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David Bowie cover of the Week: Pete Zolli covers “Fame”

“Fame” was Bowie’s first #1 hit in the United States and remains a great song, though I think it has receded a little in the public consciousness for whatever reason and isn’t as frequently covered as you might imagine. That’s in part why I liked Pete Zolli’s cover. The more important reason is that he delivers a great performance that’s different enough from Bowie’s original to constitute value added.

The song is credited to Bowie, Carlos Alomar, and John Lennon, though some of the music was borrowed from an earlier song called “Foot Stompin’.” Lennon had been hanging around with Bowie while Bowie was recording Young Americans. I’ve always been a little suspicious about how much Lennon genuinely contributed to the song versus how much Bowie just wanted to attach the former Beatle’s name to it (Lennon’s presence also inspired Bowie to record “Across the Universe,” which he added to the album).

I very much like what Pete does with the song and am impressed that he plays all the instruments as well as does all the singing. I also appreciate that he took care to create an actual video and that the video has a point—it shows him, well, playing all the instruments and doing the singing. But most of all, I like how it sounds.

I’ve taken to alerting the artists I select for cover of the week ahead of time of late, when that’s possible, and I did that with Pete, who I don’t personally know. He was kind enough to message me back with some of the back story:

My version is probably a bit more herbal than the extremely snowy original. And in place of the scatting I had no interest in attempting, John takes a solo.

“One more thing. In the second verse, I sing an answering backing vocal. The first line I sing is what I thought the line I’m answering was, back in those pre-‘net days when you had to LISTEN to the words. It’s a cool line, so I sang it and came up with a rhyming line for it. And of course, my versions of songs like this are your opportunity to find out what the words actually are!

Pete makes an excellent point—you can add “Fame” to the long list of Bowie songs with lyrics I could never quite make out until I looked them up (and even then…) Anyway, I thought this was well done.

As always, there were many other Bowie covers posted within the last week. Some of the better ones include the following (click on the bolded song title to link to the video):

Diamond Dogs by JonSong. This radical, almost country interpretation of “Diamond Dogs” is excellent! I would have liked it had there been more visual elements to the video, but the song itself is creative and well-executed.

This Chaos is Killing Me/Hallo Spaceboy by Marc Lowe. Unlike the other artists that appear this week, I do know Marc Lowe and am a fan of his work. This is similar to a video I posted last week, but it is distinct both from what he’s done before and Bowie’s original.

Let’s Dance by ConnivAnce. A conventional-yet-enjoyable rendition of another of Bowie’s biggest hits. The performance is good but slightly suffers from the common malady of live performance recordings in that the sound quality is not optimal. Nonetheless, I liked how the band did the song and the sound is good enough.

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