Next week sees the publication of “Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s,” a tour through 35 classic songs via new interviews with the artists, a list that includes Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen, INXS, Tears For Fears, The Smiths, Simple Minds, OMD, Adam and the Ants and many, many more.
Today, we’re thrilled to present an excerpt from the chapter on New Order’s “Blue Monday,” which, as you can read below, finds Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook discussing how they coped — or didn’t, really — with the death of Ian Curtis, and how they made the transition from the gloomy postpunk of Joy Division to what would become New Order’s groundbreaking dance-rock hybrid.
That rebirth, of course, came via the massive — and massively influential — single “Blue Monday,” which Sumner admits is “not really our best song, but it was designed like a machine to make people dance.”
Not surprisingly, this excerpt also gets at the well-known tensions within the band, with Hook saying Sumner “became like a dictator,” dismissing the current incarnation of the band as “New Odor” and claiming Sumner only ever called him on the phone once (“And I must admit, I’ve never phoned him.”)
The 320-page paperback, by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein, will be published next Tuesday by Abrams Image, and includes a forward by Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes and an afterword by Moby.
Excerpt: New Order, “Blue Monday” — taken from the forthcoming book “Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s”
Bernard Sumner: After Ian Curtis died, we were all very upset and depressed and, obviously, in shock. When we started releasing stuff like Movement, we got a completely negative response from the press, and that sadness turned into anger. It was like, “Come on, give us a break. Can’t you just help us out in our hour of need instead of sticking the knife in?” Because the British press can be pretty sadistic. “Blue Monday” was kind of a response to that. It was like, “Fuck you! Here’s what we can do.”
“Blue Monday” came out, and the press really stuck the knife in — again! They said it was a pile of shit, and it was rubbish and that no one would buy it. And here we are, all these years later…
When we released “Blue Monday,” a lot of people who knew us were like, “That doesn’t sound like New Order.” But that was the point. It’s not really our best song, but it was designed like a machine to make people dance. I felt a bit uncomfortable doing music that was just like Joy Division. And as a singer, I felt uncomfortable stepping into Ian’s shoes, because I didn’t want to sound like an Ian Curtis impersonator. I think the first New Order album, Movement, was kind of pseudo-Joy Division but with a different singer. It didn’t feel true to me. I wanted to do something that had a different flavor. It was synergy, really, that electronic music — it wasn’t born but it blossomed then.
After the death of Ian, we recorded two New Order tracks, “Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place,” in New Jersey somewhere, then every night we’d drive back into Manhattan and go out to nightclubs. So we were influenced by what we were hearing in New York nightclubs and by what we heard in London. I also had a friend in Germany who was sending me 12-inch singles from there.
And I was technically minded. You couldn’t buy computers then, so I built a music sequencer. You could buy a music sequencer, but it’d cost you the same as buying a house. So with the help of a scientist who worked with us, I built this synthesizer and music sequencer on the cheap, and we put the two together. Just at that time, the DMX drum machine came out, so we got the scientist to design us a little box that could make them all speak to each other, and we made “Blue Monday” with it.
“Blue Monday” spread because it’s a club record, and it caught DJs’ attention. It was at the vanguard of electronic dance music. We were on Factory Records, who had a promotional budget of nothing. Zero. They didn’t believe in promotion, we didn’t do many interviews about it, and somehow we ended up with this worldwide hit.
Peter Hook: We find that most people are either Joy Division fans or New Order fans. It’s very rare to find one who likes both, because they’re quite different. Joy Division and New Order existed during very different periods. When New Order came about, times were more fun — everything lightened up.
New Order’s way of coping with the grief of Ian’s death was to ignore Joy Division. And you must admit, it worked. New Order became successful all around the world, if not more successful than Joy Division. The trouble was, because we were so young, we were happy to avoid the grief. Looking back now, as a 56-year-old man, I realize, with all of the people I’ve lost, that grieving is a very important process.
When we did play the Joy Division stuff, Bernard didn’t like it. He felt it was miserable. It’s a bit of a crass way of putting it, but I understand what he meant. New Order is much poppier, much lighter, much more optimistic. Joy Division’s stuff is very dark — you could say gloomy. Plus, he wrote the New Order stuff, so I suppose that means a lot more to Bernard than the Joy Division stuff did.
“Blue Monday” was an experiment in seeing how much we could get the sequencers to do, and we did get them to do a hell of a lot. The fact that “Blue Monday” still sounds as good now as it did 30 years ago is incredible. I’m going to blow me own trumpet: We certainly have a knack for making fantastic music. Me and Mike Johnson, who was the engineer, worked really, really hard, along with Bernard and Steven, to make “Blue Monday” sonically exciting. Bernard and Steven, in particular, were very interested in experimenting with the new technology. I must admit, I wasn’t very interested in it. I preferred to rock out. It was that combination of me wanting to be in a rock band and them wanting to be a disco band that gave us our unique sound. We were listening to Sparks, Giorgio Moroder, Suicide, Kraftwerk. And also, in New York we were taken to many clubs: Tier 3, Hurrah. And you were like, “Wow, this is so different to England,” that it had an influence on you.
“Blue Monday” was meant to be an instrumental closer to the show. In the studio we just thought we’d have a go at putting lyrics over it. The lyrics and the vocal were the absolute last things that went on. They were done at four o’clock in the morning, right at the end, when the song was written and nearly produced. The lyrics were very much an afterthought, and I think the reluctance to put them on can be heard. But strangely enough, it works. The deadpan, off-beat delivery actually works great as a contrast with the music: How. Does it. Feel. It’s such a juxtaposition, isn’t it?
With Ian gone, we all tried to be New Order’s singer. Our producer, Martin Hannett, hated us all — Bernard just had the last go. But realistically, with Bernard adding the guitar after he sang, it managed to give you a new style. So he would sing, Steve and I would play, then, when he’d stop singing, he would play guitar. And that gave it the lift, the up and down, the light and dark, that became the New Order sound.
It was me and Bernard who wrote the melodies. There’s long been a personality conflict there. We certainly were not friendly, shall we say. I think Bernard ever only phoned me once. The only time was to ask for a lift to rehearsals because his car battery was dead. And I must admit, I’ve never phoned him.
It’s also ego. It was always me and him fighting for the limelight, not only on stage but musically. To me, New Order wasn’t New Order unless it had the bass guitar on it, and he would go to great lengths to try and mix me out. He started trying to get me out of the music a long, long time ago. If you listen, you can hear the bass getting quieter and quieter in the songs as the struggle evolved between Bernard and me. If you look at songs like “Thieves like Us” and “Blue Monday,” the bass is as loud as the vocal. Further on, the bass is not as loud as the vocal; it’s disappearing. The notable one was “Bizarre Love Triangle.” That was the first stand-up fight we had about how much bass was in the song. Bernard felt that the bass dated it. And actually, it’s the other way around now, isn’t it? You hear the bass, and it gives it a timeless quality.
One of the main problems toward the end of my time with New Order — not New Odor, as they are now — was that Bernard was managing the band, and if anyone upset him, they were in trouble. He became like a dictator. There’s an interview with Bernard where he said that one of the problems with New Order was he wasn’t allowed to change the chemistry of it, and that was absolutely correct. The chemistry of it was that I played bass on every track. You’re not messing with that. You want to mess with that, go form another band. And that was exactly what he did. They now have a bass player that they can tell what to do, whereas before they had a bass player they could not tell what to do and who did what he wanted. That’s what made the band fiery and interesting.