The Day Before You Came
|"The Day Before You Came"|
|Single by ABBA|
|from the album The Singles: The First Ten Years|
|Released||18 October 1982|
|Recorded||20 August 1982
at Polar Music Studios
|ABBA singles chronology|
"The Day Before You Came" is a song recorded and released by Swedish pop group ABBA, their second longest (behind Eagle) at almost 6:00 in length. It was originally released in 1982 as both a single, and a track on the compilation album The Singles: The First Ten Years. It was the final ABBA recording; however, it was not their final song to be released: the next single was "Under Attack", also featured on the album.
- 1 History
- 2 Composition
- 3 Music video
- 4 Analysis
- 5 Reception
- 6 Chart positions
- 7 Cover versions
- 8 References
- 9 External links
After 1981's The Visitors, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson took some time off to write new material, yet at the same time, they were beginning to create their first musical, Chess, alongside Tim Rice. Meanwhile, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad slowly began their English-language solo careers. Fältskog recorded with fellow ABBA backing vocalist Tomas Ledin the song "Never Again" (a hit in Europe) and played a leading role in the Swedish movie blockbuster Raskenstam, while Lyngstad worked with Phil Collins to produce her solo album Something's Going On.
The group returned to Polar Studios in May–August 1982 to record new songs for a planned follow up album to The Visitors. "The Day Before You Came" was one of six new songs that were recorded, with only two of them being released as singles and two as the B-sides. One of the other songs recorded, "I Am the City", would not see international release until 1993's More ABBA Gold CD, while another, "Just Like That", has never been released in its entirety (partially released in 1994).
Björn Ulvaeus wrote the lyrics, which to some degree are influenced by his divorce from Agnetha Fältskog. He later said: "Even if 90% of the lyrics were fiction there are still feelings in songs like 'Winner Takes It All' and 'Day Before You Came' they have something from that time in them."
"The Day Before You Came" was digitally recorded and mixed on 20 August 1982, with the working title of "Den Lidande Fågeln" (The Suffering Bird). Apart from Fältskog's lead vocal and a vocal line of Lyngstad mixed with the instrumental, the only instruments featured on the song were Andersson's synthesizer and drum machine, Ulvaeus' acoustic guitar and a snare drum by Åke Sundqvist.
Many years after the song was recorded, Michael Tretow, ABBA's longtime sound engineer, recalled Agnetha performing the lead with dimmed lights and said that the mood had become sad and everybody in the studio knew that 'this was the end'. On this rumour, Stephen Emms of The Guardian continues the story by saying "finishing her vocals, our heroine was to remove her headphones and walk solemnly out into the daylight, never to return".
Musical direction of vocals
Ulvaeus commented that "you can tell in that song that we were straining towards musical theatre [as he and Benny) got Agnetha to act the part of the person in that song", as opposed to singing it objectively. She was "happy to do [this interpretation]". Though not seen as much as a negative in modern times, a "downside" of this creative choice meant Agnetha sang like an "ordinary woman" rather than a lead vocalist. The three ABBA members involved in this decision have all retrospectively wondered if "the dramatic scope [would] have been far greater had Agnetha's natural instincts been allowed to take hold". This is often cited as the reason Agnetha's vocals reveal much more of her Swedish accent than usual, as she is essentially talk-singing the lyrics. In his work ABBA & Me, Robert Verbeek makes special mention of "the way [Agnetha] pronounces the L in the word 'school' in the line 'A matter of routine, I've done it ever since I finished school'" in the song, despite later on saying the band "sang without any accent", implying that this was a unique case. Kultur says the song is "sung by a dimmed and turned off...Agnetha Fältskog".
Release and chart performance
"The Day Before You Came" was released in October 1982, as both the first new song from ABBA's double compilation album The Singles: The First Ten Years, and also as a single. The single was officially released on 18 October 1982 with another new song, "Cassandra", as the B-side. By this time, ABBA were experiencing a slow decline in UK single sales. Accordingly, the single peaked at no. 32 there. In 1984 a cover by British synthpop duo Blancmange charted higher than the ABBA recording reaching no. 22 on the UK charts. ABBA's recording, however, hit the top 5 in Belgium, Finland, West Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland. It also reached no. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart in Canada.
Along with "Under Attack", before being featured on the album, the song had appeared in the United States only as a non-LP B-side. The song did not chart in that country.
Reflection on song's success
Take40 comments that "although the single … was one of the group’s most accomplished recordings it failed to become a worldwide hit on the scale that they had been used to". The song was only a minor hit (for example only charting #32 in the UK, breaking "a string of 19 consecutive top 30 hits" which started in 1975 with "S.O.S."), something that Ulvaeus retrospectively puts down to the song being "too different and ahead of its time for the ABBA fans [or] too much of a change for a lot of ABBA fans." He also commented that "the energy [in their music] had gone". Bjorn said that with the song, they were "heading into something more mature, more mysterious and more exciting", but that at that time it was "one step too far for [their] audience". He said that although Tim Rice really liked the song, he had warned them that it was "beyond what [the ABBA] fans expected". However, the Sydney Morning Herald article "Happily ABBA after" suggests this may be because ABBA only "promoted it in Britain with a couple of glum TV appearances". Christopher Patrick, in his work ABBA: Let The Music Speak, argues that although ABBA's final moments had come by the time this song was released, "no-one was empowered to concede it", but also said that the "lukewarm" response toward the song by the public "had already made the decision for [the band over whether to stay together or split up]".
Benny said that in his opinion, "'The Day Before You Came' is the best lyric that Bjorn has written: it's a really good song, but not a good recording". He compared this to "Under Attack", recorded around the same time, which he described as "a wonderful recording, but not such a good song". While reminiscing on the track at an interview for Mamma Mia! the musical, Björn said, "we thought it was a great song", but added that they also thought it would not work as it was so far removed from their previous material. Frida said that there were "problems over how Agnetha would interpret it". ABBA attempted many different ways of singing the song, eventually settling on a "haunted" style. In the version that got released, Agnetha sang as if she was hurt and vulnerable, rather than belting it out (which Bjorn implies she did in other takes). Frida said the song was "a very different sound to what we had done before", and Björn added that they were "taking a chance". Frida said it was a "beautiful song". In response to the interviewer commenting on their looking unhappy in the video clip, Frida said, "it was an unhappy time of our lives [as we were] on the verge of splitting up" and had started talking about the individual projects of each member. She adds that it was not an easy situation, arguably justifying the gloomy atmosphere as a parallel of their real lives as a part of ABBA.
The end of ABBA
Christopher Patrick, in his work ABBA: Let The Music Speak, describes the song as "more unusual and atmospheric" than "Under Attack". He says that these last two ABBA singles (excluding "Thank You For The Music", which was first released in 1977) "are crystal balls that provide a glimpse as to the intriguing future direction in which Benny and Björn were starting to take the group sound". Acoustic instruments had been slowly replaced by a more synth-sound ever since Super Trouper, and by this time, ABBA's final output would have "s[a]t very comfortably on either of the two albums Benny and Bjorn … produced for Swedish duo Gemini in the mid-'80s", as they are also "quite minimalist in arrangements and orchestration", and synth-orientated. He says that Agnetha's "lament", whether the boys' "stylistic directive" is taken into account, is made "heart-rendering". He argues this is the case as beyond ABBA she, like the narrator in the song, lived an "ordinary … life", far removed from celebrity and fame.
Reissues and compilations
On reissues of The Visitors on CD, "The Day Before You Came" has been added as the 11th track, and the 2nd bonus track after "Should I Laugh Or Cry". The song is also featured as track 3 on the 1993 compilation More ABBA Gold – More ABBA Hits, track 14 of disc 3 in the 1994 compilation Thank You For The Music, track 11 of disc 2 in the 1999 compilation The Complete Singles Collection, track 13 of disc 2 in the 2001 compilation The Definite Collection (also featured on the DVD release), and the 4th bonus track on the The Visitors album in the 2005 compilation The Complete Studio Recordings (on which the music video is also featured). The song is also featured on The Visitors [Deluxe Edition].
On "The Day Before You Came", for the first time in ABBA's history, Benny was the only person to play instruments. He built up the music from a click track template, something which he later said "was probably not a good idea", despite his liking the track. The entire backing track of the song was put together in the studio, "initially consisting of a single melodic fragment that leant itself to being repeated in a series of ascending and descending phrases over several key changes". The production is minimalist, featuring only "[the] GX-1, a snare drum, and a few licks of acoustic guitar". While the song has "long, sustained block chords" – a "given" for ABBA songs, it also has "a liberal smattering of percussive synth effects". An example is the "carefree", "spontaneous", and "conversational" synthetic twin flutes, which begin their "integral role in the soundscape [by] offering regular bouts of whimsical reassurance" at the very start of the track. These 'flutes' are "arguably [the song's] signature sound". Their riff "smooths out a series of sustained chordal layers" in the refrains, aided by the backing vocals.
In an interview done for the book Abba – Uncensored on the Record, music journalist Hugh Fielder says that the song is "built on banks of electronic instruments that provide a strong atmosphere for Frida's vocals". He comments that her vocals have been mixed into the background of the song, creating a "cold, objective" atmosphere, "almost as if she's looking down on the rest of us". He says the song has a "theatrical element", and puts this down to the fact that by this time Benny and Bjorn had started thinking beyond 5-minute pop songs and begun writing in terms of stage productions, the next frontier beyond ABBA.
In response to the question of whether Lay All Your Love On Me had been sequenced, Benny replied: "it may sound like it was, but [it] was not sequenced. It's just well played!" He adds that while they had used click tracks in the past, the only song ABBA to have ever used sequences was The Day Before You Came. The lack of use throughout the vast majority of ABBA's history is because he "couldn't handle it at the time [and] didn't know how to do it", and because he preferred to play live with other band members, although by 2006 he had become more open to the technology.
In the 1982 recording sessions, Benny and Bjorn's aimed to "keep...the arrangements as simple as possible and to create them electronically". As with the rest of their time in ABBA, their main priority was "melodic strength". Real drums were rejected in favour of a "synth-generated beat"; however, in the end a snare was also included in the final backing track. As with the majority of other tracks produced around this time, there is no hint of grand piano, or bass, electric, or acoustic guitars (except a "very understated acoustic guitar" which plays from 3:35–4:01). Practically all the instruments are synthetically made. The song has the same production style as I Am The City, a song recorded earlier that year. Throughout the song, Benny litters the soundscape with a "surprising...mixed bag of synth sounds" which add texture to the piece.
In The Day Before You Came, Agnetha had her second lead vocal in two years (the previous song being The Winner Takes It All), which is noteworthy as "Frida does not double or harmonise with Agnetha's vocal line", and instead only provides backing vocals. In an "intriguing new approach" that had rarely been done in previous ABBA recordings (as she usually sings the lower melody and harmony lines), Frida uses a "vibrato-laden...operatic technique" when singing "the sustained high range melody line [of the] refrains". At the point in each refrain where the vocal line drops an octave "to a more manageable resister", she "relaxes her vowel sound to a free-flowing and tender falsetto". A "series of subtle vocal and production reinforcentments" give verse three both a sense of empathy and heightened tension. It is at this point in the song that Frida provides a "delicate and brittle" backing vocal to Agnetha's lead. Bjorn joins in later in the verse, at "I must've gone to bed...", to add to this "smooth and genial major-key affirmation".
Benny's riffs "level...out into a more synthetic plateau" at "And rattling on the roof...", Agnetha's second-last phrase. One more repeat of the "forlorn title hook", and the lead vocals end, the soundscape being swept up by the instruments and backing vocals in a "moving mosaic of sound colours" until the end of the song.
Kultutr says the song "is portrayed, sophisticated enough, simply by harmonies and minor cadences, topped off with Anni-Frid Lyngstads obbligato that could just as easily belong in a baroque largo by Handel and Albinoni".
The sheet music of the song has been released.
The song was promoted by a music video clip filmed on 21 September 1982, and directed by the team of Kjell Sundvall and Kjell-Åke Andersson, breaking ABBA's eight-year directing relationship with Lasse Hallström. The video featured Agnetha flirting with a stranger on a train, played by Swedish actor Jonas Bergström as Fältskog's love interest.
The bridge seen in the video clip is the Årstabron bridge, located in the southern part of the city. Within the context of the music video, the train on the bridge actually goes in wrong direction. In the clip, Agnetha waits at Tumba station for the train and ends up in the city. However, in reality the train seen on the bridge goes from the city to Tumba. The parts of the video featuring all the members of ABBA were filmed at the China Theatre in Stockholm, nearby the Polar Music offices located in Berzelii Park. There were several photo sessions done during filming at the theatre. One of them, known as "the green session", was taken in theatre's foyer.
Christopher Patrick, in ABBA: Let The Music Speak, says the final sequence in the music video, in which "the train [where the narrator meets her lover] shunts off into oblivion, leaving in its wake a bleak and deserted railway station", is a fitting metaphor for ABBA, having reached the end of their creative partnership.
Some interpret the song about "the ordinary life of a woman the day before the arrival of her lover". Simon Frith in The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock says the song, his favourite from ABBA's catalogue, is about "the wonder of falling in love by flatly documenting how banal life was before love struck". Christopher Patrick, author of ABBA: Let The Music Speak, says the "account of one ordinary woman's mundane and predictable daily existence" is made sobering as it becomes evident that she doesn't have the lover she yearns for. Malcolm Womack in his article Thank You For the Music: Catherine Johnson's feminist revoicings in Mamma Mia! says the song illustrates a common ABBA theme, in which "the unremarkable woman [is] given purpose by a remarkable man...most often...through romance". He interprets the song as a female narrator listing the bland events throughout her day "until she is rescued from [it by a lover]". However, others interpret the song as depicting the final events in a woman's life before her death. Tom Ewing of Pitchfork comments that the narrator describes the events "on the day before it is changed forever: By what, we never learn." He turns to journalist Taylor Parkes for the answer, whose 1995 essay on ABBA talks about "the spectral choirs of backing vocals suggest[ing] a murderer as much as a lover". He goes on to argue that this song epitomises ABBA's central theme, which is that "life is trivial and nothing happens, but the somethings that might happen are worse". Tom Ewing of Pitchfork notes that the narrator is providing a "hesitant reconstruction" of the events leading up to she meets someone who "we assume is her lover". He comments on the banal details of the day (that come alive through Agnetha's singing technique), which are "contrasted by keening backing vocals of...dread", implying the "You" is in fact referring to a "killer, not partner". Priya Elan of Pitchfork expands on this theory by suggesting that "the protagonist is a ghost, who is eerily detailing the minutiae of her daily life before her murderer – the “you” of the title – ended her life". He adds that despite the theory sounding "far-fetched", the "celestial harmonies" of Frida and Benny throughout the verses, and the harmony (which he suggests is actually shrieking) in the middle eight gives added weight to this interpretation. He adds that it makes the final line "a bit more chilling" due to its ambiguity. Kulture explains that the song "depicts a woman['s] strenuous [and] repetitive daily life at the office and at home, the day before...she meets the man of her life". It then goes on to add that "there is something wrong", in that "instead of being a happy song about complete solitude", the song is driven forward "by an overwhelming sadness". It draws the conclusion that "when she met the man [her life] became even worse", for unspecified reasons that might include "fear, confinement, [or] beatings". One Week II One Band also asks "Is it violent?", citing similarities with the 1960s song “Past, Present And Future” by The Shangri-Las, which has references to sexual abuse.
There are many other possible interpretations. One of the main ones involves the protagonist retrospectively thinking back to the gloomy day before she met her lover who has since left her or even died (for example watching the coffin be lowered as she sings). This is supported by the music video showing a relationship blossoming and then falling apart, and in the final scene (which takes place in a theatre), Agnetha is wearing black and the other ABBA members look as though they are at a funeral. The narrator is only now reflecting on her life before she met her lover, and realising that she was just going through the motions in a worthless existence. She realises that her life changed for the better because of her love. She now sees the mundanity of the life she lived because she has to live that life again, only now knowing what she is missing and not able to live in blissful ignorance. The lyrics are therefore vague but in present tense ("I must have left the house at eight because I always do"), as she has to remember her previous routine, so she can pick it up again. The only time when she speaks with certainty is about the train leaving on time. In the music video, the lover is seen to be running after the train, because the narrator wishes she had been late and had therefore never met him. That is one of the few parts of the story that is essential to her current unhappiness, and is therefore the only concrete fact. One Week II One Band says "The conceit of “The Day Before You Came” is simple and could be rather sweet – it’s about trying to remember what life was like before you met your lover. The lyrics reconstruct a typical day – tentatively, because life has changed so much now the singer can hardly remember the her that used to be." Though adds "Agnetha sounds bereaved – the world she’s left, and is singing about, is obviously beyond recovery, and there’s a longing in her voice sometimes as she recounts even the most banal details. And...in place of the chorus there’s a series of ghostly choral howls, wordless cries filled with sorrow." It further explains "it’s about loss: an utterly ordinary lifestyle which turns out to be something worth mourning." It also suggests that to the narrator, "love [is] a threat to [her] autonomy, as is, her life may have been mundane but at least if was her life."
The narrator has also been interpreted as being a murderer, who is, the following day, recounting the events in order to form an alibi. She did it in the unaccounted for 2 hours between leaving work and arriving home - spoken about at the end of verse two. (She leaves her house at 8 and arrives at work at 9:15, yet she leaves work at 5 and arrives at home at 8). This part of the song is sung with much gusto and passion in order to convince the authorities, while the rest is sung with a feigned sadness. The theatre scene is placed in the music video as the narrator is merely performing, trying to entertain the three policemen/detectives, played by the other 3 band members, who are not convinced of her story. The song has a melancholy tone because deep down the narrator knows she will not get away with the murder. Frida's shrill operatic background vocals in the instrumental breaks symbolise the murder. They are performed twice - once in the place within the narrative where it actually takes place, and another time after the narrator has concluded her story, as she dwells on her murder. Her alibi is why is very direct and knowledgeable about the times in her story, and vague about everything else.
Another interpretation is that the entire song being a dream that the protagonist tries to recall after waking up – her tragic life being the "you" (supported by the vagueness of the lyrics). If the event the song is building up to is in fact her murder (and she is staring her murderer in the face whilst singing this song), the vague recollections may be due to her being drugged. She could also have a terminal illness, and be, after death, going through the final moments before her inevitable death. Another interpretation is that, throughout the song, the narrator has a sense of hope that her repetitive gloomy day will somehow get better, but singing from the perspective of the following day (which turned out exactly the same), she knows deep down this will not be the case. "She keeps living her office life in attendance of what should be coming but isn't. The guy in the train is a dream, in the end he does not materialize. That is why the song ends so sad, while continuing the theme of the song."[unreliable source?] The constant referring to "rain" throughout the song is seen by some to have a symbolic meaning, perhaps of crying. The man in the music video has been interpreted as being a dream of the narrator, which is why, as the train goes off into the distance, the song ends on a melancholy tone (the happy dream has come to an end). The entire song may be the narrator's life flashing before her eyes just before she dies.
80s45s says that the "clockwork rhythm [of the] melancholic synthesizers and multi-tracked backing vocals" emulates the "relentless, yet comforting [sound] of the commuter train [as seen in the video clip]", and that the song is in fact about "the alienation of modern life". He says the narrator lives in "quiet desperation", something many can relate to, and recounts the tedium of her day-to-day life "as if to convince herself of her purpose in existing". He argues that "the song is about the day when her self-sufficiency ceases to sustain her [and when] succumbing to the pressure of loneliness, she trades her solitary stability...for love...[a] flimsy...defense against the emptiness of existence". 80s45s interprets the "powerful sense of finality [and the] baleful triumph [as the music swells in the outro]" as her being "resigned to the impossibility of returning to former comforts having once left them".
While the entire song is leading up to something coming, and the narrator describes how mundane her life is before this event takes place, it is not explained what actually happens after the thing comes, something which remains a "pop mystery" like the "identity of the subject of Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain'". After being asked by The Times about this on March 26, 2010, Ulvaeus "smiled enigmatically" and said: "You've spotted it, haven't you? The music is hinting at it".
Stephen Emms for The Guardian argues that the "ordinariness [and] universality [of the] first-person account" of a depressing day is what draws the audience in, and "morphs [the song] into an unusually poignant parable of what modern life means". He points out that beyond the supposed simplicity, the lyrics are "oddly imprecise...in a vague recollective tone", and adds that the fact sentences include phrases such as "I must have...", "I'm pretty sure...", or "...or something in that style" implies that Agnetha is an "unreliable narrator" and give the entire song a veil of ambiguity. He says that sentences such as "at the time I never noticed I was blue" gives "her account a tinge of unreality, even fiction". Sometimes she may state something about her day (such as "I'm sure my life was well within its usual frame"), and we as the audience fear that in reality the opposite may be true.
Tom Ewing of Pitchfork refers to the lyrics as "awkward" and "conversational". He says that as non-native speakers, they rarely used metaphors or poetic imagery, and instead relied on a "matter-of-fact reportage of feeling", resulting on a "slight stiltedness" which, he argues "is what makes ABBA great lyricists". He says that this style of lyric writing, coupled with the female leads' "occasional...halting pronunciation... could make them sound devastatingly direct and vulnerable", as shown in The Day Before You Came.
Tony Hawks, in his work One Hit Wonderland, cites The Day Before You Came when commenting that despite the ABBA lyricists' genius, "there were occasions when [Benny and Bjorn] clearly had difficulty coming up with lines which provided the requisite number of syllables to complete a line", thereby causing the girls to sing things that no native English speaker would ever actually say. His "favourite line" due to its bizarreness is "there's not I think a single episode of Dallas that I didn't see", and responds with the equally bizarre sentence "...there's not I think a single example of better lyrics that I didn't see". He refers to these "nonsense lyric[s]" as gems, and argues "what does it matter when as long as it's got a catchy tune". He adds, via a dialogue with a character named Willie, that "[Euro-dance artists] just sing about whatever they want and don't worry in the slightest if it makes any sense or not".
An oddity in the song is the timeframe used for the given events. The narrator constantly refers to the punctuality of her transport and get train catching routines so there is a clear error. She leaves the house at 8 and arrives at work at 9:15 (a train ride of about an hour), yet she leaves work at 5 and arrives home at 8 (a travel time of 3 hours). This implies that there is a part of her story we are not being told. In the video clip she is seen driving a car though there is no mention of this in the song. This has been seen as providing a hint to where the unaccounted for time ended up.
80s45s says that "there seem to be too many words in some of the lines, as if the singer [an ordinary woman] is chattering to fill the silence", and adds that "there is something touching about her determination to record the events, despite her uncertainty about the specific details in the endless procession of days". He describes the lyrics as "a series of vague vignettes" about her life. He argues that "this monotonous list and slightly nervous delivery" is juxtaposed with the "ominous drama of the music".
Priya Elan of NME says "a deeper probe [into the lyrics] suggests something a bit darker at the core" than just a woman reflecting on her life before meeting her lover. He comments that the song's working title, The Suffering Bird, may be "hinting at a prison-like fragility". He also comments on the "disorientating ambiguity" of the lyrics, reminiscent of a "zombie sleep walking through their life", and also notes the line "I need a lot of sleep", which suggests the narrator is suffering from depression.
Margaret-Mary Lieb, as part of the 13th Annual KOTESOL International Conference, suggested that a variety of "grammar lessons...can be based on popular songs", and states that The Day Before You Came "offers reinforcement of past modals".
There are some pop-culture references in the song, which are open to interpretation. For example, the narrator refers to never missing an episode of the TV show Dallas. This could be a reference to the Who shot J. R.? marketing campaign used to promote the 1980 episode A House Divided. She also recalls reading something by Marilyn French, or within the same genre. French is an American feminist author (1929–2009), "whose 1977 novel The Women's Room is cited as one of the most influential novels of the modern feminist movement". Priya Elan of NME notes that French was "a radical feminist author who was infamously misquoted as saying: all men are rapists'". The "latest [novel] by Marilyn French", by the time the song was written, was the 1980 work The Bleeding Heart, which involves a couple who meet on the train, and "fall instantly in love, only to discover they agree on nothing...from the start [knowing] they have only one year together". This plot has been cited as having similarities to the song's narrative.
Repetitiveness and simplicity
The song follows in the footsteps of The Winner Takes it All as another ABBA song that had no "clearly defined verse/chorus structure". The song is deceptively complicated, perhaps due to its length, and is actually one of their most simple tunes melodically. Underneath the "rich tapestry" of the three-verse song is a "close-knit series of three-note building blocks", the last block in each statement being repeated at the start of the following one. For example, "I must have left my house/at eight because I always do" has the musical pattern 1-7-6/2-1-7 while the following phrase, "My train, I'm certain left/the station just when it was due" has a musical pattern of 2-1-7/3-2-1. These "descending three-note patterns" go up a note each time a new statement is sung. For example, as the verse is sung, the pattern could go from do-ti-la to re-do-ti to mi-re-do etc., with each new phrase. Starting with a "minor anchor power-of-three" (mi-re-do), this pattern "remains intact" during the entire song, with the tune "weaving its soulful way through the hues of its relative keys C minor and E flat major, and their collaborators". After the first two statements, the minor key swaps to the relative major, where it remains until the final few statements, just in time for the title hook. The only time the descending pattern is broken is in the eighth statement of each verse ("The usual place, the usual bunch" in the first verse – 6-5-4/5-6-5 went to 4-3-2).
In his work Thank you for the music, Robert Davidson discusses the notion of "young pop stars" commenting on the "musical sophistication" of ABBA songs (which, he argues, would in turn have seemed simple to earlier artists), and the general trend of simpler music in recent times. He says that ABBA itself took part in this trend with its final output, and cites The Day Before You Came as one in which "in which texture takes primacy [over the] tunes".
The song has received universal acclaim.
In 2010, "The Day Before You Came" was positively reviewed by Stephen Emms for The Guardian. Emms opined that the song is a "forgotten masterpiece", and that the mixture of "the genuine sense of loss in Agnetha's voice, Frida's operatics, a moodily expressionist video and plaintive synths as omnipresent as the rain 'rattling' on the roof...carries a sense of foreboding almost unparalleled in pop music." Emms continued to state that "the track's power lies in its layering of boredom and grandeur, transience and doom. It combines a rising sense of melancholy, both in its melody and production, with wistful, nostalgic lyrics." Emms also interpreted that the pathos is "heightened by an extended funereal instrumental coda which acts as one big question mark, leaving us with the feeling that this is not just a meditation on the quotidian but something greater, existential even. Is this imagined relationship, like the band itself, doomed?" He argues in his review that, in his opinion, it is unlikely that the "complexity [in The Day Before You Came could be replicated in] ABBA's [then] rumoured comeback single" 
Kultur describes it as ABBA's "darkest song" and their "very last - and best - recording". It noted that the "happy and well-behaved Abba in [its] last creative moment managed to portray how the romantic dream - which so incredibly strongly permeates our entire culture, especially through advertising - might as well mean destructiveness and suffocating nightmare, that was the last thing many expected [ABBA to do] a few years earlier".
One Week II One Band said "There is something about this long, strange, monotonous, chorus-free ABBA song which gets to people."
The song has been described as: "mesmerising [and] hypnotic", "[a] beautiful ballad", "[a] stark, superb swansong", and "[the] strangest and maybe best of all [from ABBA's catalogue]". 80s45s describes the song as "poignant and quite profound" and says the "bleak lyrics about love and desire" in songs such as The Day Before You Came is surprising, due to ABBA often being "associated with Eurovision cheesiness and sequined kitsch". Evening Standard music critic John Aizlewood referred to the "detailed résumé of the ordinariness of someone's life" as "desperately unhappy".
In a critique of the 2012 album The Visitors [Deluxe Edition], in which The Day Before You Came is a bonus track, Tom Ewing of Pitchfork describes the song as the "career highlight" for ABBA. He says that the song "shares its themes with much of the album", despite being "on paper, a happier song" than the title track. He suggests that the song holds the view that "life is unstable, happiness may be fleeting, and your world can be instantly and forever overturned", and comments that these "strong, resonant ideas" are the perfect way for the band to have ended their career, and serves as an almost "spectral, uneasy premonition...of [ABBA's] own demise". Rudolf Ondrich analysed the bonus track by saying "The Day Before You Came is by far the saddest song I know within the pop repertoire", and puts this down to it being one of the last ABBA recordings, commenting that "the late output of many artists" is wonderful as it is like "they realize that they cannot create music forever, that their time is nearly up, and so they go into emotional hyperdrive", causing them to create music that "touches [him] in ways [he] cannot describe", this song being no exception.
Norman Lebrecht of Bloomberg suggests that The Day Before You Came, along with I Am Just a Girl and The Winner Takes It All, are "commercially formulaic as anything cooked up in a dark studio since the dawn of pop charts", and are delivered with a "one musical line bent crescent-shaped in ironic detachment" as opposed to the "belting frenzy of pop style" of some of their other songs.
After contemplating on the "complete choir" that is created just by ABBA's voices, Robert Verbeek in his work ABBA & Me says that "even when they are each other’s backing vocals they sound terrific", and ponders on what "The Day Before You Came [would] be without Frida’s background opera-like singing". He describes the song, along with The Winner Takes It All, Eagle, and I’m A Marionette, as "musical masterpieces", which show ABBA's extraordinary growth from its humble origins in simple pop songs like Nina, Pretty Ballerina and Ring Ring.
In his work ABBA: Let The Music Speak, Christopher Patrick refers to The Day Before You Came as "ABBA's swansong" and an "electronic masterpiece". He describes it as "one of the saddest ABBA songs of all" and "like a magnificent piece of embroidery". He states that "the melancholy is so deeply engrained in [the song's] fabric", and says the "meticulous attention to detail in the vocals and production" is "intricately beautiful". He comments that the approach, involving giving Agnetha lead vocal and make Frida essentially a backup singer, "serves the song very well", adding that "Agnetha's solitary vocal accentuates th[e] sense of loneliness and isolation". He says that "the resulting performance" is both emotional and effective, and "is perfectly matched to the production". He says that into the "dying fade", there is a "faint haze of farewell" 
In his paper The Return of Melodrama, Maaike Meijer explains that critic Guus Middag analysed The Day Before You Came within the context of examining how "unsophisticated texts [such as popular songs] were able to evoke [immediate emotion] in the reader". He appreciated how the song "creates an open space for the listener by effectively remaining silent about what had changed the grey life of the speaker", and cited a similar effect in Wislawa Szymborska’s poem 16 mei 1973. Although Middag claims the poem achieved it much better, Maijer says there still is some worth in comparing the song and the poem. He also comments on novelist Marcel Möring's reading of The Day Before You Came "as a serious poem", thereby "demonstrat[ing] how a song could be transformed into a complex, multi-layered and interesting text, thanks to an interpretative approach, which looks for these aspects". Möring saw the song as 'small labyrinths of language, refined aquarelle paintings, complex clockworks of Swiss precision", which Maijer says is an analysis fitting of a "poem deserving careful reading". He adds that "Möring’s sophisticated modernist poetics transports the song to the realm of hermetic poetry". Möring also "compared the Abba song to the classics by Strauss, Mahler and Ives", and in response critic Pieter Steinz, while "declar[ing] the song to be a good one", also "questioned the necessity of Mörings complex academic hermeneutics".
Post-ABBA polls and competitions
In a "The Greatest Pop Songs In History" countdown conducted by NME, The Day Before You Came came in at #6. Priya Elan commented that the song was "arguably [ABBA's] finest". He says the song is "interesting" as it "totally breaks with the popular impression of the band as all showbiz smiles, massive harmonies, gaudy outfits and Scandi wife-swapping". In a career largely based in trying to stuff as much into one song as possible – a "more is better" philosophy – Elan noted that it is unusual for the "track [to] scuttle...along like a slow heartbreak, sparsely painting its picture with the sole palette of a synth and Agnetha’s lone vocal". However he also implied that the song is deceptively simple, and that "there are layers of sonics beneath the smooth surface". He says that ABBA's "mastery of this Cold Wave keyboard sound" could have seen the band "seamlessly ma[k]e the transition into the [1980s]", using The Day Before You Came as a template for the new sound. He concludes the analysis with: "the song is the ultimate tease, a door left ajar, a murder mystery with its final page torn out...which arguably makes it all the more wonderful".
On 5 December 2010 on British TV for ITV1 a poll was made where fans could vote for "The Nation's Favourite ABBA song". Despite its poor chart position of No. 32 in the UK back in 1982, "The Day Before You Came" was voted the third favourite ABBA song. The host describes the choice as "a bit of a surprise".
On 31 January 2011 BBC Radio 5 Live's "Up All Night" with Dotun Adebayo presiding that night announced that the song had won the weekly vote of the nation and onto their ongoing list of virtual jukebox.
The site Icethesite ran a competition for what songs should be featured on a hypothetical Benny Andersson solo instrumental album, in which he revisits past recordings with his piano. While over 125 different songs were suggested, The Day Before You Came came out on top with 14 votes.
- In 1983 Dutch singer Andre Hazes released a Christmas version of the song, with new, Dutch lyrics, called Met kerst ben ik alleen.
- In 1984, two years after the song's original release, the first cover version of "The Day Before You Came" was released by British synthpop duo Blancmange. The cover charted at No. 22 in the UK singles chart and was included in that year's Mange Tout album. Blancmange's version included a slight lyrical alteration. Instead of referencing novelist Marilyn French as the ABBA original does, Blancmange singer Neil Arthur sang "I must have read a while, the latest one by Barbara Cartland or something in that style". In a live version, Arthur also sang "shame" instead of "aim", implying a complex sexual relation to come.
- British singer/songwriter Tanita Tikaram covered the song on her 1998 album The Cappuccino Songs.
- A dance cover by ABBAcadabra was released by Almighty Records during the late 1990s. An audio sample can be heard on the official Almighty Records page.
- UK indie band Jacques covered the song for their 2000 album To Stars.
- Dutch singer Sarah Fairfield included a cover of the song on her 2004 debut album Green.
- Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree covered the song on the second release of his Cover Version series in 2004.
- Swedish opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter covered the song on her 2006 ABBA tribute album I Let The Music Speak.
- British "antique beat" band The Real Tuesday Weld covered the song on the 2007 compilation album Backspin: A 6 Degrees 10 Year Anniversary Project.
- In 2011, classically trained pianist Mark Northfield did a six-minute cover of the song. He "takes advantage of [the slower-than-usual tempo of the ABBA track] to draw out the song".
Live cover performances
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