There’s an old saying that you should never meet your heroes – well, David Bowie proved that one wrong. His 1975 single ‘Fame’ remains a pivotal moment in British pop culture, and it owes a debt to Beatles icon John Lennon.
David Bowie – like so many of us – grew up infatuated with the Beatles, idolising John Lennon in particular. The two met in 1974, with producer Tony Visconti later recalling that Bowie was “terrified” at the prospect of meeting his hero.
He needn’t have worried – the two hit it off immediately, with Tony Visconti later recalling in a radio interview:
About one in the morning I knocked on the door and for about the next two hours, John Lennon and David weren’t speaking to each other. Instead, David was sitting on the floor with an art pad and a charcoal and he was sketching things and he was completely ignoring Lennon.
So, after about two hours of that, he [John] finally said to David, ‘Rip that pad in half and give me a few sheets. I want to draw you.’ So David said, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea’, and he finally opened up. So John started making caricatures of David, and David started doing the same of John and they kept swapping them and then they started laughing and that broke the ice.
Affirming their “great friendship”, Bowie invited John Lennon into the studio. His then-guitarist Carlos Alomar had devised a new riff, which the band were using to radically re-work the soul cut ‘Footstompin’ by The Flares.
Indeed, footage exists of an exultant Bowie performing the cover on American television – check it out below.
With John Lennon in tow, Bowie began transforming the riff into something new, with the Beatles icon on backing vocals. Lacking a chorus, John Lennon began singing ‘aim’ in falsetto – Bowie then grabbed this idea, and ‘Fame’ was born.
Lyrically, it’s a bitter riposte at his former manager Tony Defries. Bowie told Q in 1990: “I’d had very upsetting management problems and a lot of that was built into the song. I’ve left all that behind me, now… I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants.”
Released in 1975 ‘Fame’ became an instant hit, the first David Bowie single to top the Billboard 100. John Lennon always thought highly of the song, joking to Rolling Stone in 1980: “We took some Stevie Wonder middle eight and did it backwards, you know, and we made a record out of it!”
Re-visit ‘Fame’ below.
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