My husband always likes to buy me a couple of last minute surprises for birthday and Christmas - something I haven't asked for, but that he thinks I'll like. So it was that the Ultimate Fame CD ended up in my hands for my birthday a few years ago.
I loved The Kids From Fame TV series in the 1980s and watched every episode I could. I was in love with Carlo Imperato (Danny) and desperately wanted the ability to burst out into a song and dance routine in the street, straddle-jumping off cars and high kicking for Britain. I had the records (Note to youngsters - big musicky things that came before CDs!) and knew all the words to the songs.
I have also seen Fame on film, which was rather disappointing and much less fun than the TV series. Then I saw the musical at the theatre, which was good, but didn't really live up to expectations, as the only song we recognised was the title track.
The Ultimate Fame album is a combination of music from all of these - the TV series, film and theatre show. There are nineteen tracks on it, including three bonus tracks, two of which have never been released before.
The first two are solo tracks by Irene Cara. The opening song is - rightly enough - Fame itself, recorded by Cara 30 years ago! (I bought the single. I feel so old!!) A track guaranteed to have the unfittest adults split leaping across the lounge - and the kids love it too. It doesn't seem to have dated at all and is a wonderfully energetic song.
Out Here On My Own is a slow song, pretty enough, but nothing special. This really sets the tone for the whole album - excellent, catchy pop peppered by dreary ballads.
The next nine tracks are some of the best from the TV series and ones I can gleefully sing along to, reminiscing on the wonderful days of my childhood. Starmaker particularly reminds me of the episode where their teacher died and it was a tribute to him. Still worthy of the odd tear or three, get out your lighters and waving arms for this one.
Hi-Fidelity is a great track to dance to, if you are feeling fit enough (I'm not!) but is a bit naff, as regards the lyrics and does sound so very eighties! Then we have medieval melodies introducing the highly theatrical Desdemona. I recall Leroy strutting his stuff to this one. I was sad to hear the actor Gene Anthony Ray died in 2003 aged just 41.
I Can Do Anything Better Than You Can is another one that is perfect for keep fit classes. Who could forget Debbie Allen's mad choreography in the TV series? It is sad that she seems the only one of the cast to have kept her own level of fame. Sixty years old and still dancing and acting, she turned up in the 2009 remake of Fame - which I have avoided, after reading bad reviews of it.
The tempo slows again for I Still Believe In Me, one of the better ballads on the album. In my youth, I would sing and dance to this in my parents' front room. These days, walking up the stairs is a strain sometimes. But I can just about carry a tune on a good day. This is a perfect song to buck up your self-esteem too.
Life Is A Celebration is another rather busy track, beginning with the clichéd lyric "I was lost on a winding road..." Oh dear. Paced somewhere between ballad and dance, it seems a bit lost as to its aim really. Plus as much as Carlo Imperato gave me heart flutters in the 1980s, I have to admit his voice isn't the best and the weakness does show a bit on this one.
The next track more than compensates though. The beautifully haunting It's Gonna Be A Long Night by the aptly-named Lori Singer is a song I love. In fact, I once sang to my now-husband over the phone, when we were living 180 miles apart. (I reminded him of this, as he has since forgotten. Men! Pah.) Admittedly the lyrics do sound as if they were written by a lovesick teenager, but the whole effect is a magical one and it still stands the test of time to my ears.
Be My Music is one of Lee Curreri's own compositions. He was Bruno Martelli in both the film and TV series and seems to be the only cast member directly associated with this CD, as he writes the introduction in the booklet. If the photo of him there is recent, he has aged very well. It's just a shame other cast members weren't more involved. There's not even a list of those whose voices are featured on the tracks. Sounds like another quick mega-cheque for Simon Cowell's BMG to me.
Cynicism aside, after the pleasant - but average - Be My Music, we have the memorable Mannequin. I love your frozen grin. Apparently. I'm afraid the picture of plastic models in shops just sends me into the world of Doctor Who's autons, but there you go. I never said I was normal.
I'm not quite sure where track 15 comes from, as it's credited as 1985 which I thought was too late for the TV series and film, but too soon for the theatre version. What's more, it's dull, drab and dreary, so its origins really aren't worth worrying about.
The next four tracks are all from the stage production of Fame, something which I became more aware of, as two of my daughters were in their school production of it a few years ago. My eldest sang track 13 - Let's Play A Love Scene - for her audition and the whole street ended up knowing it word perfect. But, to be fair, it's a beautiful song and Bonnie Langford's voice is stunning.
Dancin' On The Sidewalk works well as a track for a big theatrical number, but it really can't hold its own on a CD. Another candidate for the fast-forward button, it's dull with a big yawn.
Think Of Meryl Streep is an improvement, thankfully. Bonnie's voice again shows its clarity and power, which really enhances the song. While not the best track of the album, it is the last good one really.
Bring On Tomorrow floats past you, leaving your brain with faint recollections of a vaguely catchy chorus, but the song itself makes very little impact.
The final three tracks are the extra ones. Friday Night is from the live Kids From Fame concert in London, back in 1983. It's catchy and I remember it well from the TV series (and watching said concert on TV at the time), but it isn't a patch on some of their others.
The last two songs - Lee Curreri's Murphy Blues and False Alarm - are really best forgotten. The former is very staccato and reeks of that '80s electronic music phase. Eek. Best avoided. Believe me.
False Alarm is painful to listen to. Curreri is a talented musician, but not a great singer and he sounds terribly out of tune at times.
So, a disappointing end to what is actually a really good CD. Admittedly, you may have to skip a few tracks, but you're left with some real classics. So get out your pink legwarmers (Yep, even you blokes!), kick those legs up over your head and enjoy your trip back to the '80s.
Ultimate Fame CD.
£4.49 from Amazon.
Review by ...
Remember my name ;-)
1. Fame- Irene Cara (From Fame Film Soundtrack) 2. Out Here On My Own (From Fame Film Soundtrack) 3. Starmaker (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 4. Hi-Fidelity (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 5. Desdemona (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 6. I Can Do Anything Better Than You Can (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 7. I Still Believe In Me (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 8. Life Is A Celebration (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 9. Its Gonna Be A Long Night (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 10. Be My Music (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 11. Mannequin (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 12. Dancing Endlessly (From Kids From Fame TV Show) 13. Lets Play A Love Scene (From Fame - The Musical) 14. Dancin On The Sidewalk (From Fame - The Musical) 15. Think of Meryl Streep (From Fame - The Musical) 16. Bring On Tomorrow (From Fame - The Musical) 17. Friday Night (live version) (Bonus Track from Kids From Fame)