The tale of how New Order’s Blue Monday came to be is one of hallucinogens, flatulence and a happy accident that went on to become iconic.
It all started when the band (previously Joy Division), still recovering from the tragic death of former frontman Ian Curtis in 1980, briefly moved to New York to experiment with new sounds and technology in front of a fresh audience.
The result shifted the band away from their post-punk roots towards a contemporary, electronic, dance–oriented sound that was becoming popular at the time thanks to the influence of bands like Kraftwork.
With Bernard Sumner at the helm and with the recruitment of keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, New Order released their first album, “Movement”, in 1981 to much acclaim.
However, it was a single released in the run up to their second record that became New Order’s definitive track and etched them into musical history forever – Blue Monday.
‘Blue Monday’, despite being the title, is never actually mentioned in the song and according to drummer Stephen Morris, derives from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 novel ‘Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday’. Bass player, Peter Hook has another theory however. “I was reading about Fats Domino. He had a song called Blue Monday, and it was a Monday, and we were all miserable, so I thought, ‘Oh, that’s quite apt.’”
The first thing we hear when the song begins is the Oberheim DMX drum machine which provides the distinctive rhythmic foundation of “Blue Monday.” Its mechanical beats, meticulously programmed and executed, become the heartbeat of the track. Interestingly, the pattern was inspired by the kick drum beat in ‘Our Love’ by Donna Summer.
After this, we get we get that iconic synth present in so many New Order tunes. This is followed by some echoing electronic drums and one of Peter Hook’s trademark bass lines, influenced this time by Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western classic, “For A Few Dollars More”.
It was another piece of tech, The Powertran 1024 Composer sequencer, (constructed by Bernard Sumner himself) a device designed to reproduce musical notes inputted by the user, that allowed all of these components to work in unison.
Ever the innovators, the band also employed the E-mu Emulator 1 sampler to capture and manipulate the choir-like vocals extracted from Kraftwerk’s 1975 track “Uranium.” According to Gilbert, Sumner and Morris learnt how to use the machine by spending hours recording and listening to farts.
The combination of these three relatively simple components makes the track sound absolutely enormous… and we’re still in the intro!
Just past the two minute mark we get Sumner’s opening words:
“How does it feel
To treat me like you do?
When you’ve laid your hands upon me
And told me who you are”
The dark tone of the lyrics echo back to Joy Division and Ian Curtis’s song writing style.
The song is often associated with themes of an abusive relationship, although Peter Hook once acknowledged that Sumner was under the influence of LSD when crafting the words, later going on to say, “I don’t think there is a great deal to tell behind the lyrics if I am going to be brutally honest!”
“It was just one of those things where [Bernard] just went for it and the rest was history.”
Just after the second verse, we get some more of that iconic percussive synth but this time something is slightly off. Off by a 16th of a note to be exact.
You see, this was a time before MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), a protocol developed in the 1980’s which allows electronic instruments and other digital musical tools to communicate with each other.
Back then, all the notes had to be inputted into the sequencer manually.
Gilbert, assigned the responsibility of inputting the synthesizer segment into the sequencer, explained, “I had the sequence all written down on loads of A4 paper Sellotaped together the length of the recording studio, like a huge knitting pattern. But I accidentally left a note out, which skewed the melody.”
Luckily for Gilbert and the rest of New Order, when the bass synth is added over the top, the result takes the song to a new level, helping to create an increasing sense of tension.
This tension is only increased further as more and more instrumental hooks are added on top of each other as the track goes on, ultimately resulting in an epic wall of sound.
There’s no denying that Blue Monday is a true masterpiece and it has since sealed it’s legacy, being sampled numerous time by stars ranging from Kylie Minogue to Rihanna.
There you go guys, hopefully you’re not feeling to blue after reading all that.