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The Name of the Game

Song: The Name of the Game

Songwriters: Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus with Stig Anderson

Performers: Abba

The Name of the Game was not the biggest hit penned by the Abba songwriting team of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (and their occasional collaborator) Stig Anderson, but it stands as a fine example of what fine songwriters they were. The Name of the Game is an object lesson in how a pop song can break the mould of verse – chorus – verse – chorus. If you can, it’s worth playing this one through just to see how beautifully the various sections are daisy-chained together.

The song kicks off with a mysterious riff in F sharp minor, strong enough in it’s own right to be sampled for The Fugees hit “Rumble In The Jungle” eighteen years later. Over this we hear the mysterious, high vocal entry, it’s simple rising and falling minor scale pattern being boosted by a dramatic cadence landing on A major. This idea of sharpening the third of the final chord of a phrase reappears in other sections of the song.

The opening section gives way to a livelier section (“I was an impossible case…”, which is also in F sharp minor, and leads into the chorus. The chorus itself starts in A major (the relative major of F sharp minor), with a hooky vocal over the very strong, but hardly original chords of A – D – E – D. From this point on, however, things get very interesting. Rather than tying up the chorus neatly and heading into Verse 2, the song heads off on an unforseen detour (“Tell me please, ‘cos I have to know”). It’s rather like a real conversation (or monologue).

A punchy suspended chord leads into yet another section (“And you make me talk...”), reminiscent in mood to the suspenseful opening, although we are now in A major. The climax of this new section at “If I said I cared for you”, is heightened by the B major – C sharp major stabs (with “Ah – ah” in the backing vocals), before the tension is finally broken with the return of the chorus. Over this chorus we hear in the backing vocals a reprise of the second part of the verse, which is by now a distant memory.

Andersson and Ulvaeus seem to link the sections of The Name of the Game together effortlessly. In fact the least elegant of their connections is where they return to the chorus - I get the feeling they could have stayed up all night, stringing brilliant fragments of pop song anatomy together, and challenging us to spot the joins.


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