505. ‘Fame’, by Irene Cara

Disco beats and hard rock guitars meet in our next number one, one that is both a nod back to the late-seventies and a glance forward to the rest of the 1980s…

Fame, by Irene Cara (her 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 11th July – 1st August 1982

First the retro bit: a gloriously funky and filthy disco riff. This is a song that sounds like it was recorded at the peak of the genre: part ‘Hot Stuff’ and part ‘Tragedy’. It already, in this respect, sounds a little dated. No, not dated – that sounds negative – nostalgic. Irene Cara also sounds every inch the disco diva, especially belting out lines like: You ain’t seen the best of me yet, Give me time I’ll make you forget the rest…

But when the guitars kick in, turning the synthy disco bits into soaring rock, suddenly you’re hearing all the power ballads and hair metal twiddling still to come in this decade. Irene Cara is also in on this: there’s has a rocky edge to her voice too. Listen to the way she draws out the got what it takes… line. Premonitions of Bonnie Tyler, Jennifer Rush, and other shoulder-padded eighties power-divas.

Fame! I’m gonna live forever… This could be an obnoxious-sounding song, all about how amazingly famous the singer is going to be. The soundtrack to every annoying drama-school wannabe. But it doesn’t come across that way. There’s enough grit to it, Cara selling it completely. Why the hell can’t she live forever?? I was ready to be underwhelmed by this record, for it to be a dated, cheesy film tune, but it’s not. My advice: go for the 12” mix – five minutes with lots more of the gnarly guitars. (And yes, I did just say ‘gnarly’.)

Part of the reason why this sounds a little retro is the fact that the movie ‘Fame’ – in which Irene Cara stars – was released in 1980. It took a tie-in TV series for the record to smash in the UK two years later. Cara had been a Broadway star for several years, but this was her first single. She is probably even better remembered for her other giant soundtrack hit: ‘Flashdance… What a Feeling’ (more song titles should use an ellipsis…) that would make #2, and #1 in the US, in a year’s time. For what it’s worth, I prefer ‘Fame’.

Sadly, though, Cara’s fame has not really lived forever. She is still active – she formed a band called Hot Caramel (presumably because Hot Chocolate was already taken) in 1999 – but has had few British hits outside her two biggies. Except, having performed two of the 1980’s biggest and best-remembered film tunes, who needs more hits? Why is being a one or two hit wonder a bad thing, when your two hits are classics? Come on, Irene – take it away!…. (that may or may not have been a hint as to our next #1…)

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9 thoughts on “505. ‘Fame’, by Irene Cara

  1. It was 82 but it was still the late seventies music-wise…tome…..I always liked this one…other than that…she was so damn cute.

  2. Notably in the US, “Fame” and “Flashdance…What A Feeling” won the Oscar for Best Original Song with Cara winning for “Flashdance” as a songwriter. “Fame” did hit on Billboard at the time in 1980 peaking at #4 even though Fame the movie was a moderate box office hit but is still highly regarded from that I see. The song sounds a lot like the Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder style disco with all the electronic effects and how Cara sounds like Summer which is funny since she would work with Moroder on “Flashdance.” After getting to #1 in the US with “Flashdance,” Cara did land one more major hit with the #8 self explanatory dance craze song “Breakdance” and according to Tom Breihan’s review starred in City Heat with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds and sang backup for people like Lou Reed, “Lou Reed obviously rules, but it must sort of suck to go from having one of the biggest hits of 1983 to doing the doot doot doots on “Walk On The Wild Side.”

  3. I bought the single in 1980 after seeing the film, which was really strong and not happy clappy like the cheesy tv series. Irene Cara gave a stand out dramatic performance in the film so its kinda sad it took a kiddie aimed sanitised version to make Fame a hit. It also lost all the irony in the songs from the film, where success comes at a cost, or not at all. But still hopeful.

  4. Pingback: 507. ‘Eye of the Tiger’, by Survivor | The UK Number Ones Blog

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