The Day Before They Came

"The day before you came" is one of the best ABBA songs and one of the most sinister pop-hits ever written.

This was the last Abba single and on first listen it sounded like the band was leaving the stage with a whisper, not a bang.
It was not really a big hit upon its release as it lacks any sing-along chorus and you have to listen really well to appreciate those insanely well written lyrics.

The funeral-esque tempo, the almost six minutes running time and the stark sound of the whole thing can make you feel quite miserable. I still remember some critic claiming that "The day..." was Abba´s take on a Joy Division song.

Anyway, if you make the effort to get a grip on this moebius-loop of a song, you will be well rewarded.

1982 was still before M-TV and music videos were not a common thing. But Abba were by then the richest people in Sweden and with all the tension between them, they most likely were not too keen to promote the single themselves. Beside, they had always done films and clips for their songs and they were responsible for some of the biggest and most hilarious cliches of the soon-to-bee video-aesthetic.

Check the video and admire how they managed to pack so many "moments" into one tiny video: The woman on the station, fingers touching behind the glass, slow-mo time shifts and on and on.

And then there is the cover by Blancmange, which was actually a bigger chart success (in Britain) when it was released in 1984.

I love the Blancmange version because of the slightly upped tempo and the wonderful tabla playing of Pandit Dinesh.

I always thought that Blancmange managed to stay true to the immensely sad, almost unbearably desperate tone of the song, but adding some slight irony to it.
I mean, how could you possibly sing words like "I need a lot of sleep so I like to be in bed by 10" without being laughed off the stage?!

I have to admit it: When this version came out I was far too occupied with other music and Abba was really not the band whose sleeves I would let lie around to impress my friends. Were it not for the possible irony in Neil Arthur´s voice, the song would have been dismissed.

But was it meant to be ironic? Surely, changing Marilyn French to Barbara Cartland in the lyrics didn´t convince anyone and it certainly didn´t improve the message. But in the end, even the hardest cynic will melt as the song nears its end.

For me, the best thing about "The day before you came" is the notion that the next day (the day when s/he came) never arrived!

The ABBA video hints at this by showing us the guy missing the train, while the Blancmange singer gets more frantic towards the end, as if he sings this song to himself day after day.

It´s just perfect on so many levels as it nails the deep roots of pop music: loneliness, unfulfilled desires and hope.

I am not so sure about the Blancmange video. The effort here is pretty slim and the only "oh, look"-moment comes when short scenes of Agnetha from the Abba-video are cut into the new version.
Now it appears that Neil is the person she was singing about in the first place. A vague and vain but pretty funny idea.

But maybe -and I like this idea better - Neil is just an obsessed fan who fantasizes about Agnetha and dreams about stalking her?
A pop-dream within a pop-dream.

It is a great testament to a pop song when it still has the power to fascinate you after 26 years.

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