Thursday 19 April 2012

Clandestine Classic XXV - The Day Before You Came

Agnetha in the video. Minx.The 25th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

This is going to be a difficult post, and one in which I risk my hard-earned indie credentials. Because yes, today's Clandestine Classic is a 1982 single from Abba. Yep, you read that right, the Swedish behemoth that bestrode the world in the Seventies and early Eighties like an eight-legged Scandinavian Colossus. But what do you think of when you think of Abba? Waterloo/Eurovision? Maybe. Dancing Queen? Perhaps. Mamma sodding Mia? That's understandable, given its reinvention as a musical and film. But what about the songs? The proper songs...

Though I probably should be, I'm not ashamed to admit to liking Abba. If you take a look at my gigography on Songkick, you'll see they were my first gig, nine years old and wide-eyed at Wembley Arena. I still have the tour programme somewhere. And the lyrics are still ingrained from hours and hours of pre-teen headphone listening and singing along. Okay, so those lyrics were often a bit twee but have you tried writing a song in Swedish? Fair play to Benny and (mainly) Björn, I say.

But forget the songs I've mentioned above, and the others that spring to mind, like the Partridge-endorsed Knowing Me, Knowing You (did you just do an internal "Ah-ha!" - I did), the dum-diddy-dum of Take A Chance On Me, the oft-parodied Super Trouper, forget 'em! They were all way too successful and familiar to be Clandestine Classics. Besides, most of their best songs, in my view, came late in their career, as singles chart success began to tail off. It's one of those I've picked today.

You could argue that the darker tone of their last studio album, 1981's The Visitors, was down to the disintegration of the two marriages within the band. Agnetha and Björn were already divorced, Benny and Frida were heading that way. Yet still all recording and performing together. It must have been a tense time, especially when Björn went off and married an Agnetha-clone. The template for minor-key heartbreak and misery, Abba-style, was already set with The Winner Takes It All but that was number 1 in half of Europe and even made it to number 8 in the States, helped in no small measure by its lump-in-the-throat video. So, far too successful to be Clandestine. But their pre-penultimate single release, The Day Before You Came, only limped to number 32 in the UK - a failure by Abba's standards.

I'll be honest, I almost chose Blancmange's cover of this song today. It's very good, definitely worth five minutes of your time, and would have preserved my indie credentials perhaps. But I'm sorry, great though it is (especially the extended 12" mix), synthesizers are no match for the layered backing vocals in the original. I'm not going to say anything else about Abba, or what they did next - there's nothing I can add to what's already out there. But I will ask you to listen, without prejudice or snobbery, to a truly excellent song. Of its time, yes, but excellent nonetheless. If there's a better song about being ruined by meeting the wrong person (or the right person at the wrong time, perhaps?) I can't think when I've heard it. You can get The Day Before You Came on The Visitors or compilation More Abba Gold. Or here. Or YouTube, of course. Here you go.


  1. Worth checking out the cover by The Real Tuesday Weld - that's my favourite version of this song.

    1. You're right Rol... and here it is, with a great little video to boot.