Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
Blue Monday: How A New Order Song Changed The Face Of Music
Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Blue Monday: How A New Order Song Changed The Face Of Music

Still sounding like the future of electronic music, New Order’s Blue Monday remains “unsurpassed” as a “song to make you dance”.

Back

When it comes to game-changing songs, Blue Monday is up there with the best of them. First released on 7 March 1983, New Order’s signature hit is frequently hailed as one of the 80s’ most innovative tracks, and it remains the best-selling 12” single of all time, topping the dance charts in the US and selling over a million copies in the UK alone.

Those are the headlines – and they make impressive reading, but they probably surprised the song’s composers more than anyone else. After all, while Blue Monday is now accepted as a bona fide dancefloor classic, the song sprang from a loose experiment in which New Order attempted to create a piece of music their equipment could play itself, thus circumventing their need to play encores at their live shows.

Embracing new technology

New Order’s dislike of encores is traceable back to the anti-showbiz stance that was so prevalent when they started life as Manchester punk outfit Warsaw in 1977. Within 12 months, however, they’d rebranded themselves as Joy Division, creating a future-shaping sound of their own and releasing two highly influential Factory Records albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, before their charismatic vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide, aged just 23, in May 1980.

Joy Division were primarily a guitar-driven rock outfit, but pioneering synth-pop outfit Kraftwerk were one of Curtis’ favourite groups, and his bandmates were also drawn towards electronics. Producer Martin Hannett encouraged them to incorporate synths and drum machines into their sonic palette circa Closer, and when the band regrouped as New Order following Curtis’ death, they threw themselves into exploring the possibilities of electronica and embracing the new technology.

Memorably melancholic

After successfully integrating sequencers into their trademark post-punk sound on early game-changing singles Everything’s Gone Green and Temptation, New Order went on to record their second album, 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies, at Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row Studios in London. It was here they took receipt of two new bits of kit which shaped Blue Monday’s sound.

The first of these was the Oberheim DMX, a drum machine capable of almost supernatural precision, which drummer Stephen Morris programmed and then added fills and little drum stops akin to those New Order had recently heard on dance records spun at the cutting-edge New York clubs.

The band then added Blue Monday’s thrumming bass synth part, based on Sylvester’s disco hit You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and Gillian Gilbert’s sequenced synths. They then utilised their second newly-acquired gadget, the Emulator sampler (effectively a high-tech 80s successor to the 60s analogue Mellotron) to sample the track’s distinctive choir-like voices from Kraftwerk’s classic track Radioactivity. Peter Hook then added his instantly recognisable, Ennio Morricone-esque bassline and Bernard Sumner completed the song with his memorably melancholic vocal.

“A prompt to make you dance”

The band were rightly pleased with the outcome, but didn’t imagine they had a hit single on their hands. Aside from being such a radical sonic departure, Blue Monday had no obvious chorus and also clocked in at seven minutes – hardly the stuff of daytime radio hits.

However, after the song was released, it rapidly became a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Immensely popular in clubs the length and breadth of Europe, Blue Monday crossed over into mainstream charts around the world, as well as climbing to No.9 in the UK: a result that necessitated a famously fraught Top Of The Pops performance for which New Order insisted on playing live.

Blue Monday was also issued in a sleeve which became the stuff of legend. Designed by Peter Saville and Brett Wickens, the 12” record came housed in a striking die-cut cover resembling a floppy disk. It was aesthetically pleasing but, due to the use of die-cutting and specific colours, the sleeve’s production costs were so high that Blue Monday actually sold at a loss of five UK pence per copy. Multiply that by around 250,000 copies reputedly sold before the sleeve was modified and you’ll see why the 1988 and 1995 reissues of the song were packaged in more conventional sleeves.

“Even today, it still cuts it”

In terms of prestige, however, Blue Monday more than delivered. Effectively the record that ushered New Order into the mainstream, it encouraged the group to alchemise the distinctive electronic-tinged rock sound they made their own on classic albums such as Low-Life and Brotherhood, and ultimately led them to significant success on the international stage.

“As a song, I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite New Order track, but as a prompt to make you dance, it’s unsurpassed,” Bernard Sumner reflected in his 2014 memoir, Chapter And Verse.

“Even today when Blue Monday comes on in a club, people get straight up and on the floor. It still cuts it.”

How does it feel? Artists inspired by Blue Monday

Blue Monday presented itself to New Order as a possible song title when Stephen Morris saw the phrase “Goodbye Blue Monday” in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast Of Champions, though as Gillian Gilbert later told Mojo, “It was a reference to the invention of the washing machine, which improved housewives’ lives.”

We’re not suggesting Blue Monday can wash your jeans for you, but the song is now so ubiquitous that the fact its title derives from a story about a technological invention that transforms everyday lives seems especially fitting. New technology was, after all, central to Blue Monday’s creation. Yet while New Order have always been upfront about the innovations that influenced the creation of the song, their singular slice of electronic pop has also inspired some of music’s most groundbreaking figures to raise their own games. Here are just a few of the artists that Blue Monday has influenced.

Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk were an early influence on Bernard Sumner and co, dating back to Joy Division’s early days, with the band occasionally taking the stage to the title track from the German pioneers’ 1977 album, Trans-Europe Express. After they transitioned into New Order and absorbed more electronica into their sound, the group showed their admiration for Kraftwerk by using the working title “KW1” for the song Your Silent Face, from Power, Corruption & Lies. Yet with Blue Monday, New Order also directly inspired their heroes.

“When we heard Blue Monday… what an incredible music magnet!” Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos wrote in his book, The Sound Of The Machines: My Life In Kraftwerk And Beyond. “The combined drums/sequencer groove and the passive vocals were practically a command to the dancefloor. We did a bit of research, packed our 16-track tape and set off to mix Tour De France at Britannia Row in London with New Order’s engineer, Michael Johnson, after we found out that’s where Blue Monday was recorded.”

Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys have been one of the most important electronic pop acts on the planet since the mid-80s, and frontman Neil Tennant collaborated with Bernard Sumner and The SmithsJohnny Marr on the debut album by their side project, Electronic. To him, Blue Monday wasn’t just influential – it bettered the music his own act were striving to create in 1983.

Admitting that he “nearly burst into tears of envy upon hearing the singular sound” of Blue Monday, Tennant told Mojo magazine, “It was brilliant, but depressingly for me, it pre-empted the same ‘umba-umba’ synthetic rhythm I was working to perfect with Chris [Lowe]. New Order beat us to it.”

Hot Chip

One of the most consistently acclaimed electronic acts of the past two decades, London’s Hot Chip have assembled a string of albums, such as The Warning and the Grammy-nominated Made In The Dark, since forming at the turn of the millennium. Mainstays Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard collaborated with Bernard Sumner and Hot City on the 2010 single Didn’t Know What Love Was, and the pair have openly confessed their love for both Blue Monday and New Order in general.

“Having worked with them, I can tell you that their fascination with synthesisers is really intense and amazing,” Taylor said in a 2020 NME interview. “They were coming towards dance music as a post-punk band and with Blue Monday they bridged that gap quite beautifully.”

Treat me like you do: Blue Monday covers

For a song written for machines, Blue Monday is surprisingly human, and it has lent itself to a diverse selection of cover versions from different genres. Here are some of the best.

808 State: Blue Monday (So Hot Mix) (1988)

New Order not only revisited Blue Monday themselves (as Blue Monday 88, for their Substance collection), but they also offered the song up for remixing elsewhere. Manchester neighbours 808 State did an especially memorable job with their So Hot Mix, coupled on a 12” with their equally effective Acid House Mix of Confusion.

Orgy: Blue Monday (1998)

Speaking to the breadth of Blue Monday’s influence, Californian industrial metal outfit Orgy worked up a memorable – and surprisingly faithful – version of the song in 1998. Shooting to No.2 on Billboard’s dance chart, it helped the band’s Candyass album move over two million copies in the US.

Flunk: Blue Monday (2002)

Approaching Blue Monday from a completely different angle, Norwegian indie act Flunk brought out the song’s dreamy qualities with a sparse reworking which floats over rolling acoustic guitars and subtle beats. It’s well worth a listen.

Hannah Peel: Blue Monday (2010)

Perhaps the most radical – and magical – of Blue Monday reboots is this one from Hannah Peel, best known for her string arrangements on Paul Weller albums. Performed with just a musical box to accompany her plaintive vocal, this truly lovely reimagining of Blue Monday features on the Rebox EP, on which Peel also revisits classics from OMD and Cocteau Twins, plus Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love, popularised by Soft Cell.

You’ve laid your hands upon me: Songs that sample Blue Monday

Blue Monday was a huge club hit as soon as it first dropped in 1983, so it’s no surprise the song his become a rich source of material for records that have continued to shape the dancefloor. To date, Blue Monday has reputedly been sampled on over 40 separate tracks, of which these five are perhaps the most notable.

Divine: Love Reaction (1983)

The first (and arguably the most shameless) song to sample Blue Monday, Love Reaction, by US performance artist, singer and drag queen Divine, purloined its beat and a significant segment of its backing track – and scored a minor UK hit as a result.

Electroset: How Does It Feel? (1993)

Effectively a strident, housey mash-up of New Order and The Prodigy, How Does It Feel? snuck out on the London Records-affiliated FFRR label and proved a sure-fire club hit. As the title suggests, the track samples Blue Monday’s “How does it feel?” vocal hook and also bits of the song’s melody.

UNKLE: Intro (Optional) (1998)

Blink and you could easily miss Blue Monday’s presence on Intro (Optional), the hidden, CD-only track on Psyence Fiction, the acclaimed debut album from James Lavelle’s UNKLE project. Effectively stitched together from brief samples of timelessly cool tracks from bands as diverse as Nirvana, Run-DMC and The Doors, Intro (Optional) probably shouldn’t work, yet in its way it’s brilliant. Blue Monday only bubbles to the surface for a few seconds at the 1.14 mark, but it is in there.

Kylie Minogue: Can’t Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head (2002)

Fans were quick to spot the similarity between the pulsing basslines from Blue Monday and Kylie Minogue’s global smash Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, and she brought New Order’s classic back with a bang during her 2002 BRIT Awards performance, during which she mixed the two songs together. At the very height of the mash-up craze, Kylie then released Can’t Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head as a B-side, before New Order returned the favour, sampling Kylie’s version for their 2005 Coachella Festival appearance.

Rihanna: Shut Up And Drive (2007)

A Top 20 smash on both sides of the Atlantic, Rihanna’s suggestive car song is technically an interpolation of 70s and 80s new-wave stylings, though it does contain a Blue Monday sample, and the song’s structure and primary melody line are also notably alike. Indeed, the similarities were so marked that New Order ended up receiving writing credits on the song.

Buy New Order vinyl, box sets and more at the Dig! store.

Original article: 13 November 2020

Updated: 7 March 2023

More Like This

Wicked Game: Behind Chris Isaak’s Song Of Obsessive Love
In Depth

Wicked Game: Behind Chris Isaak’s Song Of Obsessive Love

Intoxicating and cinematic, Wicked Game is the song that kick-started Chris Isaak’s career, and it endures as a classic to this day.

CSNY’s 1974 Reunion: The Full Story Of The “Doom Tour”
In Depth

CSNY’s 1974 Reunion: The Full Story Of The “Doom Tour”

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young’s 1974 reunion tour had it all: marathon sets, raging egos and unbridled hedonism.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up