Friday, July 25, 2008

Beyond Fame And Flashdance, You'll Find Irene Cara 'Out Here On My Own'

It’s a fair bet to say that Irene Cara was destined for fame from a very early age. Born in New York City into a musical family, she was already a gifted pianist by age five and was soon studying music, dancing and acting. Before long she was singing on local Spanish language radio and appearing on local New York TV shows including ‘Electric Company’, and made an appearance performing on Johnny Carson‘s ‘The Tonight Show’. Her Broadway debut came at age eight and two years later Cara was singing alongside Roberta Flack and Sammy Davis Jr. at a Duke Ellington tribute concert.

At the age of eleven Cara won an Obie Award for her performance in the off-broadway production ‘The Me Nobody Knows’. An established concert performer by age 12, she began writing her own songs, her early style strongly influenced by the likes of Carole King and Ellie Greenwich. Next the prolifically talented Cara found herself conquering the film world winning a lead role in the 1976 motion picture ‘Sparkle’. The film was a showcase for Cara’s talents as both actress and singer but surprisingly it didn’t open the floodgates on her career. The next three years saw her focus more on television work including a key dramatic role on the mini-series ‘Roots: The Next Generation’. It seemed that all the groundwork had been laid, now Cara only needed the right vehicle to propel her to the top.

That vehicle arrived via the role of Coco Hernandez in the 1980 Alan Parker directed film ‘Fame’. The film was a musical based around the lives and experiences of a group of students at a New York drama school. Cara was tailor made for the role, and not only garnered rave reviews for her acting performance but sang the anthemic title track to the film, which would become her first big hit. On the back of the film’s huge popularity the song flew high to #4 in the U.S. and soon after followed suite in Australia (#3). Curiously it completely missed the U.K. charts in 1980, but two years later when the ‘Fame’ TV series took off the song did the same thing soaring to #1 in Britain and holding that spot for three weeks. The song was written by Michael Gore (brother of Lesley) and Dean Pitchford (who would contribute to numerous hit soundtracks in the 80s including ‘Footloose’), and was nominated for an Academy Award.

The follow up hit from the dance oriented ‘Fame’ was the gentle and emotive ballad ‘Out Here On My Own’. Irene Cara displayed her considerable range as a vocalist on the song, which was co-written by Lesley Gore (1963 #1 ‘It’s My Party’) and also nominated for an Academy Award. It wasn’t the monster hit that ‘Fame’ was, but ‘Out Here On My Own’ certainly wasn’t shunned by music lovers, reaching #19 in the U.S., #41 in Australia and #58 in Britain. Cara finished the year by being nominated for two Grammy Awards and a Golden Globe.

Cara then recorded her debut album in 1981 ‘Anyone Can See’, but aside from the title track (US#42) the album failed to yield any hits, and it appeared that the fame Irene Cara had risen to the year before, would soon fade. It was reasonable that she had drawn comparison’s to the ‘queen of disco’ Donna Summer both in image and vocal style, and it would be through a mutual association that Cara would once again reassert herself as a pop diva to be reckoned with.

Anyone who figured on ‘Fame’ being the pinnacle of Irene Cara’s music career didn’t count on a catchy little number called ‘Flashdance…What A Feeling’. The lead track from the 1983 motion picture ‘Flash dance’ (which Cara didn’t star in) was co-written by Cara, Keith Forsey and the prolific writer/producer Giorgio Moroder, who had been such a strong factor in Donna Summer’s career. Cara was quick to distance herself from the whole ‘Donna Summer sound-alike’ line pushed by the media, and rightly so given that she had well and truly earned the right to be her own person with a career resume stretching back over fifteen years. ‘Flashdance…What A Feeling’ was one of the biggest hits of 1983 and one of the signature tunes of the 1980s. It spent a marathon six weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., and beat that duration by another week in Australia. By comparison its peak position of #2 in Britain seemed a disappointment. But surely the fact that it earned Irene Cara an Academy Award at her second attempt, and a slew of other honours, more than compensated. In a strange move ABBA tribute group Bjorn Again had a top 20 in Australia in 1994 with their cover of ‘Flashdance…What A Feeling’, and in 2002 Cara herself was involved in another hit cover this time by Swiss based DJ Bobo.

Irene Cara released her second album later in 1983 titled appropriately enough ‘What A Feeling’ (OZ#49/US#77). The next single to be released was the dance track ‘Why Me?’ which reached #5 in Australia and #13 in the U.S. A role in the movie flop ‘D.C. Cab’ didn’t help her career, but the film did feature a minor hit for Cara in ‘The Dream (Hold On To Your Dream)’ which charted late in 1983 (US#37/OZ#84). She bounced back to form somewhat with her next single ‘Breakdance’ which considering the year of its release 1984, was perfectly timed and found Cara back inside the U.S. top 10 (#8) and the Australian top 20 (#19), though it would be the last time she would traverse that territory. Cara’s last appearance inside the Billboard Hot 100 was the single ‘You Were Made For Me’ (#78) in mid ‘84.

Cara then took a much deserved sabbatical, though in retrospect the loss in her career momentum was never regained. Cara had a support role in the critically acclaimed 1984 film ‘The Cotton Club’ but a role in the 1985 Clint Eastwood film ‘City Heat’ did little to rejuvenate things on either the acting or music front. A succession of film flops over the following decade compounded the slide from A-list material. Her 1987 album ‘Carasmatic’ proved to be anything but charismatic in nature and missed the charts completely. She continued to tour sporadically throughout the 90s, still being a major drawcard on the club venue circuit. She also fronts a dance band called Hot Caramel and runs her own production studio.

In 2007 the United World Chart ranked ‘Flashdance…What A Feeling’ as the 22nd most successful song in popular music history. Irene Cara may be proof that fame is fleeting, but equally that a naturally gifted and dedicated artist will always rise to the top of the talent pool.

Thanks to YouTube user gnowangerup for uploading the video clip for 'The Dream'

No comments: