New Order’s 1983 synth classic “Blue Monday” is one of the most important and beloved songs of the new wave era. The nine-minute alt-dance opus influenced and inspired everyone from the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart to electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, and to this day it holds the record as the top-selling 12-inch single in recording history, shifting more than a million units in the band’s native U.K. alone. So how exactly did “Blue Monday” manage not only to make no profit but to actually lose a whopping $100,000?
The Manchester group’s iconic founding bassist, Peter “Hooky” Hook, explains that it all came down to indie label Factory Records’ decision regarding the single’s very famous — but very expensive — packaging.
“[Graphic designer] Peter [Saville] came to the practice place, and he saw a floppy disk and he loved it,” Hook recalls, as he sat with Yahoo Music reflecting on his illustrious discography with both New Order and the band from which New Order sprang, the equally influential Joy Division. “And he felt we should do the sleeve [to look] like this. … Unbeknownst to him, it had to be die-cut three times, which made the sleeve ridiculously expensive — which [New Order bandmate] Stephen Morris thought was hilarious, because you were paying for the bits that you didn’t get, the hole, where the card had gone!
“But, yeah, the sleeve unfortunately cost 10p [approximately 20 cents] more than the record could earn, so every time we sold a copy of ‘Blue Monday,’ we were losing 10p,” Hook elaborates with a rueful chuckle: “It then went on to be the biggest-selling 12-inch of all time! I remember [Factory Records label head] Tony [Wilson] going to great trouble to cast a brass Factory symbol that said, ‘Well Done, Hooky!’ celebrating a loss of 50,000 pounds. … I suppose it really seals its place in history as a mythical being for that reason.”
The financial failure of what should have been New Order’s commercial career breakthrough was just one in a long line of both comedic and tragic errors for the beleaguered band. The most tragic of all, of course, transpired when it was known as the legendary postpunk outfit Joy Division, fronted by the charismatic but deeply troubled Ian Curtis. Struggling with the dissolution of his young marriage, new fatherhood, an extramarital emotional affair with Belgian journalist Annik Honoré, and, most of all, his increasingly uncontrollable epilepsy, the 23-year-old Curtis committed suicide in May 1980, on the eve of what was supposed to be Joy Division’s first North American tour — leaving his guilt-ridden bandmates behind to pick up the pieces and always wonder what might have been.
“With the making of [Joy Division’s sophomore album] Closer, Ian’s illness was degenerative, and it was getting worse,” says Hook. “The big problem with Ian was … he was very empathic to other people. He would go out of his way to make sure you felt all right about what he was suffering. … Ian worked very, very hard and was still suffering grand mals right the way through [the recording sessions for Closer]. He managed to hide it from his parents, from the doctors that he was being treated by. The guy wanted success. He wanted to achieve what he felt we deserved. And he hid [his epilepsy]. That was the problem. He would never let you know how poorly he was, so you were in ignorance. Even when you were picking him up off the floor when he smashed his head open on the sink or the toilet, he’d just get up. He’d never stop.
“Suicide of a very close friend or family member always leaves you with the guilt,” Hook continues solemnly. “And that’s the beauty of suicide, isn’t it? It’s not them worrying afterwards. It’s everybody else saying who, when, or why, or ‘Did I do enough?’ I’ve had enough of that in my life to realize that people who are left behind are the ones that suffer. But it was a great LP, and I think one of my greatest regrets when we finished with Joy Division and moved on to New Order was that we never got to play Closer. … It was heartbreaking to put it all away and never promote Closer, never promote [the single] ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ put it in a box, put it in the back of the cupboard. And we went off to New Order.”
Incredibly, the surviving members of Joy Division immediately decided to reform as New Order. (“I think the great thing about being young is you can carry on, regardless. The great thing about being a musician is people will coddle you and pamper you, and pander to you, so we didn’t have to do much grieving. We just buried our heads and stuck together and ignored it, basically.”) Reconvening in their Salford rehearsal space the Monday after Curtis’s inquest, they went right to work on a prophetically titled new song Hook had written the previous weekend in tribute to Curtis, “Dreams Never End.”
But while New Order — pesky 50,000-pound loss aside — went on to greater success than the short-lived Joy Division had ever known, all was not dreamy in their world. At first, Joy Division fans were still in mourning, and they weren’t quick to accept this new phase in the band’s career. (“We got a lot of letters written in blood, things like that. People phoning you up. Being a ‘man of the people,’ I put my number in the phone book, and then I had every Joy Division loony phoning me up and being weird on the phone. That taught me a lesson,” says Hook.) Then, when New Order went to America to play the tour that had been originally booked for Joy Division, “fans weren’t supportive. They used to spend the whole gig shouting for Joy Division titles,” Hook recalls. “I didn’t expect them to be supportive, to be honest. … We actually lost a lot of our confidence. … The audiences were openly hostile. They wanted Joy Division.”
To make matters worse, on the very first night of New Order’s maiden U.S. tour, all their gear was stolen from their van. “And it wasn’t insured!” exclaims Hook. “In the space of two months, we’d managed to lose our lead singer [Curtis], our group [Joy Division], and our equipment. … It really was being at the bottom of a very long ladder. It was a hell of an education, that trip to America.”
New Order went on to moderate American success with perennial alternative radio staples like “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “True Faith,” “Shellshock” (which was included on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack), and a 1988 rerelease of “Blue Monday.” But over the years, friction between Hook and lead singer Bernard Sumner continued to grow, and in 2007, Hook left the band for good. Fans may hold out hope for a real New Order reunion (the band continues to tour and record sans Hook), but according to the grizzled bassist, who’s been battling his ex-bandmates in court for years, those fans probably shouldn’t hold their breath.
“Literally, [we’re] at that point in the relationship where you hate each other’s stinking guts,” he reveals. “It’s a tragic end to a wonderful, wonderful group. You know, I long for Tony Wilson [who passed away in 2007] to appear and bang our heads together. For [late band manager] Rob Gretton to appear and bang our heads together. For Ian Curtis to appear and bang our heads together! I really do wish with all my heart that we could stop and just respect each other. I think that’s what we should be working on.”
Says Hook: “We shouldn’t be working on getting one over each other. We should be sitting down and going, ‘Listen, we’re all different people, we all share this same heritage, and it’s important to all of us. So what we should do is share it, learn to live together, learn to show respect, because we created it together.’ Whether you like it or not, that’s the truth — it’s all of ours. You can’t take it off one person, and you can’t say one person’s wrong and shouldn’t have it. Because we should all have it. And until somebody wises up and says, ‘What are you doing?’ and that respect is shown, and you can’t even contemplate anything else.”
While a Hook-less New Order carries on, Hook is still out there on his own. He has penned three memoirs (including his juicy, 724-page latest, Substance: Inside New Order), and he regularly revisits the Joy Division and New Order discographies on tour with his band the Light, showcasing his distinctive bass style (which once even attracted the attention of the Rolling Stones, when they were looking to hire a replacement for Bill Wyman).
“The great bit for me is that in 2011, I got to play Closer [in its entirety for the first time], and it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life,” Hook says happily. “To sit there and have my son, who was exactly the same age I was when I did Closer [22 years old], playing the bass lines, and me doing my best to do Ian justice … the chills down your spine from hearing Closer live was a wonderful, wonderful moment. I do think really Barney [Sumner] and Steve [Morris] missed out on that.”
And as for what might have happened if Curtis hadn’t killed himself, Hook confesses that he wonders about that sometimes. “Do I think we’d still be together if Ian had lived? I would hope so,” he muses. “You know, one of the things about a song like ‘Blue Monday’ being as popular as it is, even now throughout the world, is that you’d have loved to hear Ian Curtis sing on it.
“But the important thing you realize, as you get older, is that the fact that [Joy Division] didn’t carry on wasn’t the most important thing for Ian. The most important thing was a daughter lost her father. Parents lost a son. A wife lost a husband. A lover lost a lover. That is really the important thing — because let’s face it, there’s lots of groups. There’ll be another along in a minute.”