New Order’s “Blue Monday,” the biggest-selling 12-inch single of all time, was released 40 years ago today

Last month whilst working on the CFNY documentary, me and the crew interviewed Peter Hook at his house outside of Manchester. One of the things we talked about was the writing and release of “Blue Monday” in 1983. Two things emerged from that part of the conversation: (1) New Order never expected it to do well because it was conceived as a total throway. And (2) The packaging for the 12-inch was so expensive that the band actually lost 30p on every copy sold. (I’m sure they’ve since recouped any an all losses through radio airplay, streaming, licensing, and sampling.)

That song was released forty years ago today: March 7, 1983.

The track’s roots begin with the band’s hatred of doing encores. Drummer Stephen Morris programmed a drum machine to play something to keep the punters occupied for a few more minutes so the group could get backstage and start drinking. It not only ended up becoming one of New Order’s best-known songs but it provided a crucial bridge when it came to dance music. After disco had made dancing uncool amongst the punk/New Wave/alternative crowed, “Blue Monday” helped usher in an era when dancing was cool again.

A couple of things about the song:

  1. Hooky’s twangy bassline was inspired by the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, A Few Dollars More, specifically the guitars orchestrated by composer Ennio Morricone. Apparently, the band watched the movie while in the studio.
  2. There’s a mistake in the song. Gillian Gilbert missed programming in one note for her sequenced keyboard line resulting in it coming in a beat later than intended. Because this mistake added some interesting tension to the arrangement (and because it would have taken too much time to reprogrammed everything), New Order just left it in. Once you hear it, you’ll understand it.
  3. The song’s arrangement and sound inspired many, many other artists, ranging from Detroit techno and European Hi-NRG music (especially from Italy) to the Pet Shop Boys and Kylie Minogue.
  4. Back to the packaging. Factory Record’s Peter Saville based the sleeve on an old-school 5 ¼ inch floppy disc. In 1983, that would have seem soooo futuristic. The colour-coded strip can be deciphered to reveal the name of the band, the song, and label information.
  5. The song has a favourite for designers. Gucci, YSL, and others have used it.
  6. “Blue Monday” has been in a ton of movies and video games.
  7. The 12-inch has sold more than three million copies, an all time record for a song in that format.
  8. To celebrate the 40th anniversary, there’s a new line of “Blue Monday”-related merch.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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