“To my mind, ‘Regret’ was the last great New Order song,” bassist Peter Hook said last year. The chiming 1993 track was written under duress: four years after the band’s previous album (Technique), the quartet had reunited to raise funds for the Hacienda, the Manchester nightclub they owned.
But “Regret” proved to be the band’s biggest hit ever in the U.S. (hitting #28), and their last top-five single in the U.K. Its success meant that New Order was booked to appear on Top of the Pops, the long-running British pop-chart show. Bands in London dutifully showed up at the BBC studios to lip-sync their latest hits; if an act was touring elsewhere in the world, it would film a remote appearance. The BBC liked local color: a group doing a gig in Prague might do a song in front of the astronomical clock with Czech folk dancers, for example.
As New Order toured the United States behind the album Republic, they brainstormed about the most unlikely setting they could think of for their TOTP appearance. The more drinks they had, the more outlandish the ideas became, until they settled on the pinnacle of Los Angeles culture as they saw it: the set of Baywatch. The TV show, about a group of photogenic lifeguards, was a global smash – cheesecake and formulaic action are our true international languages.
The performance featured hard-bodied extras lounging on the sand, Frisbees and thong bikinis. At the center of this Southern California beach fantasy was the incongruous sight of the four members of New Order, the reigning monarchs of artsy dance-rock, with British complexions as white as Elmer’s glue. Hook, in leather pants, gyrated as if he were a heavy metal musician who took a wrong turn on the way to the Sunset Strip. And when Bernard Sumner lip-synced the lyric “have a conversation on the telephone,” we saw a girl in a bikini, sitting on a towel next to keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, talking on a landline that looks as jarring now as a cell phone would have in 1993.
Most of the Baywatch stars (including Pamela Anderson) didn’t appear in the video. David Hasselhoff, however, made a cameo, staring off into the distance, maybe wondering why KITT stopped calling after Knight Rider ended. Rumors have long circulated that Hasselhoff wanted to make a musical appearance in this clip, maybe singing backing vocals or playing tambourine, but was blocked by New Order or their record company. Sources close to New Order, however, tell Rolling Stone that “the suggestion never came up” that the Hoff join the band, although he was able to squeeze in his cameo because he was on a break from filming a Baywatch episode.