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

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.

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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.”

Bowie remained a presence on Billboard‘s various charts through his death on Jan. 10, 2016. Two days before his passing, he released his final studio album, Blackstar, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart dated Jan. 30, 2016, granting the icon his first No. 1 album. As fans mourned Bowie’s death, many of his classic hits returned to Billboard‘s tallies, including “Fame,” which debuted at No. 14 on the Hot Rock Songs chart the same week Blackstar opened at No. 1.

 

A version of this article first appeared in the Sept. 26, 2015 issue of Billboard magazine.