In the studio

David Bowie’s Young Americans album was recorded in four separate stages: sessions in August and November 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; more at New York’s Record Plant in December; and one final session with John Lennon in January 1975 at New York’s Electric Lady Studios.

‘Win’ was recorded at the Record Plant in December 1974, along with ‘Fascination’, and overdubs for ‘Right’ and ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’. Tony Visconti produced the sessions, with Harry Maslin engineering.

When I first met David, I suppose I was a bit of an outsider. I was called in as the engineer on Young Americans, and then took over the production when David started working with John Lennon [Tony Visconti had already been released from the project]. It was rather bizarre for me, as I came into a scene I wasn’t used to and I had people like Mick Jagger hanging out in the studio, and John Lennon in the control room, looking at what I was doing. It was a little disconcerting for the first week or so.

I was at home having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with friends, blasted out of my mind – on alcohol, nothing heavier – when I got a phone call. It was David, and he said, ‘You have to do me a favour, my booking is up at Record Plant and I need additional time to continue my work.’ I replied by assuring him that I would do my best to get the additional time. He then hit me with the zinger: ‘You have to do me another favour, you have to produce the rest of Young Americans.’ And I kind of took the phone away from my ear and thought, Oh really? A favour? I said, ‘Well, David, I think I can do you this favour.’

The original reason why the Record Plant – where I was working at the time – put me on his project was because I was kinda the R&B guy, and Young Americans was an R&B-influenced album, so we started on the new songs, and he took me into the inner circle, so to speak. He was very kind. He knew that I was still walking on eggshells a little bit, but he also trusted me and my musical intent and my engineering prowess, for lack of a better word. I remember specifically mixing ‘Fame’ and being completely paranoid after the first mix, thinking that I could do a better one than the one I turned in to RCA, but then I had people like Carlos Alomar come up to me and tell me what a wonderful job I did on the mix, and I started to calm down a little bit.

Harry Maslin
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Ed Sciaky, then a DJ at Philadelphia radio station WMMR, was present at the ‘Win’ session.

He’d sing three lines, then have the engineer play them back, keeping the first line every time. It was spectacular, watching him work like a painter, hitting every line the way he wanted.
Ed Sciaky
Philadelphia Weekly, 24 July 2002

At around 7am, Bowie requested a playback of the finished track, proclaiming after the second play through: “That’s it, it’s done.” Outside the studio, the Sigma Kids – Bowie fans who waited for a glimpse of their idol – erupted into cheering and applause.

It was eerie. I don’t know how they could have heard any of the music, let alone responded to what Bowie said. It was probably some kind of coincidence, but it felt like they knew, they heard, they were connected. Bowie looked stunned.
Ed Sciaky
Philadelphia Weekly, 24 July 2002

The song was not complete, however. Bowie later sent Tony Visconti a telex with detailed instructions on how the album – then known as The Gouster – should be mixed. After reviewing the results both men agreed that strings should be added to ‘Win’ and ‘Fascination’.

I mixed The Gouster in London with instructions delivered from New York by David in the form of long telegrams, over twenty pages long. ‘Listen to the snare drum on this record… listen to the bass on that record… put a slap back on the congas on the ‘Young Americans’ breakdown…’ Using DHL, I sent the mixes back to New York where David listened and felt the album was not yet finished. Some songs could use real strings, including the two songs we recorded later in New York with Harry Maslin, ‘Fascination’ and ‘Win’. To me that also meant those songs might be contenders for The Gouster so some others would have to go.
Tony Visconti, May 2015
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) book

Young Americans was remastered and reissued by Rykodisc/EMI in 1991. That edition featured alternative mixes of ‘Win’, ‘Fascination’, and ‘Right’, although later editions of the album reverted to the original mixes.

Previous song: ‘Young Americans’
Next song: ‘Fascination’