As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we’re looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one release from that year that resonates with them. This week, Kevin Cole reflects on New Order's 1983 classic “Blue Monday” and the revelation of playing it on the dancefloor for the first time. Read or listen to the piece below.
In 1983, by day I was running a record store in downtown Minneapolis, hustling my favorite records—mostly new wave, punk, dance records, and imports from the UK. At night, I was DJIng a block away, at First Avenue/7th Street Entry.
I started DJing at the club in 1978—at the time, the club was called Uncle Sams, and it was a suburban Saturday Night Fever type disco – a big lit up dance floor, lots of polyester, and John Travolta moves. Disco was starting to die around that time and I, looking like my idol, Joey Ramone, with long hair, torn jeans, and a black leather jacket, was hired to help usher in a new era, although nobody knew what that meant, yet.
I was a music freak and was completely committed to the New Wave/Punk scene that was happening along with the underground club scene. Bands like the Suicide Commandos, Ramones, the Clash, and Joy Division, along with Donna Summer, Grace Jones, and Sylvester, were the soundtrack to my early twenties.
The first year or so of trying to “usher in a new era” was hard…it was a challenge integrating dance/rock into the music mix…I’d play a funk set, a disco set, then a rock set, and early on, would lose the entire dance floor when transitioning from disco to dance rock…the floor would empty, and fill up with a whole new set of dancers when I went from Lipps Inc “Funkytown” into the music of the Cure, Bauhaus, Devo, or the B-52s.
Over time, though, the transition happened, the clientele changed and the regulars who stuck around embraced the new sounds. Gone was the polyester, to make room for the torn jeans, flannel, and black! Anything and everything black! It was an exciting time at First Avenue in the early eighties. We opened the adjacent 7th Street Entry to help cultivate a scene for local bands, like the Replacements and Husker Du. And, in the main room, the eclectic mix played on. Kinda dancey, kind of new wavey, kinda funky, kinda punky.
Then came New Order’s Blue Monday.
While the band admits to the song being heavily influenced by Donna Summer’s “Our Love,” Klein+M.B.O’s “Dirty Talk,” and Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” along with a bassline Peter Hook says he stole from Ennio Morricone’s For A Few Dollars More soundtrack, it sounds nothing like any of these songs. New Order artfully wove these influences into something so unique, so powerful. Groundbreaking.
The first time I played “Blue Monday” at First Avenue you could feel the atoms shift in the room. Much like, in that very same room, they shifted when Prince played “Purple Rain” for the first time. Suddenly frivolity was serious business. These beats were destroyers.16 bars of the staccato drum pattern jackhammering its way into the mix followed by another 16 bars of heavy synths followed by a signature, jerky 2 bar drum break brilliantly setting up the next synth drum pattern. There, a driving beat slowly builds as layer upon layer of instrumentation pile-up—guitar riffs, synth washes, an angelic choir from hell, drum crashes, leading into the deadpan first line, “how does it feel, to treat me like you do.”
The opening 16-bar drum pattern was so distinct that people knew what the song was before the synths even kicked in…I used to tease that intro into the mix of numerous songs just to build the tension, and then the release, when finally dropping into “Blue Monday.” But the song didn’t stop there…unlike most dance songs; it just kept getting bigger, and bigger, building and building until the end.
New Order’s Blue Monday was the unholy union of disco and rock/postpunk. A sense of isolation and alienation…dancing together into the dark, existential void
“Tell me, how does it feel when your heart grows cold?” Well, it feels pretty damn good!
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