Sometimes in music, something comes along that rips up the rulebook. Just when the music industry and buyers are comfortable with what they know and the trends they think they set, something just gets into the mindset and psyche of what Jarvis Cocker might refer to as ‘the Common People’ and suddenly, nothing is quite the same again.
Nothing quite like The Sex Pistols had come before them. Keith Flint of The Prodigy re-set the dial. And certainly NWA stirred up the hornet’s nest. None of them fitted the cosy criteria of how Record Company’s perceive what the people should buy, but none the less – they seeped into the consciousness and the people decided it was what they wanted. And as the story goes, the major record companies caught on and set the contrived template for their roster of ‘punk’, in your face techno and rappers with attitude.
When it came to New Order and their release of ‘Blue Monday’ – the stars really were aligned. The criterion for critical success wasn’t pre-planned. They were just lucky to have an independent record label in Factory and an independent record label boss in Tony Wilson, who put aesthetic before soap powder commercialism.
It can’t be ignored that the enigma and appeal of Factory Records had been birthed by the previous incarnation of New Order – Joy Division, with their the release of two extraordinary albums, but especially by the suicide of Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis, who took his own life at just 23.
The albums brought Factory commercial success and for New Order the breathing space to re-form and grow into a force in their own right. There was no need to go cap in hand to a major, it was all there at Factory and curated by Wilson, who for reasons that were a combination of integrity and a genuine love for music, meant they were left to their own devices and not given agendas to reach commercial targets.
By the time Blue Monday came around the band had released their first album ‘Movement’ and their second album ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ was waiting in the wings. Evolving and maturing from the post-punk sound of Joy Division, New Order had begun to enjoy and appreciate the nightclub sounds and mixes that had been emanating from New York. It turned guitarist Bernard Sumner’s head and he began to become more and more attracted to the potential of what electronic sequencers could produce in relation to the conventions of synthesisers. It was Sumner’s passion for the new that began the moulding of New Order into a more electro-based sound.
Electronic music was nothing new, but it was very much in alliance to conventional set ups – even Kraftwerk were a harmonising sound. ‘Blue Monday’ was a bungee jump into the unknown – it started, it stopped, it had overdubs resembling a 80s version of Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’. It had so much not in the rulebook of how to make a dance floor epic – yet that is exactly what it became. The bigger the environment, the bigger the speakers the better the sound became.
The other aspect of what makes Blue Monday both a divine intervention in the sound of music and an enigma in terms of success was the famous and infamous sleeve design by graphic designer Peter Saville. Saville’s creative CV is long and illustrious including his work on Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ debut album, which has become one of the most recognised sleeve designs ever.
Saville was given a copy of ‘Blue Monday’ on a floppy disc and that design became the pivot for Saville’s own creative approach in which the outer cover carried three ‘cut outs’ of shapes reminiscent of the floppy disc template. This then became a reveal for an inner sleeve, which also incorporated an alphabet of colour coded elements and shapes – effectively a contemporary hieroglyphic emoji system that spelt out the name of the track and the band.
The paradoxical aspect of this beautiful packaging and the eight minutes of ground breaking music within it, was the twin imposters of a single that was a perfect fit for club culture and a dance floor filler, but at eight minutes was way too long for daytime radio play. Just to round off the beautiful ugliness of Factory’s commercial nous was the print cost of the production of the record sleeve, which practically swallowed the viable commercial sale of the product – making it a white elephant in terms of making money either for the band or Factory Records.
New Order’s drummer Steve Morris once joked that it was what was taken out of the record – meaning the three die cut shapes of the cover – that accounted for the loss in profits.
For all of that, Blue Monday became and still is, the highest selling 12” vinyl single of all-time – worldwide.
For our lyric poster the design was centred around both an echo of Saville’s great colour coded design thinking, the missing elements of the album die-cuts and both the resonance of the sound of this great track and it’s spread and influence around the world. It really was that special – the list of credits in terms of influence comes from The Prodigy, Primal Scream, The Chemical brothers and LCD Soundsystem.