The Kids from Fame – Desdemona
I can’t overstate the love I had for the Kids from Fame in 1982. As a ten year old pop fan, a weekly television series about young people attending the (fictional) New York City High School for the Performing Arts was just about the best thing ever invented. Of course everyone was young in the same way that Stockard Channing was young in Grease, but we didn’t notice at the time, because each episode was packed amazing with musical numbers, and occasionally one by Lori Singer.
My entire class at primary school seemed to feel the same way – well, mostly the girls if I’m honest – and we would spend hours discussing our favourites. Mine was always Doris Schwartz; I admired her pluck. I also liked Danny Amatullo, though I didn’t quite understand why at the time (I do now).
When the album of the series was released it took up residence on the family record player and stayed there for months. I was obsessed. There was no moment that wasn’t perfect for a song from Fame – when my dad was sent on a training course and my mother was quite upset I, in a moment of what I now realise to be astonishing cruelty, played It’s Gonna Be A Long Night over and over again until she screamed at me to turn it off. It probably didn’t help that it’s one of the single worst vocals ever committed to vinyl – but I still loved it.
Hi-Fidelity was the most enduring hit from the album, but my secret favourite on the whole LP was Desdemona, and I was very upset when it wasn’t released as a single.
Desdemona resurrected a pop trend that hadn’t really been seen since the heyday of Boney M – the educational story song. Much of my early knowledge came courtesy of Frank Farian‘s four-piece – Rasputin, Ma Baker (Barker), El Lute – all figures I’d have known nothing about otherwise. When Boney M‘s star faded, it seemed like that was it for the genre, but then along came the Kids from Fame with a bit of Shakespeare. Desdemona is Othello as told by the Electric Light Orchestra, and it does a really good job of conveying the jealousy, intense emotions and of course disco at the heart of the play. An ensemble number led by Gene Anthony Ray, the dizzyingly brilliant string arrangement overcomes the limitations of the cast’s vocal talents and turns this into a minor classic.
Unfortunately, by 1982 this sort of production was already beginning to sound a little bit anachronistic – we were by now getting into the Yazoo era, where anything more than a voice and one-fingered synthesizer line was likely to sound over the top – but as I had yet to figure out the seventies weren’t over it all sounded very modern to me.
I know of at least one other person besides myself who picked up a copy of Othello as a result of this song. Think how many more young minds could have been expanded if it had been released this as a single.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I’m not saying it would be a hit, but Shayne Ward could do the falsetto bit justice.