The 1970s — for some, of course — was a time of extreme indulgence and mega-bucks for musicians who had mega-international hits. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to the max and some liked to be famous for being famous. “Fame” was written by David Bowie, Carlos Alomar, and John Lennon in 1975 to portray their dislike for the hollowness of fame. Bowie said in a 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine that “Fame itself, of course, doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant…I’m just amazed how fame is being posited as the be all and end all, and how many of these young kids who are being foisted on the public have been talked into this idea that anything necessary to be famous is all right. It’s a sad state of affairs.” To add to this another quote from Bowie: “Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them.”
John Lennon had some experience with and thoughts about fame as well. Bowie and Lennon had met, the story goes, at one of Elizabeth Taylor’s parties (not to name drop about the rich and famous here). Lennon had been one of Bowie’s idols, and the two became friends.
Carlos Alomar worked as a guitarist with Bowie and devised the guitar riff. It’s based on a song called “Foot Stompin’” by The Flares. With funk, you want to leave space in the music for those who are dancing. They reversed Lennon’s acoustic guitar and it made a sort of suction sound. Then there was a lot of reverb on Bowie’s riff to make it sound as though you were filling up a recreation hall with your guitar and amp.
The word “fame” is repeated repeatedly at the end of the song. Not to read too much into it, but that certainly shows the emptiness of fame. Bowie whispers something at the end of the song. Your guess is as good as anyone else’s, but it is believed to be “brings so much pain” or “feeling so gay, feeling gay.”
On the track were Bowie (lead vocals, guitar), John Lennon (backing vocals, guitar, tape loops, (Carlos Alomar (guitar), Emir Ksasaan (bass), and Dennis Davis (drums).
“Fame” was released as a single in 19755, backed with “Right.” It was also released on Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans. And the chart performance? “Fame” rose to #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and in Canada. It went to #6 in The Netherlands, #9 in Norway, #12 in Hungary, and #17 in Belgium and the U.K. “Fame” earned gold certification in the U.S. and Canada.
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London, England, on January 8, 1947. He died of liver cancer on January 10, 2016. He was a singer, songwriter, musician on many instruments, record producer, arranger, painter, and actor.