“Fame” by Irene Cara (1980)

Irene Cara’s “Fame” reached the top five on the pop charts in 1980. It was the theme of a movie that was also called Fame, which starred Cara as lead character Coco Hernandez. That film, based on the LaGuardia School of the Performing Arts in New York City, was successful enough that it spun off a TV show. The series ran for six seasons and made stars out of Debbie Allen, Nia Peeples and Gene Anthony Ray, among others. It also briefly counted a pre-Control Janet Jackson as a member of its cast. While “Fame” the song also served as the TV show’s theme, it was re-sung by Erica Gimpel. Gimpel took over the Coco Hernandez role once Cara decided she didn’t want to transition from the big screen to the small screen (unlike Allen and Ray, who reprised their film roles on the TV show).

Cara’s version is a pop/disco masterpiece. The production suggests Bad Girls-era Donna Summer, and Cara’s vocal strongly recalls the Queen of Disco, as well. It’s insistent, persistent, determined, and it’s hard to forget that “remember…remember…” chant that follows the hook. I guess that’s the point.

Interesting fact: Luther Vandross sings background vocals on this song (and was a key component in the album that housed the next song on this list).

The curse of having seen the TV show so many times is that I can’t listen to the bridge of Cara’s version without hearing Debbie Allen’s voice in my head saying “you want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. In sweat.”

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