Lyrics Analysis: “The Day Before You Came” – ᗅᗺᗷᗅ

Disclaimer: I do not have any background in music theory and composition, so do not expect this post (and the following ones to come) to be a technical music review/critique. It is best to treat this piece as fan’s appreciation of the featured song. Likewise, this will only an analysis of the song itself and not the content of its music video.

ABBA: their brief yet brilliant foray into pop music history continues to draw attention to this day. From Waterloo to One of Us, the Swedish group has shown the world that they’re capable of singing about anything—from teenage-like love to a heartbreaking story of a couple who’s on the edge of separating. It’s a well-known fact by now that the evolution of their music reflected the tides in their interpersonal affairs (i.e. the couples in the group eventually falling part).

Almost half a century after they parted ways, there remains so much to be praised about the musical complexity behind ABBA’s songs. Scholars and fans alike still revere the heavenly voices of Agnetha and Frida and praise the songwriting prowess of Benny and Bjorn.

As I start this project of analyzing their songs verse-by-verse, I’d like to begin where it all ended: analyzing The Day Before You Came – the last song recorded by ABBA.

[1]
I must have left my house at eight, because I always do
My train, I’m certain, left the station just when it was due
I must have read the morning paper going into town
And having gotten through the editorial, no doubt I must have frowned

“…Because I always do” already hints at how the singer lives in the past: enclosed in a routine. Even the series of inconveniences are met with little protest from the singer (like missing her train) as they have always been counted as part of her everyday living.

The last two lines of this verse may not be that significant as the others, but it could be interpreted as another hint that singer has been alone for a long time, evidenced by engaging herself in another solitary activity: reading paper.

[2]
I must have made my desk around a quarter after nine
With letters to be read, and heaps of papers waiting to be signed
I must have gone to lunch at half past twelve or so
The usual place, the usual bunch
And still on top of this I’m pretty sure it must have rained
The day before you came.

Similar to the two concluding lines of the first verse, the singer goes on to narrate her usual activities, and here we discover (if, at this point, you still haven’t gotten an idea from the tone of the song) that she continued to lead this mundane lifestyle without really giving it a thought. Even when she’s about to take a break, there was nothing to look forward to, for it was all the same (“The usual place, the usual bunch”).

And now we arrive at the symbolic metaphor that does not only reflect the lyrics but inspires the song’s rhythm as well: Rain. The singer clearly remembers it rained the day before that special someone* came. Repetitive and colorless, everything around her was as dreary as the atmosphere that a rainy scenario paints.

(*As for the ‘you’ in the title of the song, most listeners will likely assume that this may be the singer’s lover, but others might say it can be someone else, like an assailant. One commenter on SongMeanings actually went as far as to say that ‘you’ is death. I would argue that (by the nature of Abba’s previous works before this one and the content of the music video for this song) ‘you’ is the singer’s beloved.)

[3]
I must have lit my seventh cigarette at half past two
And at the time I never even noticed I was blue
I must have kept on dragging through the business of the day
Without really knowing anything, I hid a part of me away

The third verse brings us the most honest and intimate lines that the singer discloses to the listeners. ‘Seventh cigarette at half past two’ depicts that she pretty much  did nothing that’s worthy of being mentioned, or better yet, she hasn’t done anything at all. Stagnant and jaded, the singer is thus confronted with her solitude, where she admits feelings of emptiness and loneliness buried in her lifeless routine. Actually, the last three lines do an excellent job of summarizing the context and message of the entire song.

“And at the time I never even noticed I was blue / I must have kept on dragging through the business of the day / Without really knowing, I hid a part of me away “- These lines emphasize that the events are observed in retrospect. All the activities the singer recounts are lumped together as part of a boring routine, and the singer only became painfully aware of her struggle (hence the term used was ‘dragging’) only after that ‘someone’ came. Having gotten used to the way things were, the singer realized that she buried something within her that only that ‘someone’ was able to make her reveal. Indeed, the “looking for love” might be a strong contender for that something.

[4]
At five I must have left, there’s no exception to the rule
A matter of routine, I’ve done it ever since I finished school
The train back home again
Undoubtedly I must have read the evening paper then
Oh yes, I’m sure my life was well within its usual frame
The day before you came

The banal continuity is present: Just like repetitive hounding of sadness we hear throughout the song, the singer reiterates she’s gotten used to living this way because she’s been doing the same thing (‘a matter of routine’) for a long time (‘ever since I finished school’). We’ll leave the last two lines for the next verse:

[5]
I must have opened my front door at eight o’clock or so
And stopped along the way to buy some Chinese food to go
I’m sure I had my dinner watching something on TV
There’s not, I think, a single episode of Dallas that I didn’t see
I must have gone to bed around a quarter after ten
I need a lot of sleep, and so I like to be in bed by then
I must have read a while
The latest one by Marilyn French or something in that style
It’s funny, but I had no sense of living without aim
The day before you came

The first few lines reinforce that the same old drill is still in place. No one’s waiting for her to come home, and so she continues her activities alone (‘There’s not, I think, a single episode of Dallas that I didn’t see’).

I’d like to point out the significance of the sixth line: ‘I need a lot of sleep, and so I like to be in bed by then.’ This is funny because based from how the singer vividly recalls her business throughout the day, we notice that there’s no exhausting or strenuous activity involved, so why would she need a lot of sleep?

Excessive sleeping or feeling overly tired during the day is one of the symptoms of major depression-affecting 15 to 20 percent of people who have the disease.

Source: healthguru

Depressed people either suffer from inability to sleep or the desire to sleep a lot. When one is asleep, the torment of one’s loneliness is temporarily put at bay.

Now, remember second to the last line from the fourth verse and combine it with the last two lines of the fifth:

Oh yes, I’m sure my life was well within its usual frame
It’s funny, but I had no sense of living without aim
The day before you came

The lackluster life had become so normal for the singer that she had no sense that she was living without aim: carrying out her daily tasks in robotic manner, alienated from finding the purpose of living as she unknowingly hid a part of her away.

[6]
And turning out the light
I must have yawned and cuddled up for yet another night
And rattling on the roof I must have heard the sound of rain
The day before you came

We now arrive at the concluding sixth verse, where the singer narrates how she retires at night.

Rain, the metaphor of isolation, repetition and sadness, is evoked once again when the singer says she hears it fall. Interestingly enough, there’s a quick instrumental pause right after Agnetha says ‘rain,’ and the synthesizers that followed reminds us of the rain-like rhythm that’s been present throughout the song.

The Day Before You Came: (Not a Fond) Remembrance of Things Past

It’s quite a feat for ABBA to have successfully captured not only the description but also the sound of a mundane way of living one’s life.

As the song progresses, the narrative transforms itself from a look into how that person lives her life every day to a realization of how meaningless her daily routine was until someone came and showed her that this was actually the case.

Some questions also  come to mind: Is this tepid living the singer’s choice? Another mystery that makes the song all the more alluring is the feeling of open suspense we are left with as the song ended. The singer may have compared her past with the present, but this present is something she has not described to us at all. Perhaps it is everything but mundane, but again, we are not given a clue at all on what it’s like now that she met that someone.

In the end, I believe it’s up to people who can relate to this song to continue its story: whether the day after is fraught with the feeling to lurk in the past or driven by the desire to live for that someone.

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