“When the Sun Goes Down” by Arctic Monkeys – What Does it Mean?
By the time the Arctic Monkeys were formed, in 2002, the members of the band wanted to put in their music a little of what they saw and lived, especially in the Engish suburb where they had grown up, outside Sheffield. They began to compose a number of songs that would be later released on their debut album. And it is in the tracklist of this album that we can find one of the most famous titles of the band, with a clear reference to the sun.
Today, the song “When the Sun Goes Down” is one of the Arctic Monkey’s most successful hits. The tune was the band’s second single. In the following weeks, reached the number 1 position in the UK Singles Chart in 2006. So, let’s hear the lullaby, shall we?
The Story Behind “When the Sun Goes Down”
Let me start by asking a question: what happens when the sun goes down? The answer is pretty obvious: the end of sunlight, the beginning of the night and, of course, darkness. The Arctic Monkeys, however, remind us that the trade of prostitution also starts at this time of the day. During more than 3 minutes, Alex Turner presents a song about a controversial social problem and full of irony, sarcasm and judgement.
In the lyrics, the sun is referred to as a symbol of transformation: when it goes down, the darkness brings out the worst in the city and, with it, the very worst of the people who live in it. A dramatic and sad image comes to our mind.
The song is told from the point of view of a man approached by a prostitute. He doesn’t want her service. Instead, he is concerned about her past, seeing the prostitute as something more than an objet: as an actual human being. The man’s worries aggravate when a “scummy man” appears around the corner. He asks himself: is that the prostitute’s pimp or a client? Why is he doing that to her?
In this section of the song, Alex Turner sings side by side with a pattern of electric guitar chords. Still referring to the “scummy man’s intentions”, the song continues with:
“And I’ve seen him with girls of the night
And he told Roxanne to put on her red light
They’re all infected, but he’ll be alright
Cause he’s a scumbag, don’t you know?”
Here we bring attention to a very important line: “And he told Roxanne to put on her red light”. All the fans of the British rock band The Police recognize for sure the reference to “Roxanne” and to her “red dress”. In 1978, this song also about prostitution was a hit in England and all around the world, inspiring later generations of new musicians.
The line “I said he’s a scumbag, don’t you know?” marks the point to a new rhythm: the chord change to a heavy rock style that is accompanied by a fast beat and a driving guitar riff. At this enraged tone, Alex Turner tell us how the prostitute proposes her services to the man and he politely turns her down. In the last line, the narrator expresses his hope: “I hope you’re not involved at all”. This is either directed to the girl who has turned to prostitution and a warning to the person to whom the narrator is telling the story: us.
The song is included in the band’s debut album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”. Originally, the song was to be called “Scummy”. Instead, the Arctic Monkeys decided to call it “When the Sun Goes Down” following previous notes.
Who Are the Arctic Monkeys?
The Arctic Monkeys are an English indie rock band formed in 2002 in High Green, a suburb of Sheffield. The band is composed by Alex Turner (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Jamie Cook (lead guitar, backing vocals in the early days), Nick O’Malley (bass, backing vocals), and Matt Helders (drums, backing vocals). Andy Nicholson, former band member, left in 2006 after the debut album.
In 12 years, the Arctic Monkeys have released five studio albums and won seven Brit Awards. The band was heralded as one of the first bands to come to public attention through fan-based websites.