The release

The Young Americans album was released on 7 March 1975.

‘Across The Universe’ and ‘Fame’ were late inclusions on the album, and displaced ‘Who Can I Be Now’ and ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ from the running order.

‘Fame’ was issued as a single on 25 July 1975, four months after the album’s release, with ‘Right’ on the b-side.

The single became Bowie’s first US number one, topping the Billboard Hot 100 before Bowie had achieved a similar feat in the United Kingdom.

That was my least favourite track on the album,, even though John had contributed to it and everything, and I had no idea, as with ‘Let’s Dance’, that that was what a commercial single is. I haven’t got a clue when it comes to singles. I just don’t know about them, I don’t get it, and ‘Fame’ was really out of left-field for me.
David Bowie, 1990
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg

It also topped the Canadian singles chart, but fared less well in the UK, where it peaked at number 17.

John Lennon later drew a connection from ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’, his own chart-topping collaboration with Elton John, to ‘Fame’.

So he got his first number one. I felt like, that was like a karmic thing, you know. Elton gave… with me and Elton I got my first number one, so I passed it on to Bowie and he got his first and I like that track.
John Lennon, 1980
BBC Radio One

‘Fame’ was edited for single release from 4:21 to 3:30. This version was also included on the 1980 compilation The Best Of Bowie, and on Re:Call 2 in the 2016 box set Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976).

Another edit of ‘Fame’ was included on a 7″ picture disc released in 2015. Although billed as the “original single mix”, this was a new creation.

Promotional appearances

On 4 November 1975 Bowie mimed ‘Fame’ on the US TV show Soul Train.

Three weeks later, on 23 November, he performed the song on The Cher Show. This featured a live vocal, and seemingly an alternative mix with more prominence to John Lennon’s rhythm guitar. This version was widely repeated, effectively becoming the promo clip for the single.