Listen to this track by dance floor-ready Manchester-based post-punk-meets-techno foursome New Order. It’s “Blue Monday”, a single put out originally in 1983 as a forerunner to their second full-length album; Power, Corruption, and Lies. The song would be re-mixed later in the decade and in decades to follow.
The band would be one that grew out of the ashes of another one, namely Joy Division. That former band would be blessed and cursed, laying down a template which is still followed today with any band interested in minimalist, subterranean, darkly textured guitar music. But with lead singer in Ian Curtis gone too soon as the result of illness and self-destruction, their body of work, potent though it is, would remain small.
In the aftermath, guitarist and singer Bernard Sumner took Curtis’ place up front, flanked by bassist Peter Hook, drummer and keyboardist and programmer Stephen Morris, and the addition of keyboardist and guitarist Gillian Gilbert. This track was penned by the whole band, and represented both a turning point for them, and for what would become known as “alternative dance” culture as well for the rest of the ’80s and beyond. But, how did they get from guitar-based post punk to electronic dance music in such a relative short span of time?
Ian Curtis cast a long shadow as a charismatic frontman, but also as a friend to each of his bandmates. His suicide in May of 1980 came as a shock, and required more than just a re-configured band in New Order. It demanded a grieving period. Beyond their initial effort as a new band, the textures of the past wouldn’t quite fit in with this headspace. They needed something more, an artistic shift in direction that would help them move on.
With a steady intake of European disco, electro, and Kraftwerk-inspired synthesizer and drum programming technology which the members of the band had begun to explore, they were on their way. A trip to New York in 1981 after their first album was released sealed the deal. The New York dance club culture, always a towering giant above even the celebrated punk scene in that city, plus the influence of the Latin clubs that had first inspired the rise of disco culture in the 1970s would be their base for a new sound.
“Blue Monday” would be the best expression of this new direction, with established post-punk remnants of Joy Division still simmering below the surface. It would go on to the be the biggest selling 12″ single of the decade, and indeed of all time. This would be quite a win for the newly formed Factory Records, a label in which New Order were not just an investment, but also investors. They’d use the money from the sales of this single to help fund the Haçienda, a defining music venue that would be the site of a whole scene of British acid house music in Manchester.
But, “Blue Monday” also represented another shift by 1983. It was a single not aimed at radio, although it got airplay anyway despite being twice as long as most singles. It was designed directly for patrons in dance clubs. As a result, the structure of the song would not hold to the demands of a radio single, which was and is about immediacy. Instead, this song would take its time to build up well before the verse begins because that’s how it works on the dance floor. When you’re dancing you don’t want the payoff right away. What you want is the tension. You want to be made to wait, to delay the payoff as you’re absorbed in the groove, which has to be compelling and undeniable. In this case (once again) the result was the best-selling 12″ single of all time. And even today over thirty years later, when it’s on, you dance.
New Order would be an important part of a movement in Northern Britain by the end of the 1980s, with a dance club scene that would inspire new streams of music into the early ’90s. The initial meeting of indie-rock and dance culture would be modeled in “Blue Monday”, the effects of which are felt even today.
New Order would splinter for a time until their re-union in 1998. After a number of personnel shifts that would see off original members Gillian Gilbert in 2001 (she would return in 2011), and Peter Hook in 2007, New Order are a going concern today. You can even like them on Facebook!
Also, check out this Buzzfeed article to learn 10 things you didn’t know about “Blue Monday”.