BLUE MONDAY is the signature song of the English electro-independent band New Order. Released in 1983 as a 12-inch only single, the song – with its dark minimalist sound – is a pioneering piece of electronic dance music in both the independent and mainstream scenes.
According to vocalist and key programmer Bernard Sumner, BLUE MONDAY was the result of several important musical convergences. The song’s overall aesthetic was influenced by the band’s exposure to New York City’s legendary club scene and the desire to experiment with the sonoric possibilities of newly available synthesizers and sequencers. BLUE MONDAY was also a response to continuous complaints by audiences that New Order never gave encores. It finally allowed the band to play a pre-programmed song without actually being present on the stage (Nolan 2006: 102–103; Nice 2010: 229–230).
The track first began as a 20-minute instrumental soundscape that was later released as “Video 5-8-6”. Written by Sumner and drummer/programmer Stephen Morris in 1982, its industrial rhythms were the result of trial and error with a new Oberheim DMX drum machine. Further experimentation with the drum beat and synth lines transformed the song into both BLUE MONDAY and the derivative track “5 8 6” on the album Power, Corruption & Lies (1983).
BLUE MONDAY debuted as an instrumental encore at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne, Australia on 25 November 1982. The song was released as a 12-inch single by Manchester-based Factory Records on 07 March 1983. The single also featured an instrumental dub, “The Beach”, on its B-Side. It was packaged in a black die-cut sleeve designed by noted graphic designer, and former label partner, Peter Saville. The sleeve resembled a five-inch floppy computer disk and had a stripe of color-coded blocks on the right side that identified the band’s name and song title (Flowers 1995: 55). The design was inspired by the floppy disks that Morris interchanged, while playing an Emu-Systems Emulator I sampling keyboard. Urban legend continues to suggest that Factory Records lost money on each sale of the single, because the sleeve was so expensive to produce (Nice 2010: 238). A music video was created by Morris and filmmaker Malcolm Whitehead for a shortened version of the song. The video features a fast-paced montage of low-resolution computer graphics, military iconography, and band images – including a cameo appearance by the arcade game Zaxxon.
Hailing from the former industrial wasteland of Manchester in Northern England, New Order arose out of the post-punk band Joy Division after the suicide of its frontman Ian Curtis in 1980. It was, however, through the release of BLUE MONDAY, that the band largely left behind the guitar-driven melancholy of Joy Division for new electro-dance horizons. With the addition of Gillian Gilbert on keyboards, and no longer encumbered by past expectations, New Order was one of the first bands to fully embrace the latest in computer-based music technology (NewOrderStory 2005). BLUE MONDAY, their fifth single, forged an innovative synthesis of “Kraftwerk’s pure minimalist computer coldness, New York’s dancefloor rhythms and confused Mancunian passion” (Haslam 1999: 129). The song marked an important aesthetic-technical milestone in the development of electronic dance music and secured New Order’s place as one of the most influential electronic bands of the 1980s.
Running at over 7 minutes, BLUE MONDAY begins with an extended instrumental intro. The track features a unique rhythmic stutter and a sixteenth-note quantized drum beat that were famously programmed on the Oberheim DMX. These beats are followed by a pulsating bassline, originating from a Moog Source synthesizer, and sequenced with a Powertran ETI 1024 Composer that Sumner had assembled at home. As the intro gradually unfolds, the listener hears a high-register melodic lead, played by Peter Hook on his Shergold Marathon 6-string bass guitar (strumming high up on the fretboard, with a heavy chorus effect, Hook punctuates the song with his trademark use of the bass as a lead instrument). An evocative angel-like chorus is sampled by Morris on the Emulator and Gilbert finally enters with a shimmering string sequence on a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer (NewOrderOnline 2012). The lyrical section consists of three strophes that do not follow a standard verse-refrain format. The song’s climax follows the third verse, which includes a staccato of sound effects and overdubs of previous musical elements, before eventually fading into an extended outro.
Early performances of BLUE MONDAY – like that on the BBC’s Top of the Pops on 13 March 1983 – did not always go well. Relying heavily on multi-layered synthesizer parts, the song was very difficult for New Order to reproduce live with the sequencing technology of the early 1980s. Despite this limitation, it remained a groundbreaking composition. In an interview with music journalist Dave Haslam, Sumner – who has been credited with BLUE MONDAY’s artistic vision – revealed the influences behind the track’s powerful groove: the arrangement came from Klein + M.B.O.’s “Dirty Talk” (1982); the beat from Donna Summer’s “Our Love” (1979); the bassline from Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” (1978); and the chorus sample from Kraftwerk’s “Uran” (1975) (Haslam 1999: 299; NewOrderOnline 2012).
The lyrics of BLUE MONDAY have generated considerable commentary among fans, who have noted their deliberate ambiguity. As is characteristic of his early vocals, Sumner sang in an emotionally disaffected style. Fans have speculated that the lyrics may contain hidden references to the suicide of Curtis and its traumatic aftereffects on the band; to the consequences of habitual drug use, given persistent rumors that the track was composed on LSD; and to the Falklands War of 1982, because of phrases such as “ship in the harbor” and “beach” (Flowers 1995: 54). Sumner, who rarely discusses his lyrics, has simply remarked: “It’s just a fucking pop song, mate” (Middles 1996: 248).
With over 3 million copies sold worldwide, BLUE MONDAY is considered the best-selling 12-inch single of all time – a claim that is, however, “difficult to verify” (Nice 2010: 238). The song peaked at #9 in the UK Single Charts and at #1 in the UK Independent Charts. Since Factory Records was not a member of the British Phonographic Industry at the time of its original release, it was never eligible for an official gold disc. The track was officially reissued twice with new remixes – as “Blue Monday 88” by American producer Quincy Jones and engineer John Potoker in 1988 and as “BlueMonday-95” by German techno DJ Hardfloor in 1995. Both remixes reached the UK Top 20.
Because BLUE MONDAY was not placed on the band’s subsequent album, Power, Corruption & Lies, its later release on the best-selling compilations Substance (1987) and (the best of) NewOrder (1994) was critical in ensuring the song’s popularity with new generations of listeners. This popularity, however, became – much to everyone’s frustration – a burden as legions of fans reduced the band’s core identity to this particular song. For a significant period in the 1990s, New Order simply refused to play BLUE MONDAY. It is, once again, a regular fixture on the band’s playlist in the new millennium.The song has been widely covered by artists and bands as diverse as And One (2009), Flunk (2002), the Jolly Boys (2010), Kylie Minogue (2001), Nouvelle Vague (2006), Orgy (1998), Hannah Peele (2010), and countless bedroom producers on YouTube. It continues to be a – if not the – dancefloor anthem of the electronic music scene.
MIRKO M. HALL
Vocals, Programming: Bernard Sumner
Bass: Peter Hook
Drums, Keyboards, Programming: Stephen Morris
Keyboards, Programming: Gillian Gilbert
Producer: New Order
Label: Factory Records
Release: 07 March 1983
- Klein + M.B.O. Dirty Talk, 1982, Zanza Records, ZR0107, Italy (12″/MiniAlbum).
- Kraftwerk. “Uran”, Radio-Aktivität, 1975, Kling Klang, 1C 062-82 087, Germany (LP).
- New Order, (the best of) NewOrder, 1994, London Records, 828580.1, UK (2xLP).
- New Order, Blue Monday, 1983, Factory Records, FAC 73, UK (12″/Single).
- New Order, Blue Monday 88, 1988, Factory Records, FAC 73R, UK (12″/Single).
- New Order, BlueMonday-95, 1995, London Records, 850241.1, UK (12″).
- New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies, 1983, Factory Records, FACT 75, UK (12″).
- New Order, Substance 1987, 1987, Factory Records, FACT 200, UK (2xLP).
- New Order, Video 5-8-6, 1997, Touch Music, Tone 7, UK (12″).
- Donna Summer, Sunset People/Our Love, 1979, Phonogram, 6198 359, Germany (12″/Maxi).
- Sylvester, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), 1978, Fantasy Records, Fantasy 846, US (7″/Single).
- Flowers, Claude: New Order+Joy Division: Dreams Never End. London: Omnibus Press 1995.
- Haslam, Dave: Manchester, England: The Story of the Pop Cult City. London: Fourth Estate 1999.
- Middles, Mick: From Joy Division to New Order: The Factory Story. London: Virgin Books 1996.
- Nice, James: Shadowplyers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records. London: Aurum Press 2010.
- Nolan, David: Bernard Sumner. Confusion: Joy Division, Electronic and New Order versus the World. Shropshire, UK: Independent Music Press 2007.
- Robertson, Mathew: Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album. London: Thames and Hudson 2006.
- NewOrderOnline: A New Order/Joy Division Website. URL: http://www.neworderonline.com [01.06.2012].
- NewOrderStory. Director: Kevin Hewitt. Script: Paul Morley. Warner Music Vision 2005. (DVD/034970482).
About the Author
All contributions by Mirko M. Hall
Mirko M. Hall: “Blue Monday (New Order)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/bluemonday, 06/2012 [revised 10/2013].Print