This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #198: Blue Monday by New Order.
When I first left my Cape Breton home and moved to Toronto in 1982, I experienced culture shock in every sense of the term. I have written in these posts before about how I saw so many ethnic cultures on display that just didn’t seem to have existed back in good old Glace Bay. I tasted food that I had never even heard of before, let alone sampled back home. But for me, perhaps the biggest change I underwent was with regard to music. I was enrolled in an Artsy programme at Ryerson called Radio and TV Arts so, I suppose, I was already receptive for new visions in Art and Music. But, just the same, I moved to Toronto at a very critical time for new music. For example, I arrived in Toronto just as MTV and Much Music were launching. Bands from the UK such as The Police, The Smiths, Duran Duran, early Simple Minds and U2, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Alison Moyet/Yaz and so on, were all breaking into the big time and filling my airwaves with new sounds and putting out terrific videos (which were a new marketing tool at that time). But, the one song that I heard most…….the one song that seemed so completely unlike anything I had ever heard before…….the one song that told me I was far from home now……was “Blue Monday” by New Order.
New Order, as you may remember, rose from the ashes of Joy Division. Joy Division had several big hits in the UK, the biggest of which was “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and were just preparing for their first North American tour when their lead singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide. Instead of disbanding, the remaining members re-organized under a new name called, “New Order”. They have several hits under their belts such as “Ceremony”, “True Faith”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Thieves Like Us”, “Temptation” and many more. But, it was “Blue Monday” that really announced their arrival as a band to be reckoned with and one that signalled to the rest of the music world that the death of Ian Curtis was not going to slow them down.
New Order are charter members of the musical movement that started out as “New Wave” but ended up transitioning into a genre called “Synth-Pop” and even, “Electronica”. “Blue Monday” was one of the very first major Synth-Pop hits. It is a synthesizer-driven song in which the lyrics don’t matter as much as the rhythms and beats that are being played. In a way, “Blue Monday” heralded the advent of Electronic Dance Music. It is a song where the audience/listener can get lost in the groove that is being put down. It is almost hypnotic in nature. I once heard lead singer, Bernard Sumner describe the musical construction of “Blue Monday” as being a “Beat Machine”. Like many musical genius-types, I have always felt that they view sounds as being in three dimensions. Sumner stated that each instrument used in “Blue Monday” was imagined to be gears in a giant box….the synthesizers were one set of gears that fed into the gears that represented the bass guitars that, in turn, fed into the gears for the high hats on the drums and so on. He said that, in this way, it was easier for the band members to imagine where the sounds were originating from during any point in the song and then, by extension, where these sounds needed to go next.
All that I know is that I was eighteen years old, living on my own in Toronto for the first time and, seemingly, every time I turned on the radio, I heard “Blue Monday”. Every time I went out with my new friends to a club, I heard “Blue Monday”. The song was everywhere and, more than that, the musical revolution that it was representing, seemed to be everywhere, too. It was funny how I had spent my youth listening to classic rock bands such as Trooper, April Wine, Boston and the like but, in downtown Toronto, in that hotbed of The Arts that was Ryerson in the early 1980s, classic rock was viewed as dinosaur rock. If you were really on top of your musical game then, you were into Synth-Pop and New Wave. Luckily, as I matured, I learned that valuable life lesson that states that being open to new ideas and influences is a good thing but, at the same time, accepting new things doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning all that you knew previously, either. As I type these words to you today, I enjoy New Order and Joy Division as much as I enjoy U2 and The Police, Springsteen and Tom Petty, Prince and Public Enemy, Rita MacNeil and Ashley MacIsaac, too. Good music is good music, regardless of the form it takes. If a song causes you to move and groove or think and grow as a person then, it is a good song for you. For me, “Blue Monday” by New Order was one of the most important songs in the soundtrack of my transition from small town boy from Glace Bay, to being the adult I have become today. It was an important song for me, as well as, being an important song in the history of modern music. Some songs come to define the genres they find themselves in and, when it comes to Synth-Pop and Electronic Dance Music, “Blue Monday” is anthemic and transcendent.
In fact, as a final note, the 1980s were a big time to buy something unique to that period called a “twelve-inch” single. Back in the day, many groups released their songs as singles but, the usual format was a small, inexpensive format called a “45”. However, some groups put out their singles in a special format called a “twelve-inch” single, which meant that the size of the single was the same as the size of a regular album. Some of these twelve-inch singles were special in that they came in fancy translucent colours or else, in specially-designed record sleeves. When New Order released “Blue Monday” as a twelve-inch single, they did so in a special sleeve that replicated the design of something that was very technologically-advanced for the time, a five-inch floppy disc. This sleeve had a special code on it that allowed buyers to see a secret message. It was all high-tech for the times and, as such, it was very popular with purchasers. As it turned out, “Blue Monday” by New Order has gone on to be the largest selling twelve-inch single in the history of record sales; with sales totalling over a million worldwide.
So, without further delay, welcome to the wonderful world of my university days, spent in the biggest city in Canada! Here is “Blue Monday” by New Order. *Note: the video for this song replicates the design of the record sleeve used to sell the band’s twelve-inch single. The colour wheel was used to signify how the sounds fit together and complemented each other. The colour strips on the side of the “floppy disc” were used to hide the “secret code” that buyers needed to crack in order to read their secret message that was meant only for them. So, there you have it. Enjoy this important song and have an awesome day.
The link to the video for the song, “Blue Monday” by New Order, can be found here.
The link to the official website for New Order, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting all forms of music, regardless of genre. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.