Blue Monday (as made famous by New Order)

“Blue Monday” is a song by the British rock band New Order. It was released as a 12-inch single on 7 March 1983 through Factory Records and later as a 7-inch single through Tonpress in 1985. It appeared on certain cassette and CD versions of the band’s second studio album, Power, Corruption & Lies (1983).[1]

“Blue Monday” is a synth-pop and alternative dance song that drew inspirations from many works of other artists. The 12″ single was backed with “The Beach” on the B-side. The single’s unique packaging was designed by Peter Saville and Brett Wickens. It features a die-cut sleeve designed to resemble a 5¼” floppy disk. The front cover features no words, but instead has code in the form of coloured blocks that reads out the artist, song, and label information, once deciphered.

The original single had a positive commercial performance, peaking within the top-ten in many countries. It currently stands as the best-selling 12″ single of all time.[3][4] In the United Kingdom alone, it has sold 1.16 million copies, though this figure also includes sales of all formats of the subsequent 1988 and 1995 re-releases. Sales of the original 1983 12″ release account for the bulk of the total, standing at over 700,000 copies.[5] The song has been widely acclaimed and ranked by Acclaimed Music as the 33rd most acclaimed song of all time.[6] It has been remixed by the band twice, in 1988 and 1995. The 1988 remix went on to reach number one in New Zealand and peak in the top-ten in numerous countries as well. It has also been covered by many bands, including Orgy, Flunk, and 808 State.

“Blue Monday” was described by the BBC Radio 2 “Sold on Song” feature thus: “The track is widely regarded as a crucial link between Seventies disco and the dance/house boom that took off at the end of the Eighties.”[7] Synth-pop had been a major force in British popular music for several years, but “Blue Monday”, with encouragement by the band’s manager Rob Gretton, was a dance record that also exhibited influences from the New York club scene,[7] particularly the work of producers like Arthur Baker (who collaborated on New Order’s follow-up single “Confusion”).

According to Bernard Sumner, “Blue Monday” was influenced by three songs: the arrangement came from “Dirty Talk”, by Klein + M.B.O.; the beat came from “Our Love”, by Donna Summer; the choir sound was sampled from the Kraftwerk song “Uranium” from the Radio-Activity album[8] and the long keyboard pad on the intro and outro was following the album’s intro track “Geiger Counter”.

The band claimed to have written the song in response to crowd disappointment at the fact that they never played encores.[9] The song was planned to allow them to return to the stage, press play on a synthesiser and leave the stage again, but while writing the song it evolved into a project that the band quite liked, and it was turned from an experiment into a single. However, the band since have become noted for playing Blue Monday as an encore.[10]

Some rhythmic and synthesizer elements of the song had been used by the band in an earlier composition, “Video 5 8 6”, in 1982, which evolved into the track “5 8 6”, appearing on the band’s 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies.[11]

Despite selling well it was not eligible for an official gold disc because Factory Records was not a member of the British Phonographic Industry association.[7] According to the Official Charts Company, its total sales stands at 1.16 million in the United Kingdom alone, and “Blue Monday” came 69th in the all-time UK best-selling singles chart published in November 2012.[12]

There are claims that Blue Monday was obviously derived from (except for the lyrics), or even “ripped off”, “Gerry and the Holograms” – the title track of the debut album by a novelty group of the same name, also from Manchester, or possibly a remix of the title track.[13][14][15][16] Gerry and the Holograms was released in 1979, four years before Blue Monday. The claim was denied by Bernard Sumner.[17] The liner notes of a new Gerry & The Holograms compilation quote[18] John Scott of Gerry & The Holograms as saying,

Hundreds of people have asked how I feel about New Order appropriating our music. Unless I won the lottery I couldn’t afford to fight the battle. It’s a David versus Goliath situation to be honest. I can’t afford to have an opinion.

, referring to the disparity in funding the two sides could muster in case of a lawsuit.

In August 1983, New Order released their iconic “Blue Monday”, which was composed on prototype-level homebrew “step-time” binary code programming, morphologically a MIDI rendition.[19] It has been labeled a “synth-pop classic”[20][21] and described as cementing the group’s movement from post-punk to alternative dance.[3] It has been noted as an example of the hi-NRG style of club music, as well.[22]

The song begins with a distinctive semiquaver kick drum intro, programmed on an Oberheim DMX drum machine.[23] Gillian Gilbert eventually fades in a sequencer melody. According to band interviews in NewOrderStory, she did so at the wrong time, so the melody is out of sync with the beat; however, the band considered it to be a happy accident that contributed to the track’s charm. However, in a separate interview, Gilbert claims that the melody is out of sync because she had forgotten to input a note into the sequencer.[24] The verse section features the song’s signature throbbing synth bass line, played by a Moog Source, overlaid with Peter Hook’s bass guitar leads. The synth bass line was sequenced on a Powertran Sequencer home built by Sumner.[25] Bernard Sumner delivers the lyrics in a deadpan manner. “Blue Monday” is an atypical hit song in that it does not feature a standard verse-chorus structure. After a lengthy introduction, the first and second verses are contiguous and are separated from the third verse only by a brief series of sound effects. A short breakdown section follows the third verse, which leads to an extended outro.

The 1983 edition artwork is designed to resemble a 5¼” floppy disk. The sleeve does not display either the group name nor song title in plain English anywhere; the only text on the sleeve is “FAC SEVENTY THREE” on the spine. Instead the legend “FAC 73 BLUE MONDAY AND THE BEACH NEW ORDER” is represented in code by a series of coloured blocks. The key enabling this to be deciphered was printed on the back sleeve of the album, Power, Corruption & Lies.[26] “Blue Monday” and Power, Corruption & Lies are two of four Factory releases from this time period to employ the colour code, the others being “Confusion” by New Order and From the Hip by Section 25.

The single’s original sleeve, created by Factory designer Peter Saville and Brett Wickens, was die-cut with a silver inner sleeve.[26] It cost so much to produce that Factory Records actually lost money on each copy sold. Matthew Robertson’s Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album[27] notes that “[d]ue to the use of die-cutting and specified colours, the production cost of this sleeve was so high that the single sold at a loss.” Tony Wilson noted that it lost 5p per sleeve “due to our strange accounting system”; Saville noted that nobody expected “Blue Monday” to be a commercially successful record at all, so nobody expected the cost to be an issue.”[28] In Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records, Saville states “I am so bored with this story. We didn’t even know how many of these expensive covers were ever made anyway.”[29]

Robertson also noted that “[l]ater reissues had subtle changes to limit the cost” (the diecut areas being replaced with printed silver ink).[28] Saville commented in 2013 that the printers “banged out a cheaper version. I don’t know how many thousands were sold [the original] way, or whether Factory were charged the full price for something they didn’t get, which would be very Factory.”[30]

Peter Saville Associates charged Factory £538.20 for the sleeve design.[31] The artwork was so late that Saville sent it straight to the printer, unreviewed by either the band or the label.[32]

The 1988 and 1995 versions were packaged in conventional sleeves.

A music video for a shortened version of the original song was created in 1983, featuring military clips with false colour, simple computer-generated graphics such as colour blocks and geometric lines, digitised video of band members at very low resolution and framerate, and a short appearance of the game Zaxxon (reportedly the Apple II port). The colour blocks were created using Peter Saville’s colour-coded alphabet.[33]

On the Australian show Rage, a video was shown containing footage taken from their BBC Top of the Pops performance with the studio track dubbed over it.

The music video for “Blue Monday ’88” appears on the Substance video collection (released as a companion to the album of the same name). The video features sketches by photographer William Wegman and his Weimaraner dog named Fay Ray doing balancing acts intercut with hand-drawn animation by Robert Breer. The band members are shown standing around doing various tasks, such as walking a wooden plank over a floor that is painted blue, holding wire-mesh constructed art and milk crates over their faces, being hit by tennis balls, and standing still while they flip through various flip books (tying into the hand-drawn animation sequences).[34]

In September 2012 New Order headlined a festival at Portmeirion in North Wales and festival organisers recruited the support of the local Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir to produce a cover version and accompanying video.[35]

“Blue Monday” has been a hit several times in the UK. In 1983, it charted twice, initially reaching number 12, then re-entering the chart later in the year and climbing to number 9, helped by the fact that neither side of the single (the B-side “The Beach” was an instrumental re-working of “Blue Monday”) was featured on the UK version of the group’s subsequent album, Power, Corruption & Lies.

New Order appeared on the BBC’s Top of the Pops, on 31 March 1983,[36] to promote the song. New Order insisted on performing Blue Monday live. The performance was dogged by technical problems, and was unrepresentative of the recording. In the words of drummer Stephen Morris, “Blue Monday was never the easiest song to perform, anyway, and everything went wrong. The synthesisers went awry. It sounded awful”.[37] In 1985, “Blue Monday” and “Thieves Like Us” were officially released in Poland as a 7″ single in different sleeve by Tonpress under license from Factory Records and sold over 50,000 copies and reached number 5 on the end-of-year single chart.[38] In 1988, “Blue Monday” was officially remixed by Quincy Jones and John Potoker under the title “Blue Monday 88” (with the instrumental flip being titled “Beach Buggy”). The single reached number 3 in the British charts, number 4 in the Australian charts, and topped the dance charts in the United States. A further official remix/reissue in 1995, with a mix by Hardfloor as the lead track, also made the British Top 20. The song has sold 1.21 million copies in the UK as of October 2015.[39] Overall it has sold over 3 million copies worldwide.[40]