I can’t remember the first time I heard New Order’s “Blue Monday” but I do remember purchasing Power Corruption and Lies in the spring of 1983, largely on the basis of the cover design. Living in a west coast Canadian backwater I had no idea who New Order were or what their music sounded like. Still, I played the album over and over and felt pretty cool while doing so. Then I got an earful of “Blue Monday.” That hypnotic bass line, the wall of overlapping synths parts, the impassive vocals – they were all so captivating I splurged for the first 12” single I ever bought.
This past week my friend Tom posted about Orkestra Obsolete’s amazing cover of the song played on 1930s instruments. The video both sounds good and looks great. That got me wondering: what other groovy covers might there be of this oh-so unusual song? Turns out – quite a few. The reliable SecondHandSongs site lists over 70 versions in all kinds of styles. Quite a few dial up the synth like a bottle of New Order-brand concentrate but you can’t really out-New Order the originals. Why try? More interesting to me were the genre switchers, the covers that tried to put the song into a totally different context. Like the afore-mentioned Orkestra Obsolete, a one-off put-together band for a BBC program that really captured the essence of “Blue Monday” despite a lack of synths and drum machines.
Orkestra Obsolete are just the most recent example of a common tendency in covering “Blue Monday,” namely to strip things down and build them back up again but with radically different instrumentation. Acid Cowboys take things in an urban country direction, adding a loping rhythm and plenty of pedal steel guitar. The Banjo Lounge 4 use their signature instrument to anchor the song, effectively replacing the synth and electric bass guitar. Of course, as a quasi-percussive instrument the banjo can take up this space and then some. Hannah Peel really does a sound reduction on the song, accompanying her spare vocal with just a music box mounted on a mandolin. Funny how all three acts also offer a cover of “Tainted Love” on their respective albums.
Now for something almost completely different, check out The Jolly Boys and their mento reworking of the tune. Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that pre-dates and heavily influenced both ska and reggae while the Jolly Boys are a band with roots stretching back to the 1940s. They really capture the lurching tempo of the song with their acoustic instruments and the radically different vocal here is inspired. By contrast Buke and Gase mirror the original sound in many ways but twist and stretch its various elements, making some more harsh and others wonderfully strange. Really, a delightful reinvention. But probably my fave cover is from Rio De Janeiro’s Autoramas. It’s all retro guitars to the front of the mix and solid four-on-the-floor drumming in a version with no vocals.
New Order continue to put out interesting music but if “Blue Monday” had been a one-hit wonder I imagine we’d still be hearing about it today. It’s just that cool.