On March 7th, 1983, New Order pioneered dance music with the release of the best selling 12 inch single of all time—”Blue Monday”, whose initial run sold over 700,000 copies.
The song (now used to name the depressing 3rd Monday of January) is perhaps the most acclaimed and even influential synth-pop track of all time. With its Italo Disco Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder beat culled from the track “Our Love”, “Blue Monday” bridges the gap between 70’s disco and the 80’s electronic music scene, and later house and techno, where it is still a staple of club music to this day.
Legend has it that the song, which evolved from a 20-minute instrumental soundscape that was later released as “Video 5-8-6”, was initially composed as an encore track with a long intro, that would afford the band to take a break before returning to the stage.
In a 2012 interview with NME, Bernard Sumner talks about how he wrote the song along with Stephen Morris utilizing homemade synthesizers and an Oberheim DMX drum machine:
“I remember just being turned on by the latest technology that was becoming available. It was pre-computers, pre-MIDI, and I’d built this sequencer from an electronics kit. We programmed everything in step-time using binary code digital readouts. It was… complicated. We could drive a synthesiser through it, but we couldn’t hook it up to anything. Steve had bought a drum machine, but we couldn’t get the sequencer to talk to it. Through Martin Hannett [New Order producer], we’d gotten to know this scientist called Martin Usher, so I took the sequencer and drum machine to him, and he designed a circuit that could make them speak to each other. The day that we wrote it was the day that we brought the circuit in, hooked it all up and pressed ‘GO’ on the drum machine, then the synthesiser started chattering away, and somehow it all worked. Rob [Gretton, New Order manager] thought it was witchcraft. He really did! That sounds weird now in the age of the internet, but he really thought it worked by magic.”
Regarding the song’s iconic bassline, Founding member of the New Order, Peter Hook, explained in a BBC documentary how Morricone helped shape his bassline in “Blue Monday”, stating:
“To be honest with you, it sounded too good and the order by punctuating it by the drum breaks, keyboard breaks and building up strings etcetera, it started to sound like a song.
Hook then added:
The last thing that was put on it musically was the six-string bass guitar, I’d been listening to Ennio Morricone.” The former Joy Division bassist then performed an example of Morricone’s distinct sound on his six-string before saying: “This sounds great on the film, the Clint Eastwood film (For a Few Dollars More) and it sort of stuck in me, it’s one of those riffs that you carry round with you.”
Following the passing of Morricone, Hook via social media posts paid tribute to the iconic composer:
“I remember well being blown away by Ennio Morricone’s music on so many films. We would then spend hours trying to get that guitar sound – on Elegia & Sunrise specifically – and of course, he was the inspiration for the Blue Monday bassline. Thank you Ennio & rest in peace.”
I remember well being blown away by Ennio Morricone’s music on so many films. We would then spend hours trying to get that guitar sound – on Elegia & Sunrise specifically – and of course, he was the inspiration for the Blue Monday bassline. Thank you Ennio & rest in peace.
— Peter Hook (@peterhook) July 6, 2020
The single featured a die-cut sleeve designed made to resemble a 5 ¼” floppy disk—featuring no words except “FAC SEVENTY THREE”. Along the side a code in the form of coloured blocks that reads out the artist, song, and label information, once deciphered using the legend from the band’s next album Power, Corruption and Lies:
“FAC 73 BLUE MONDAY AND THE BEACH NEW ORDER”
The single’s sleeve famously caused the single to initially be sold at a loss. In the same 2012 interview with NME as above, Peter Hook explains:
“Factory sold it for £1, and it cost £1.10 to make because of the sleeve – which had to have three die-cuts, all individually – the cost price to make it actually cost more than that. One of Steve Morris’ best quotes was that it was the bits you didn’t get on ‘Blue Monday’ that cost all the money. And it was true. Tony ended up having those wonderful brass awards cut for us to celebrate 500,000 sales, when what we were actually celebrating was a loss of £50,000.”
The money lost, however, could be said to have been eventually recovered from the song’s use with reworked lyrics in a Sunkist commercial for the fee of $200,000.
Blue Monday has two versions of its music video. The first from 1983 is a shortened version of the song featuring military clips, simple computer-generated graphics, and digitized video of band members.
The second version was created 5 years later for the New Order’s Substance video compilation.
Also noteworthy is the March 13th, 1983 Top Of The Pops performance of the song, which was fraught with problems due to the limited sequencing technology available at the time.