Fame was a 1980 movie about students at Fiorello LaGuardia High, also known as the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. It's a real school whose alumni include Robert De Niro, Jennifer Aniston, Liza Minnelli and Nicki Minaj. The movie was fictional, following some of the students who aspired to stardom. Irene Cara played the role of Coco Hernandez in the film and also sang this title song. The song captured the spirit of the students determined to make sure people remember their names.
Lesley Gore's brother, Michael Gore, was the musical supervisor on Fame and responsible for coming up with the songs for the movie. He wrote this song with Dean Pitchford, a stage and commercial actor with a degree in English literature from Yale. Pitchford studied songwriting with Peter Allen ("I Honestly Love You," "Don't Cry Out Loud"); Gore gave him a big break when he asked him to write some lyrics for the movie. Pitchford co-wrote the title song and also "I Sing the Body Electric" and "Red Light," which were included in the film. When Songfacts spoke with Pitchford in 2012, he said: "At the time it was exactly what I had been living for the last six or seven years in New York. Had I stopped that and gotten further away from it in years, perhaps it wouldn't have been as heartfelt as it was. But both 'Fame' and 'The Body Electric' were both real available to me."
Gore and Pitchford later collaborated on "All The Man I Need," which was a hit for Whitney Houston in 1990. Soon after Fame, Pitchford started work on his screenplay that would become Footloose.
Dean Pitchford tells us that this song took about a month to write. "That was excruciating, because it was very tough to navigate," he said. "You know, the idea of fame is such a pumped up, almost self-congratulatory notion, like, I'm going to be famous. It was very tricky to navigate and write something that still had energy and gosh-golly about it, without feeling too self-satisfied."
This won the 1980 Oscar for Best Original Song, and Michael Gore also won for Best Score for his work on the movie. Three years later, Irene Cara won the Best Original Song award along with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey for writing "Flashdance... What a Feeling," which she also performed.
A very distinctive feature of this song is the background vocals that trail out the word "remember" after the line "baby, remember my name." It was Luther Vandross who came up with that part and sang it with backup singers Vivian Cherry and Vicki Sue Robinson (of "Turn The Beat Around" renown). Vandross was not yet a solo star, but was in demand as a backup vocalist. He was the contractor on this session, meaning he was in charge of the backup vocals. Dean Pitchford explained in his Songfacts interview: "He came in, listened down to the track. We got to the end of the chorus and he said, 'Back it up, back it up! Check this out.' And Irene Cara sang, 'Baby remember my name,' and he went, 'Remember, remember, remember...' and we all went, 'Oh! That's terrific!' Luther Vandross is the one who not only came up with 'remember, remember, remember...' but he also stacked the voices on top of, 'I'm going to learn how to fly high.' He did that. He made a couple of other contributions around the edges, but the 'remember' was the major one."
The movie was spun off into a TV show in 1982, with this song used at the theme and sung by Erica Gimpel, who played Coco Hernandez in this iteration (Janet Jackson was on the show for a season). When the song was first released in 1980, it flopped in the UK, but two years later it hit #1 as a result of the TV series.
The line "I'm gonna live forever" is one Dean Pitchford knew very well when he started writing this song. Pitchford told Songfacts: "There was a play that had been on Broadway years ago called Dylan, and it won massive amounts of awards when it was on Broadway. It was about the life of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. When I was in high school I competed in speech tournaments and I was a debater, but I also did dramatic interp and things like that. There was a particular long speech that Dylan Thomas gives. He's drunk and he speaks about the gift that a poet gets: he may not have a long life, but in his poems he gets to live forever. And I competed with this, I went all the way to the state finals delivering this speech. And I always loved the sentiment in poetry: if you write words, you get to live forever in your works.
I wrote that line when Michael Gore played me the melody that he had come up with for the chorus. I listened down to it once, and I said, 'Oh, you mean something like...' and he went back to the top and he was playing it down, and I sang, 'Fame! I'm gonna live forever,' and he stopped playing, and he went, 'Oh my god! Write that down! I don't want to forget that!' And I said, 'Oh, Michael, I don't think I could forget that one.' The rest of the song took forever to write. It was literally a month of six days, seven days a week, six hours a day of carving every one of those verses. But that line sprang out of my mouth."
Lyricists can be very particular about how their words are sung, lest the be misinterpreted. He was new at this, so Dean Pitchford didn't push it, but in later years he became more a of "lyric policeman," even asking Barbra Streisand to redo a line in his song "If I Never Met You."
Said Pitchford: "When I did 'Fame,' it never occurred to me that anybody would mishear Irene Cara sing, 'People will see me and cry, Fame!', but people have misheard that as 'die.' And I was horrified to find that lyric sites would write out the lyric to 'Fame' and state as if it were fact that I had written 'people will see me and die.' No. I had written 'people will see me and cry, Fame!' That would be their cry."
The movie Fame got a remake in 2009, with Naturi Naughton in a starring role and performing this song. Her version made #33 in the UK.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyAs stated above; in 1982 Irene Cara took "Fame" to #1 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart; and that was on July 11th of 1982 and it stayed in the top spot for three weeks, then for the next two weeks it was at #2.
Karen from Manchester, NhThe 2009 remake was positively terrible, both matching some scenes almost frame for frame (the befriending on the stairwell outside the lunch room, for instance) and completely sanitizing the stories. To make matters worse, the final performance was totally MTV-ed, with slo-mo and quick cuts. I regret seeing it, and watched the original (again) soon after.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyShe followed up on 'Fame' with another song from the film; "Out Here On My Own" peaked at No. 19 and stayed in the Top 100 for 23 weeks!!!
Lalah from Wasilla, AkThe lyrics have a double drug-addict/aspiring performer meaning. In the musical t character, Coco Hernandez, dies of an overdose. She represents those performers who "Flame Out" in their pursuit of Fame.
Terry from Northampton, EnglandThis song was made to sound better than it actually was.This was because of the superb vocals by Irene Cara.Nobody else could have done a better job.