David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ Was Inspired by Nonsense That John Lennon Said

David Bowie collaborated with John Lennon from The Beatles on the classic song “Fame.” During an interview, Bowie said John had a strong reaction to the riff from “Fame.” In addition, Bowie discussed how a nonsense sound John made inspired the song’s lyrics.

David Bowie, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon in front of a wall
David Bowie, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

What John Lennon thought of the riff from David Bowie’s ‘Fame’

According to the book Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie, the singer discussed the origin of “Fame” in 1978. Bowie revealed a song by his guitarist, Carlos Alomar, inspired “Fame.” “It was, in fact, Carlos’ riff to ‘Footstompin,'” Bowie recalled. “I wanted to do ‘Footstompin,” and I said, ‘Carlos, that is such a good riff. I’m going to take it away from that song, and let’s do something with that.'”

John brought something to the table. “And then Lennon came in and said ‘That’s f****** great, that! Worra great riff that is!’ And then John stood in his spot and made sounds, and it sounded not unlike ‘fame.'”

Bowie discussed how nonsense sounds inspired his lyrics. “You know, one often just makes sounds, and those sounds become words, and then you think, ‘Gotta word. Now out of that word, let’s create a subject and evolve that subject,'” he said. “Things often start like that.”

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David Bowie had mixed feelings about the song’s parent album

During a 1976 interview, Bowie said “Fame” is a happy song, even if he had mixed feelings about its parent album, Young Americans. “Young Americans was the celebration of getting over [issues with his management],” he said. “‘Fame’ was a happy song. The melodic feel, everything about it, is happy.”

Bowie revealed his feelings about Young Americans. “I don’t play Young Americans much,” he said. “It’s one of the most unlistenable albums I ever made. But I dance to it. It’s good to dance to.”

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The way the world reacted to ‘Fame’ and ‘Young Americans’

In the United States, “Fame” became Bowie’s first No. 1 hit. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, staying on the chart for 21 weeks in total. Young Americans was popular as well. It peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, lasting on the chart for 51 weeks.

“Fame” was also prominent in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company, the song reached No. 17 in the U.K. and lasted on the chart for eight weeks. In 1990, a remix of the song called “Fame 90 (Gass Mix)” hit No. 28, staying on the chart for four weeks. Meanwhile, Young Americans reached No. 2 and remained on the chart for 17 weeks. “Fame” is one of Bowie’s most famous songs — and it wouldn’t be the same without John.

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