Rewinding the Charts: 40 Years Ago, David Bowie Hit No. 1, With a Little Help

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David Bowie poses for a portrait in 1976. 

On Sept. 20, 1975, Bowie topped the Hot 100 for the first time with "Fame," the disco-soul single he co-wrote with John Lennon.

IN EARLY 1975, 28-YEAR-OLD DAVID BOWIE invited John Lennon, then 34, to collaborate on the album that would become Young Americans. The genre- and gender-bending "Space Oddity" singer and the former Beatle had forged a friendship – that Bowie, in 1999, likened to "Beavis and Butt-head on [the canceled CNN debate show] Crossfire" – after meeting the previous year at a party thrown by screen star Elizabeth Taylor.

Initially, the duo planned to cover the Fab Four’s "Across the Universe," but the studio session also yielded a new track, "Fame," that Bowie, Lennon and guitarist Carlos Alomar co-wrote. With Lennon on guitar and backing vocals, the disco-funk cut became Bowie’s first entry on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (then-named Hot Soul Singles), where it peaked at No. 21, and led to an invitation to perform the track on the TV dance series Soul Train. "Fame" also rode the Billboard Hot 100 all the way to the top, reaching No. 1 on Sept. 20, 1975. Bowie wouldn’t rise that high again until 1983, with "Let’s Dance."

Now 68, Bowie hasn’t performed onstage since 2006, or granted a significant press interview in many years. So, fans were shocked in 2013 when he announced the release of The Next Day, his first studio album in nearly a decade. Though he declined to give interviews or perform to promote the set – "I’ve played live for 30-odd years and given interviews, and I don’t want to do either of them anymore," he told his longtime collaborator and the album’s producer Tony Visconti – the record shot to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, becoming his highest-charting album ever.

A version of this article first appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of Billboard magazine.