Beyond “Blue Monday”: New Order’s Best Deep Cuts
New Order are one of the most unlikely success stories. When Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18, 1980 on the eve of their first U.S. tour, the three remaining members of the band -- guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris -- decided to carry on as New Order, drafting Morris' girlfriend Gillian Gilbert on guitars and keyboards later that year. Though their first album, Movement, would be heavily indebted to Joy Division's specter, their interest in synthesizers -- and their frequent trips to New York -- would quickly change their sound. 1983's landmark single "Blue Monday" -- still the best-selling 12" single of all time -- set them down a path as club hitmakers, and sunny synthpop tracks like "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "The Perfect Kiss" could not be any further away from Joy Division's stark, morose sound.
Through all this, New Order remained one of the most idiosyncratic bands of the '80s, refusing to put singles on albums, shying away from press interviews and generally not appearing on camera in their music videos. They also never put away their rock band instruments and did more interesting things with guitar, bass and drums than most of their peers at the time. Their catalog is robust and full of great songs -- many of which easily could've been singles -- beyond the obvious ones that everyone knows. Their influence on other music goes far and wide -- from the entire synth-pop & post-punk genres to Pet Shop Boys, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead,The Killers, and so many more.
With their 40th anniversary this year, we offer up this list of New Order's best deep cuts, which are essential listening to anyone who already loves "Blue Monday," "Love Vigilantes," "Age of Consent," "Ceremony," "True Faith" or "Regret." They range from muscular guitar pop, to club-ready bangers, and the kind of moody, introspective dance-rock hybrids that could've only be made by them.
For this list, I made a few rules which I then proceeded to break: no singles, no songs from New Order's Top Tracks on Spotify, and no more than two songs off any one album. The latter proved hard as I think both Power, Corruption & Lies and Low-Life are perfect albums, and Side 2 of Technique is up there too. I also stuck with the original 1980 - 1993 era of the band. While I like the records from the 2000s-on, no non-single song from that era really seemed worthy of this list.
No mistake: New Order -- who are still an active band (though without Peter Hook since they reformed in 2011) -- are a fantastic singles band, and everyone should own Substance (which is finally on streaming services, listen below). But there's so much more beyond "Blue Monday." Read our list below:
"Dreams Never End" (1981)
New Order were still underneath the shadow of Joy Division in 1981, a hard shackle to shake. Unsure how to progress after the death of Ian Curtis, both guitarist Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook sing lead on New Order's debut album, Movement, and both sound like they're trying to mimic him. "Dreams Never End," which features Hook on vocals, is musically bright and sunny, with Hook, Sumner and Gilbert's instruments swirling around Stephen Morris' insistent, danceable beat. The Cure would crib liberally from this for their 1986 single "Inbetween Days.
Following their debut single, "Ceremony" (which had been played live with Joy Division), their next release was "Procession" which felt like a natural progression from Joy Division's Closer, with glacial synths washing over a frantic rhythm section and Bernard Sumner's brittle guitars. Recorded and released before Movement, "Procession" nonetheless feels past it, with Bernard Sumner coming into his own as lead vocalist. While a single, "Procession" didn't make it on to the main tracklist for 1987's Substance, but was instead relegated to the bonus disc of the CD. But it's a pivotal song in their evolution.
"Turn the Heater On" (1982 John Peel Session)
Keith Hudson's "Turn the Heater On" was Ian Curtis' favorite reggae song, says Peter Hook in his Substance memoir, saying it was where Bernard Sumner "got the got the idea for using the melodica," an instrument which would turn up in New Order songs like "Your Silent Face" and "Love Vigilantes." Barney's only playing guitar at the end, after he's stopped singing," adds Hook, only kinda joking that "That became the whole template for the band."
"The Village" (1983)
Power, Corruption & Lies is a perfect record, and none of the songs were released as singles -- "Blue Monday" was tacked onto the U.S. CD release -- so every song could theoretically fit on this list. There are moments of sadness and desolation, but there are also songs of unabashed joy. In much the same spirit as "Age of Consent," "The Village" bounces along like the first day of spring with Sumner singing "Our love is like the flowers / The rain, the sea and the hours." The mid-section instrumental -- with guitars, synthesizers and drum machines joining forces -- remains one of New Order's most magical moments.
"The synths are incredible from 1:45 so in your face but not overpowering ... then they disappear - my whole taste in music seemed to change because of this song" - The Charlatan's Tim Burgess on "The Village"
"Leave Me Alone" (1983)
Many of New Order's most genius moments come from the interplay between Peter Hook's bass -- which is almost always played high up on the neck to where some mistake it for guitar -- and Bernard Sumner's guitar. Is there a more perfect example than on Power Corruption & Lies' closing track? The bass hook opens the song, but it's when the chiming guitar lead enters that "Leave Me Alone" truly blooms. (Gillian Gilbert adds further, crucial, counterpoint guitar lines.) A grey-hued portrait of loneliness ("On a thousand islands in the sea / I see a thousand people just like me"), it's one of New Order's crowning achievements, fading out with two more minutes of gorgeous instrumental melancholia.
"Thieves Like Us" (1984)
This is the big concession to the "no singles" rule on this list. While "Thieves Like Us" went to #18 in the UK in 1984, it does not have the stature of "Bizarre Love Triangle," "Temptation," "Blue Monday," "Sub-Culture," "True Faith" or even LP tracks like "Age of Consent" or "Love Vigilantes." But it is one of New Order's best, most deeply emotive songs -- it's Peter Hook's favorite (you can see his full Top 10 below) -- that needs all six minutes and 36 seconds to work its magic. Bernard Sumner's vocals doesn't even come in till two-and-a-half minutes into the song, long after we've been seduced by the song's NYC hip-hop inspired rhythm section and majestic washes of synths. While the song works well as an instrumental -- it plays over the "making the dress" montage in Pretty in Pink -- Sumner gives a great delivery with a whole lot of "Loves," in his signature, fragile style.
PETER HOOK: THE TEN BEST NEW ORDER SONGS
from his memoir "Substance: Inside New Order"
1. "Thieves Like Us"
2. "Leave Me Alone"
3. "Homage" (unreleased)
4. "Too Late" (John Peel session)
5. "Someone Like You"
6. "Ruined in a Day" (K-KLass Remix)
7. "Every Little Counts"
8. "Age of Consent"
"Lonesome Tonight" (1984)
"Lonesome Tonight" is, according to Peter Hook, New Order's ode to Elvis Presley. Bernard Sumner was apparently obsessed with a version of "Lonesome Tonight" (where The King can't stop laughing) and suggested to the rest of New Order they try jamming it on stage one night. That bit of C-F chord improvisation became this song, which Hook calls "a glorious tune even though it's nothing like Elvis', given away in true fashion as a b-side." (It's the flip to "Thieves Like Us.") New Order rarely needed more than two chords to create something amazing (see all of Power, Corruption and Lies), and when the synthesizers crest halfway through, it evokes Joy Division's "Atmosphere." If you're wondering, that is Peter Hook clearing his sinuses at the four-minute mark. "When Barney heard me hocking up phlegm into a handkerchief he suggested we put it on at the end because the contrast between something so beautiful and something so awful might be interesting. He was absolutely right."
New Order have always had a way with instrumentals and this one's a real tour-de-force, a pounding goth nightmare powered by Stephen Morris' propulsive drumming, a sinister bass line from Hook and Sumner's three-note, cyclical guitar hook. The song also makes great, creepy use of movie samples of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Malcolm McDowell in infamous big-budget softcore film Caligula. "Murder," which has been covered by The Charlatans and K-X-P, was originally only released as a single in Belgium, but later appeared on the second disc of the Substance two-CD set.
"Elegia" (full version) (1985)
An ode to Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores, specifically the pocket watch scene from A Few Dollars More, "Elegia" opens side two of 1985's highly underrated Low-Life. While the five-minute instrumental is carefully paced, exploding into full Sergio Leone glory in the last minute, the original 17-minute version is even better. "Dylan Jones - then editor at id magazine --asked us if we’d like to do some music for a short 15-20 min art film," Stephen Morris says. "We went into a studio in Wembley and did a marathon all night session. The film never happened, but we liked 'Elegia' so much it got edited down to fit on the LP." As Morris says, "Hooky's bass melodies on 'Elegia' are majestic."
"Elegia" is one of three New Order tracks to appear in Pretty in Pink ("Thieves Like Us" and "Shellshock," which appears on the soundtrack album, are the others), and you may have also heard it in Stranger Things, and the trailer for video game "Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain."
"Sooner Than You Think" (1985)
Like Power, Corruption and Lies, Low-Life is a near-perfect album and picking from the many great songs is difficult. Following "Blue Monday" and "Thieves Like Us," New Order really came into their own as far as blending rock and club music. While the albums that follow would more often than not have songs that were either "rock" or "synth," Low-Life let things intermingle in wonderful and surprising ways. After a building, minute-long intro that is mostly guitar, bass and drums, "Sooner Than You Think" shifts gears and lets the keyboards take over. "A very unusual tune, showing exactly why I used to love New Order," says Peter Hook in his memoir. "We were so versatile." As the lyrics describe, the song was actually written after "a party in [New Order's] hotel" in Zurich in 1984. "I think some members of the Furious Five were there, no Grandmaster Flash," recalls Stephen Morris. "There was a very loud blaster in a very small room - other hotel guests were not amused - complaints were made, maybe I dreamt the Furious Five bit? But not the Swiss police though."
Here's a cool live in the studio version with Bernard Sumner wearing some very '80s shorts:
"Face Up" (1985)
This one should've been a single. "When we first wrote Face up in early 1984 we thought it was the best thing ever," says Stephen Morris. "Face Up" is another New Order song where two disparate parts have been grafted together, with an an atmospheric intro ("inspired by Caligula" says Hook) that then drastically shifts gears into music that all but demands you bounce up and down. Sonically, "Face Up" is pure ebullience, the kind few besides New Order can do with guitars, but the lyrics -- "Oh how I cannot bear the thought of you" -- are a decided kiss-off from a spurned lover. "I couldn’t understand why some people didn’t get Face Up’s euphoria, but maybe you had to be playing the drums to fully get that," adds Morris.
"Way of Life" (1986)
As the '80s progressed, New Order became more and more known as a synthpop band, but they remained a clever, inventive rock band on album tracks, as is evidenced by the entire first side of 1986's Brotherhood. "Way of Life" closes out Side A, beginning with another gloomy fake-out intro before blossoming into a wonderful pop song with a chorus so infectious it seems impossible they would bury it this deep into the album. Hook says "We were trying to emulate 'Age of Consent' so I just played the riff backwards, and voilà."
"Every Little Counts" (1986)
New Order were guilty a few times over the years of what Peter Hook calls "five o'clock in the morning lyrics." Sometimes that meant something special, like "you caught me at a bad time, so why don't you piss off" (Power, Corruption & Lies' "Your Silent Face") and sometimes it gives you the opening lines to Brotherhood's closing track. "Every second counts when I am with you / I think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo," which Bernard Sumner cannot get through without laughing. (He also didn't feel a need to do another take.) And yet, "Every Second Counts" is still pure gold, making great use of orchestral samples, harmony and Sumner's winning "do de do de dooh" chorus. "Every Little Counts" is also a perfect album-closer, with a massive, woozy swell from their Emulator sampling keyboard -- "with Barney holding all the keys down at once, using both arms" -- and then a great final joke that definitely freaked out some vinyl listeners at the time.
Like "The Perfect Kiss," this b-side to 1987 single "True Faith" is a story-song about a doomed relationship -- and perhaps firearms -- set to ultra-catchy crystalline synthpop. There's a case to be made that it's better than the A-side (which was one of New Order's biggest hits and their first entry into the Billboard Top 40). For people like Peter Hook who wished more of Peter Hook's distinctive bass stylings made it into the the final product (it doesn't show up till right before the slow fade out), Arthur Baker's sublime remix adds in more string instruments -- bass and guitar -- throughout.
"Vanishing Point" (1989)
Both Stephen Morris and Peter Hook's favorite song on 1989's Technique, "Vanishing Point" is one of New Order's finest electronic dance songs (and it really should've been a single instead of either "Fine Time" or "Run"). Like "Thieves Like Us," this one is in no hurry to get to vocals, with the 90 second lead-in playing like an overture, leading us through the major melodic points; when Sumner does begin with "Grow up children don't you suffer / at the hands of one another" it's a cinematic experience. "Vanishing Point" has the best chorus on the album and the best breakdown and "drop" (before they called them that), that was clearly influenced by the two months spent in Ibiza making the album (and spending a lot of time at the clubs).
"Dream Attack" (1989)
The dance and rock tracks on Technique mostly stay in their individual lanes, but the album closes with the glorious "Dream Attack" that brings the whole record together, mixing ragged guitar solos, windswept acoustic guitars, sampled orchestra hits, sequencers and live drums -- plus another great chorus -- all together as only New Order can do. Bernard Sumner apparently had The Eagles' "Hotel California" in mind with the song's two-minute jam outro which, in their hands, works. Gillian Gilbert, who played those wonderful acoustic guitars, says, "To me, Dream Attack' sums up the whole album. It’s bright breezy and uplifting...a good song to walk off into the sunset to."
New Order were not especially getting along in the early-'90s, but got back together to make a new album, as they were low on funds after their label Factory Records (which went belly-up the year prior) and their troubled Manchester club, The Hacienda, depleted their bank accounts. Republic was, by all accounts, not the most pleasant recording experience with Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook butting heads constantly. There's not much of Hook's signature bass on the album, but there is some unfortunate rapping by Sumner. Republic does contain "Regret," one of their best-ever singles (a Top 40 hit in the US), and some of the old magic can also be found tucked away near the end of Side 2 with the sultry, moody "Special," which is driven by Hook's bass and another great chorus. Lyrically the song is perhaps referencing the demise of Factory Records or the group itself: "It was always special, like water down the drain." New Order went on an eight-year hiatus not long after its release.
New Order's 12" singles collection Substance is now on streaming services:
New Order's Power Corruption & Lies is getting a "definitive" box set reissue this fall.