It’s time for a slight departure from the norm as I make a purely sentimental choice for the latest entry in my ‘Classic Albums’ series. Pull on your leg-warmers and turn up the fromage factor, as we travel all the way back to 1982 to a TV programme which could claim with some justification to be the progenitor of Glee.
This isn’t a classic album in the usual definition of the term, but it does mean a lot to me for reasons I will go into below.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Fame, the TV show based on the film of the same name, had as big an impact in 1982 as Glee has done over the past 18 months. Airing on NBC in the US and BBC1 in the UK, the show following the students and faculty of the fictional New York High School for the Performing Arts was a huge hit, resulting in five albums being released in quick succession in the space of just 13 months. This first album was the most successful, claiming the number one spot on the UK album chart; the following two also registered top ten placings.
The Kids from ‘Fame’ contains ten original songs from the first season of the programme, featuring the vocal and instrumental talents of its cast members. The album contains a mix of ballads and more up-tempo pop/disco tracks – the latter frequently providing the soundtrack for the show’s many dance set-pieces – with occasional classical orchestral elements, most notably the synth/strings fusion of the Othello-based Desdemona.
Most of the songs are duets or ensemble pieces, with the exception of Hi-Fidelity and It’s Gonna Be A Long Night, which feature solo performances by Valerie Landsburg and Lori Singer (Footloose, VR.5) respectively. Hi-Fidelity reached number five in the chart, and follow-up Starmaker peaked at three.
I won’t pretend that this album would make any sane person’s top 100 list, but I have re-listened to it three times in the past couple of weeks, and it remains a perfectly respectable slice of early 80s pop that was nowhere near as schmaltzy and cringeworthy as I thought it would be.
For a brief period during 1982/83, the cast of Fame shone as brightly as the Glee kids currently do, and far more so than the vast majority of X-Factor or American Idol contestants have ever done. That alone makes this album worthy of some kind of recognition.
The moon’s up and the sun’s down
And a thousand starry eyes have caught me crying
You don’t die of a broken heart
You just lie down and give up trying
It’s Gonna Be A Long Night- Lori Singer
Why, you might ask, does this album mean so much to me? It’s quite simple, really. Looking back over three decades, this is the point in time where my love of pop music began. It was also the first album I ever bought. And it is the one I most strongly associate with one of my first rites of passage: the transition from primary to secondary school.
1982 had started out in memorable fashion. In my final year at Gower House primary school in Wembley, I captained our team to victory on an episode of the BBC TV children’s show Finders Keepers – a general knowledge quiz based loosely on the game Battleships, where I successfully answered questions such as “What do you call someone who holds the rank below marquis in the peerage?” (The answer being ‘earl’, obviously.)
Yes, even then I was already a geek.
I had already secured my place for the following year at a nearby secondary school and knew that none of my classmates would be joining me there, so the end of my primary school career represented a cutting of the umbilical cord of sorts. (And so it turned out. As none of my former classmates lived nearby, I don’t think I stayed in touch with any of them for more than a few months afterwards. Remember, we didn’t have mobile phones and Facebook back then!)
There was at least an event to mark the occasion. The parents of one of my classmates – also coincidentally one of my Finders Keepers teammates (Corelli Arnold, if you’re out there: hi) – threw a party at their Maida Vale town house for the entire class. We did what eleven-year olds do. We overdosed on fizzy drinks and crisps. We tried to moonwalk. (I still can’t.) We danced and sang along to our favourite songs on 45rpm seven-inch vinyl records (remember them?): Madness, Adam and the Ants, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and Irene Cara‘s iconic theme tune from Fame. We went our separate ways to our future schools, future lives and future careers. I have no idea what any of my former classmates are doing now – I’ve never really thought about any of them in 20 years or more – but having written this post I will confess to being a bit curious now.
It was the end of one phase in my life and the beginning of another. And The Kids from ‘Fame’ provided the soundtrack to that momentous summer, a time of tremendous change in the life of an eleven-year old boy, and an entirely more innocent time when it was still cool to aspire to be a dancer in neon pink leg-warmers. (Not that I did personally; I’ve always known I have two left feet.)
I would never want to go back to being a pre-pubescent pre-teen, but I do miss that particular chapter in my life – at least, a little bit. Listening to The Kids from ‘Fame’ again after so long brings back a flood of only good memories. And that’s why I make no apologies for including it on my ‘Classic Albums’ list.
Lori Singer, who played cello-playing student Julie Miller in season one of the show, was also a cellist in real life. She is also the sister of actor Marc Singer (V, The Beastmaster).
I Still Believe In Me, from the first season episode Passing Grade, was nominated for an Emmy for Best Original Song. It was co-written by Gary Portnoy, who would go on to co-write and sing Where Everybody Knows Your Name, the theme from Cheers.
2. I Can Do Anything Better Than You Can
3. I Still Believe In Me
4. Life Is A Celebration
5. Step Up To The Mike
7. We Got The Power
8. It’s Gonna Be A Long Night
10. Be My Music
#4: The Kids From ‘Fame’ – The Kids From ‘Fame’
Do you own this album? If so, what memories does it evoke for you? Look out for more ‘Classic Albums’ posts coming soon.