15
Apr 09

IRENE CARA – “Fame”

FT + Popular27 comments • 2,771 views

#505, 17th July 1982

The lust for fame has always been a crucial pop motivation, but there are periods when that flame seems to burn more nakedly than others. In his classic book on the New Pop and, Like Punk Never Happened, Dave Rimmer is quite candid about the primary motivations for the crop of stars breaking through in ’82: they wanted money. And the way to money was celebrity.

But the concept of celebrity – much like the individual slebs themselves – requires an occasional trip to rehab. The very idea of fame needs to refresh itself periodically, put on a bit of slap, remind the unfamous why they admire the ambition and hunger even as they’re laughing at the hubris and folly. And in the early 80s the Fame film and TV show was a vehicle for doing this.

Nobody I knew – least of all me – would admit to liking Fame but in the terrestrial TV era we all watched it sometimes anyway. Along with Sesame Street and Marvel Comics it was one of the foundations of my concept of What America Was Like – sassy, young, hopeful, prone to burst into song.

I didn’t have the musical knowledge to parse Irene Cara’s theme tune as typical of a particular strand emerging in American pop: an urgent, brashly commercial, slightly clumsy mix of rock and disco – epitomised by the compulsory wailing of the guitar solo here. “Fame” feels like a dry run for the far superior “Flashdance”, where beat and rock and ambition all mesh into something genuinely steely and yearning. Here the parts don’t quite fit and “Fame” sounds corny, not inspiring.

But there’s some effectively stagey touches – the driving backing murmur of “Remember…remember…rememeber…” for instance – and even though it was two years’ old by this point and nothing whatsoever to do with New Pop, “Fame” is a good marker for the shift in pop from playful and colourful to something hungrier and huger.

5

Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 15 Apr 2009 #

    “You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat.”

    while I don’t recall ever sitting through a whole episode of the TV series, the opening lines became imprinted on my brain for some reason (although not forever, I just had to google them).
    There’s a definite Thatcherite flavour to that mantra which was seized upon by some as quite fresh and new at the time but which now seems vampiric (‘ve vant your sveat’) in these barrel scraping days of ‘Britain’s got talent’.

    It is hard now to appreciate the change in culture . People started going to gyms voluntarily – not just because they had a PE lesson. Trainers became a fashion item – as did sweatbands and leg warmers as the young guns went for it.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 15 Apr 2009 #

    My chief ‘Fame’ memory is the Three of a Kind parody of the opening credits: “Right here is where you start paying… with MONEY!”

    Somebody did a survey of drama students of my (early-to-mid ninties)generation and discovered that ‘Fame’ had been a formitive influence on something like 90% of us. It probably wasn’t a good thing.

    I’d like this a bit more if it hadn’t been so overplayed in the subsequent 27 years. Lazy TV editor needs a backing track for footage of aspirant celebrities – cue either this or ‘When Will I Be Famous?’

    I really liked this song as a nine year-old though. I think that it was the note of drama and desperation that I particularly responded to – the imploring quality to the lyrics and performance. I was aware that the singer may or may not become famous and that a lot depended upon it. As a narrative, this song is particularly improved by what imagination the listener can bring to the scenario. For working as several different styles of music (showtune, disco, pop, rock) ‘Fame’ is a single that I’ll always be pleased to hear.

  3. 3
    Kat but logged out innit on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Lonepilgrim, your last paragraph just brought to my mind that time Adrian Mole went to the rollerdisco in his PE kit after Nigel told him that the cool kids wore legwarmers, glittery singlets and spandex shorts.

  4. 4
    Martin Skidmore on 15 Apr 2009 #

    It really WAS exactly what America was like! I have proven this by science. I went to America for the first time around 1990. On my second day or so I headed for Central Park, and sat down with a cold drink (it was like 100F and very humid) by a fountain just outside the SE corner. Moments later, the female dance teacher from Fame (Debbie Allen, was it?) turned up and started dancing around the fountain, jumping up on it to try out moves and so on. I would imagine she was casing the location for a TV show or video shoot or something.

    (I was staying in Brooklyn, and one thing that struck me as I reached the area from the airport was that it looked just like a Will Eisner comic, except instead of Jews the people were black and latino. Not quite Marvel, but at least comics. Didn’t see any muppets while I was there, I’m afraid.)

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 15 Apr 2009 #

    #2 Watch: Two weeks of Trio’s ‘Da Da Da’. Intriguing song, brilliant Top Of The Pops performance.

  6. 6
    Martin Skidmore on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Oh, the record. Actually I quite liked it, and the TV show.

  7. 7
    Mark M on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Certainly a version of the ’80s arrives between in the two year gap between the actually largely miserable movie* with dude who played Romano in ER back when he had hair, and the super-perky TV series. My sister had two tapes to play in the car: the Kids from Fame and A Muppet Christmas w/John Denver. Hated both with a passion. The Muppets I can forgive in retrospect because the Muppet Show was a great thing. Fame I can’t.

    *Never trust an American who cites Walt Whitman.

  8. 8
    wichita lineman on 15 Apr 2009 #

    An earlier thread suggested that America seemed utterly crass and out of touch in the brave New Pop world, a rollerdisco packed with Shaun Cassidy hairdos while the well-coiffed UK was taking the floor in a non-stop erotic cabaret. I felt obliged to check whoever suggested such a thing but, lord, when this thing broke… it was horribly dated (only 2 years old?) and, in keeping Da Da Da at bay, it seemed like the quintessence of dangerous American naivety (“People will see me and die!”) trumping droll European minimalism. So gauche!

    As for the show, it birthed another couple of dire hits, Hi Fidelity (squeaky and inconsequential) and Starmaker (has anyone sung this on X Factor yet?). Everyone seemed sweaty and weepy – it was most discomforting.

  9. 9
    Tom on 15 Apr 2009 #

    The largely miserable movie enjoyed immense schoolyard notoriety because you get to see Coco’s boobs in the third act. Years later I caught it again and realised the context of the boobs is that she’s being exploited by a sleazy director/casting couch type and felt somewhat uncomfy.

  10. 10
    AndyPandy on 15 Apr 2009 #

    This is the first record (at least in the period since I became conscious of who was No1 (ie from when I was about 7)) that I didn’t know had ever got to number 1. I’ve heard it a million times but as for getting to number 1 in the UK I’m really shocked. I would have thought Top 10 maybe Top 5 at best…And I bet is doesnt happen again for quite a few years…

  11. 11
    ace inhibitor on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Early warning of a decade of american triumphalism. the film wasn’t bad and in context fairly effectively undermined the ‘remember my name’ brashness of the song; as when the Lenny Bruce-wannabe, who has brought the house down in front of an audience of his schoolfriends, returns to the open mic night and dies a death; nobody out there is interested.

    the tv programme was on on a thursday night after TOTP. I remember far more about it than I want to.

  12. 12
    ace inhibitor on 15 Apr 2009 #

    first sentence of last comment a bit ill-considered, so I’ll try again. There’s something about this song’s apparent conviction that absence of self-doubt is a triumph in itself, that makes me think forward to 1984, the high tide of Reaganism, the LA olympics (the first time I remember hearing ‘USA! USA!’), the 2nd Rambo film (‘do we get to win this time?) etc. A particularly triumphant strand of 80s american culture, I meant (not a triumphalism that is uniquely american). This has something to do with the sound of the song, which tom nails, as well as the words (that horrible guitar sound, a very US-80s signifier). And the interesting thing is that the film wasn’t about that at all, it was much more an attempt to hark back to a 70s new york grittiness, with a subtext that you can dream all you like, reality will catch up with you in the end. So the song (and esp. the TV series) are like a misreading of the film, in the same way that Reagan and a whole strand of US culture seemed to misread ‘Born in the USA’ as unironic will-to-power rather than tragedy.

  13. 13
    Matthew H on 16 Apr 2009 #

    We’re now perilously close to the start of my record-buying era (still going, obv). Exciting!

    Was never sold on this record, but my big sis was Fame-mad and I ended up getting into the TV show. ‘Starmaker’ even gives me a bit of grit in the eye, sucker for sentiment that I am. Interesting point at #12 about American triumphalism which ties in nicely with Tom’s “strand emerging in American pop” – while often off-putting, it conjured some (secretly) great records. I just can’t think of any right now.

    ‘Flashdance’ is excellent, course. “Take your pants off/And make it happen…”

  14. 14
    SteveM on 16 Apr 2009 #

    “the tv programme was on on a thursday night after TOTP. I remember far more about it than I want to.”

    ha ha me too. in fact i’ve just remembered THIS

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvIqaZt4Ea8

  15. 15
    Matthew H on 16 Apr 2009 #

    #14 Heh. Only last week, I saw a beetly little old fellow with Shorofsky hair and glasses and that song hauled itself into my frontal lobe. If I could clear out some of the crap in my head I’m sure I could perform useful tasks.

  16. 16
    LondonLee on 16 Apr 2009 #

    My sister was actually at drama school when this was on the telly and she swore that they never, ever broke into song and dance numbers during lunch.

    I never saw it as an example of US triumphalism though, more just another of their hymns to eternal optimism, which is just as stupid but not as dangerous. I don’t mind this at all really.

    Now, ‘Top Gun’ on the other hand, didn’t some critic say that he came out of that film wanting to invade a foreign country?

  17. 17
    Magic Fly on 16 Apr 2009 #

    I have a distinct memory of Irene Cara performing this in a specially filmed clip for TOTP, belting it out against a genuine Hollywood backdrop of billboards for Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. Odd the stuff that sticks in the noggin.

  18. 18
    AndyPandy on 17 Apr 2009 #

    I don’t know exactly but wasnt this already a couple of years old when it was a hit in this country ie a hit in America in about 1980 when the film was out and repromoted when the telly programme got big over here…

  19. 19
    peter goodlaws on 18 Apr 2009 #

    “Remember my name?” No, sorry, Irene. I don’t think many people do.

    Yes, the doctrine behind this rubbish has a lot to answer for, does it not? The forerunner to all these humiliating talent shows where simpletons perform for other simpletons. I still live in hope that the worms can one day be put back into the can. But not yet…not yet.

  20. 20
    Jonathan Bogart on 20 Apr 2009 #

    I’m a little surprised to find that this film was at all well-known past its season. I remember seeing a bit of the TV show and being embarrassed by its unrelenting pep at age seven; I can’t imagine having the sort of fondness for it all that (apparently) many British folk of a certain age have. (Or am I confusing memory of with fondness for? Nostalgia is a tricky bastard.)

    I’m also surprised that no one has mentioned “A Chorus Line,” which seems to me the obvious forerunner to “Fame” the movie and TV show. It certainly has much better songs, although they lack the will-to-pop of this entry.

  21. 21
    Tom on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Memory rather than fondness – I would not sit through an ep of it now and expect not to laugh. I think the fact it was on right after Top Of The Pops (as another commenter reminded us upthread) explains the strong memories among this particular constituency!

  22. 22
    Erithian on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Yes, I found myself thinking of “A Chorus Line” too. I can’t remember whether “Fame” made the point that all your sweaty endeavour might end up winning you a place as third hoofer from the left in an off-off-Broadway production or not – do they teach them that at the BRIT School? – but I think this was the only film Alan Parker ever made of which he said he never wanted to work with any of the cast ever again.

    I can take or leave the song, by the way. Rather leave it, ‘cos there was so much better stuff around. She’s sincere and all that, but the sight of enthusiastic young kids taking to the streets was pretty unconvincing.

    And the best thing about “Flashdance” was also the best thing about “The Full Monty” – the scene where the Sheffield steelworkers watch the film supposedly for Jennifer Beals’ dancing but end up criticising her welding: “Look at that, her mix is all to cock … them joints won’t hold.”

  23. 23
    MikeMCSG on 16 Jul 2009 #

    The irony here is that despite her talent Irene herself never made it big as an actress or singer. Perhaps she needed to concentrate on one or the other.

  24. 24
    Brooksie on 21 Feb 2010 #

    @ MikeMCSG # 23:

    She had the biggest selling single of ’83 in the US, and several other hits. She didn’t do too badly.

    I love this song, but I associate it with the movie not the TV series. The movie had a great soundtrack (2 Oscar noms). Good song from a good album and a good movie, sadly spoiled by a ropey TV show.

  25. 25
    punctum on 28 Sep 2013 #

    TPL update, the first of two consecutive Fame posts: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/original-motion-picture-soundtrack-fame.html

  26. 26
    punctum on 2 Oct 2013 #

    Second consecutive TPL Fame post; also about the album it kept longest at number two – http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-kids-from.html

  27. 27
    hectorthebat on 26 Oct 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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