The 30th anniversary of the release of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ passed with an odd absence of fanfare last Thursday (7 March). Maybe no one could believe it was quite so ancient because, whether you first heard it last week or in 1983, it has the whiff of The Future about it. That makes sense – The Future is precisely what it created.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that
Let’s be honest – ‘Blue Monday’ wasn’t made in a vacuum. It might’ve influenced decades of dance and rock music, but it scavenged the archives for plenty of ‘inspiration’ itself. That drilling bass drum sound, for a start, was an attempt to emulate Giorgio Moroder’s pulsations on Donna Summer’s ‘Our Love’. Great job, it’s indistinguishable. The rhythm track as well – that’s a ringer for Italian post-disco dons Klein+MBO’s ‘Dirty Talk’, a record that caught New Order’s collective ear when they heard Hewan Clarke playing it at the Haçienda, and the monks’ chorus is a straight swipe from Kraftwerk’s ‘Uranium’.
But the genius is in taking filched elements and other tricks learned by osmosis and turning them into something that feels new. When people heard ‘Blue Monday’ they weren’t snottily saying, “Well, that bit’s Klein+MBO and that bit’s pure Bobby O” – they were going, “What the hell is THIS?” It fed right back into the scenes it plundered, borrowing from the electro movement that gave us Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson and becoming an essential building block of the Detroit Techno that trio would go on to pioneer. Even now, Saunderson still finds space for ‘Blue Monday’ in his DJ sets.
Techno tipping point
It might just be the happy conjunction of timing and opportunity, but Blue Monday’ feels like a fulcrum. Take that ‘Our Love’ loan – the last days of disco are fading into this dour, rainy Manchester funk and what’s emerging on the other side is something entirely alien. Bernard Sumner cites Sylvester’s immense disco classic ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ as a touchstone too, another slice of joy going into the machine and coming out blank. Blankness is ‘Blue Monday”s overwhelming quality, from Sumner’s pale, robotic vocal to Peter Hook’s desolate bass melody, and it’s the merest flick of the pencil to draw a line from this to forbidding early techno, or Phuture’s ‘Acid Tracks’. The disco loop keeps going around too – five years later Quincy Jones was releasing the ‘Blue Monday’ reissue on his own Qwest label.
In the pop world, the 12″ single was all about zero imagination. The average extended mix consisted of the 7″ with an extra minute of drum fills stuffed in the middle or the intro played twice over or – if the boat was really being pushed out – a spoken-word interlude. ‘Blue Monday’ realised the possibilities of the form: you could bankrupt yourself with a die-cut sleeve! But you could also write a song fit for purpose, a sprawling monster that could only be accommodated on a massive slab of vinyl. Yep, Flowered Up’s ‘Weekender’ could never have existed without ‘Blue Monday’. New Order took a practical clubber’s format and turned it into an artistic statement.
It wasn’t meant to be this pivotal. It was supposed to be an entirely automated excuse to hit the bar early. One of the four would press the button and the track would take care of itself, allowing the band to leave the audience to it and get a swift half. That was before they realised how complicated it was to try and get all these mad sequencers and drum machines to actually talk to one another.
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There were dry runs in ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ – a rougher, grainier epic along similar lines – and ‘586’ – a slower, sweeter cousin that turned up on ‘Power, Corruption And Lies’ later that summer in ‘Blue Monday”s unlikely absence, but nothing would have the same stark attack.
They’d vanquished their own ghost, shaken off any lasting memories of Joy Division and obliterated all preconceptions of what a rock band could do.
Even the gloomiest overcoat-sporting rockist could cut a rug to ‘Blue Monday’ without risking indie points – and that might be its greatest achievement. It took one hell of a long time to filter through though.
Indie-dance, baggy, whatever, it’s entirely in hock to New Order’s game-changer. ‘Blue Monday’ set the parameters and its Manchester scions filled the space, welcoming sequenced beats into their repertoire and getting sexy. As sexy as the Happy Mondays could ever be, that is. Spreading further afield, crossover artists Primal Scream, The Prodigy, LCD Soundsystem and The Chemical Brothers all benefit from ‘Blue Monday”s visionary fusion as its tendrils continue to spider across the pop landscape.
Getting rock kids to dance. There’s no cause more noble than that.