Fame makes a man take things over.
Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow.
Fame puts you there where things are hollow.
Fame, it's not your brain, it's just the flame
That burns your change to keep you insane.
Fame, what you like is in the limo.
Fame, what you get is no tomorrow.
Fame, what you need you have to borrow.
Fame, "Nein! It's mine!" is just his line
To bind your time, it drives you to crime.
Could it be the best, could it be?
Really be, really babe?
Could it be my babe, could it, babe?
Could it, babe? Could it, babe?
Is it any wonder, I reject you first?
Fame, fame, fame, fame, fame…
Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool?
Fame, bully for you, chilly for me
Got to get a rain check on pain.
Fame, what's your name?
When John Lennon agreed to a one-day session with David Bowie in New York’s Electric Lady Studios, Lennon was enjoying the success of his album Walls and Bridges and a number one record Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, a success that was at least in part due to his partnership with Elton John. Bowie was wrapping up the recording of his album Young Americans at the time, during the peak of his popularity in the U.S. They first recorded a cover of the Beatles’ Across the Universe, which was included on the album. Then they worked on Fame, based on a funky strut riff written by guitarist Carlos Alomar. (Alomar, who began playing guitar with Bowie for the Young Americans album would continue to be Bowie’s guitarist and musical director on the road until 1980.) With all of Lennon’s playing around in the studio, using backwards tapes and recording his voice saying “Fame” at different speeds so as to form 23 notes on a descending scale, Alomar’s funk guitar became something of a rhythmic drone for a psychedelic romp. Though Bowie aimed to produce an album that would reflect American R&B in a manner he called “plastic soul”, in the song Fame he achieved a sound as far from American soul music as the Beatles’ Rubber Soul had been. The song became Bowie’s first chart topper in the U.S.
The lyrics are a bit disjointed, but there’s no missing the anger they are meant to convey, especially due to Bowie’s delivery. In an April 1990 interview with the British Q magazine, Bowie admitted that the song had developed from discussions with John Lennon about the problems of being a celebrity. Bowie reflected that "I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a good seat in restaurants." In another interview with the American Musician magazine in August 1987, Bowie said he had been surprised that Fame had become such a hit, stating “I wouldn't know how to pick a single if it hit me in the face." In the song Young Americans, though, he seemed to be asking for John Lennon’s help. There’s a closing moment in the song Americans when Bowie asks “Ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?” and references a line from A Day in the Life (“I read the news today, oh boy!”). It seems that Bowie too was yearning for the music that had moved him during the Summer of Love.