Exploring the possibilities of the recording studio

Published November 02, 2017

Recently, we saw the 40th anniversary of the release of ABBA's single 'The Name Of The Game', which was issued on 17 October 1977. Just three days prior to that, David Bowie released his "Heroes" album, its title track eventually becoming one of his best-loved songs. So, what have these two releases got to do with each other? Not a lot, at face value, but there's more to unite them than you'd think.

When I interviewed Benny Andersson for the original edition of my book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions he surprised me by saying he felt 'The Name Of The Game', one of my ABBA favourites, was a great recording but not such a great song. By that he meant that something like 'Thank You For The Music' is a better song because it relies more on melody and less on the production surrounding it. In other words, whereas 'Thank You For The Music' is primarily a tune, 'The Name Of The Game' is primarily a record - the result of taking bits of tunes and tying them together into a coherent way, making full use of the possibilities of the recording studio to make sense of those tune fragments, riffs, and so on.

Recently, A New Career In A New Town, a box set of David Bowie's recordings 1977–1982, was released, including a book featuring wonderful essays by Bowie's producer, Tony Visconti, telling the story of how the main albums in the box set – Low, "Heroes", Lodger and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) – were created. It struck me that while their approaches may have been different and Bowie's music didn't sound very much like ABBA's, both acts were driven by the same sense of adventure: here are some ideas for a tune, here's the recording studio – let's see how we can make this sound as exciting as possible!

At this time, Bowie's method was mainly one of creating interesting backing tracks, then inviting overdub musicians to the studio, asking them to play along with the backing track without ever hearing it before, and then, finally, Bowie himself would write lyrics and record his vocals. Certainly more "out there" than ABBA, and it's not very likely that you will hear 'Breaking Glass' or 'Beauty And The Beast' on the Benny Andersson Plays The Songs Of David Bowie album. But back in 1977, they did share the same ambition of exploring the recording studio to the fullest, letting themselves be surprised by the wonders they could come up with. I may be wrong, but I don't think pop music is created from quite the same perspective today.

The full story of how 'The Name Of The Game' was written and recorded is detailed in the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Order your copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com