The next bunch of Pitchfork songs aren’t quite grouped in the same way as previous sections, in an easily discussed theme. Instead, the thing that unites these songs is that pretty much everyone knows them, and by and large, they are pretty damn good. And yes, I know I promised this back in August 2009. I’ve been busy, alright?
New Order – Blue Monday
Prince and the Revolution – When Doves Cry
Talking Heads – This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)
New Order’s “Blue Monday” is one of those songs that is groundbreaking in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to know where to start. Unique melding of early ’80s New York Disco with Mancunian post-punk? A dance tune that isn’t about anything remotely funky or sexy? A record that was so expensive to manufacture that despite being the best selling 12″ ever, it managed to lose the massively entertaining but entirely hapless Factory Records money?
Having spent much of the Eighties listening to New Order, I know this song inside-out. So writing about it 25 years (25 years! Sob!) later is a bit odd. And personally I’d have put “Thieves Like Us” on here instead. It’s a much better song. (Funnily enough Peter Hook agrees, saying “I honestly thought Thieves Like Us, the single after Blue Monday, was far superior.”) If anything, New Order wrote at least three better songs (“Thieves Like Us”, “True Faith” and “Bizarre Love Triangle”, and I’m taking requests for “Temptation” too), but this is arguably the first song to ever mesh dance and rock. Few people have done it since (if you say Primal Scream, or Stone Roses, you can leave now, as you are beyond redemption).
Because, at its heart, “Blue Monday” is barmy. At the time, everyone knew New Order were unusual, and probably unique – the combination of their record label’s laissez-faire attitude to release cycles, their own obstreperousness, and their open-minded attitude to music (and drug-taking) made them quite like anyone before or since. “Blue Monday” mixed the dance beats they had heard during their New York trips with their own dour Mancunian heritage, producing something quite astonishingly different. And you’ve got to love their live version recorded in a sweltering Maida Vale studio:
After moaning about Pitchfork’s choice of Prince song earlier, they’re far more on the money with “When Doves Cry”. It’s an odd little song, veering from a declaration of lust into how people take on characteristics of their parents. Again, Prince is happy to show us just what a marvellous musician he is. Lucky get. Have a look at this rehersal footage (apologies if it’s been taken down):
Just look at the ease with which he sings and dances around; just listen at the elegant simplicity of the song, a dance record with no bassline. What a mover. What a singer. Git.
Talking Heads managed to combine out and out kookiness with a sharp sense of melody, and this track – cunningly subtitled “Naive Melody” – had this in spades:
But again, I can’t say it’s my favourite song of theirs1. I just can’t get that excited about it. One of their more funky little numbers, it gracefully showcases their ability to mix their fluid post-punk with soulful backing vocals and Nile Rogers-esque guitar lines; but despite all that, it all feels a little cold to me. Saying that, you can hear their influence reverberating through the music of today.
In fact, all three songs (and the artists that made them) had a huge impact on modern music that is still being heard now; everytime you turn on the radio or listen to your iPod or Spotify or whatever, you’ll likely stumble across something that owes a massive debt to these bands. What’s curious is that the three musical geniuses on show here – Bernard Sumner, Prince, and David Byrne – are so different. Sumner can almost be called an accidental genius; despite his obvious gifts, he always gives the impression that he’s stumbled across this great song by accident (he once said something along these lines in an interview, that songs were gifts falling from the sky at night. But he had clearly been drinking). Prince, on the other hand, shouts “GENIUS” at you whilst dressed in purple pants, playing five instruments simultaneously whilst simulating sex with three semi-naked models. Byrne is somewhere between the two; he wears his cleverness and talent on his sleeve but tries to stay cool about it.
No matter though. All three changed pop music and helped diversify it with soul, disco, house, funk, and all sorts of “World” music (I hate that phrase). Without these three musicians, popworld would be a much duller place.
1 That’d be “Once In A Lifetime”, of course, with “Road To Nowhere” as backup. Oh come on, you know I’m right.
You can read the rest of my Pitchfork 500 articles here.