history: “How does it feel to treat me like you do?”

But what is “Blue Monday” all about?

“Those who came before me lived through their vocations”. Er, okay.

“I see a ship in the harbour, I can and shall obey”. My pre-teen self was convinced that second line was “anchored in shallow bay” for years.

“But if it wasn’t for your misfortune, I’d be a heavenly person today.” Straight out of the lyric book of fellow Manc Steven Morrissey that one. 

There’s as many theories about the story behind the lyrics, as New Order sites on the Internet. It’s about Ian Curtis’s suicide. It’s about a controlling ex-girlfriend. It’s about the after-effects of taking cocaine.

Or it’s just a string of words that Barney Sumner scribbled down to fit the structure of this interesting piece of music he and his bandmates had conceived.

And like the vast majority of New Order songs of the time, the title never actually appears in the lyrics.

In the dim and distant past when I was occasionally to be found “spinning the wheels of steel” at parties and similar functions there were certain records that were guaranteed to fill the dancefloor.

Come on Eileen” by Dexys. “Love Shack” by The B-52s. “Everybody needs somebody” by The Blues Brothers. And “Blue Monday” by New Order.

Depending on the demographic of the audience, I knew I wouldn’t get far into that incessant drum intro before I’d have a dancefloor filled with mildly-intoxicated wedding guests or birthday party goers. All trying desperately to find a groove to dance along to.

And getting a group of people to dance along to a song that was seven and a half minutes long gave you chance – if you were quick – to visit the bar and make a trip to the gents.

What more could you want in a record?


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