David Bowie’s plastic soul-funk hit “Fame,” his first (and one of only two) American number one singles and a biting cautionary tale about success and excess in the entertainment business, was released on July 25th, 1975. The song is considered a classic of the era, and is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Like so many other great moments in rock and popular music, it was also recorded in Greenwich Village, at Electric Lady Studios on West 8th Street (as were The Clash’s Combat Rock, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and Patti Smith’s Horses, among many others).
Fame was co-written by Bowie, John Lennon (whose voice is also heard on the recording singing “Fame” at initially sped up and then gradually slowed down speeds), and funk guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had worked extensively with James Brown.
Like so much of Bowie’s work, “Fame” seemed shockingly ahead of its time; the manipulated vocals presage the more common usage of the vocoder to simulate and reproduce vocals in the 1980’s, and the widespread use of the autotuner in the late 1990’s and 21st century. The aggressive mix of harder rock and funk guitar riffs similarly augured their usage years later in hip-hop, thrash-metal, and turn-of-the-millennium electronica acts like Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem.
Starting in the 1970’s Bowie spent a lot of time in and around Greenwich Village. He has cited Washington Square Park as one of his favorite places in New York; lived just on the edge of the Village in NoLIta, and imagined the spacemen in ‘Ziggy Stardust’ first touching ground on Earth in Greenwich Village.
Watch a video of the song here.