Young Americans was the first David Bowie album I fell in love with. It was the easiest point of entry, as soul music is the music I’m most familiar with. Even though I knew Bowie’s ‘80s pop hits, I’d never enjoyed or even perused any of his full albums prior to my 1994-ish discovery of Young Americans, which piqued my interest mainly because I’d just discovered that Luther Vandross worked with Bowie heavily on this album.
“Fame” is the closing track on Young Americans and was also the first of Bowie’s two American chart-toppers. From a pure stats perspective, “Fame” is Bowie’s biggest hit in the U.S. It was popular enough that when Bowie released a career retrospective in 1990, the token “new” track was a slightly modified version of “Fame” featuring a rap by Queen Latifah. It’s not bad (and was a reasonably ballsy move for a rock star to make in 1990), but the original version of “Fame” (which I’m relatively sure I discovered following the Latifah-featured cover) is where it’s at.
Co-writer (and guitarist) Carlos Alomar delivered The Thin White Duke a groove funky enough to get Bowie on Soul Train (and a near-top 20 placing on the R&B chart). Hell, “Fame” is such a groove that James Brown himself copped it a year later for “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved)”. The sheer funkiness of “Fame” is almost enough to make you forget Bowie’s snarling vocal. Almost.
Oh, wait…here’s something I did forget. John Lennon co-wrote and sings on “Fame”. Easily the funkiest thing a Beatle has ever appeared on.
And now, for David’s memorably coked-out-of-his-mind “performance” of “Fame” on Soul Train…