"Heroes" (David Bowie song)
One of A-side labels of UK vinyl single
|Single by David Bowie|
|from the album "Heroes"|
|Released||23 September 1977|
|Studio||Hansa Studio by the Wall (West Berlin)|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
"'Heroes'"[a] is a song by English musician David Bowie. It was co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno, produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, and recorded in July and August 1977 at Hansa Studio by the Wall. It was released on 23 September 1977 as the lead single from his 12th studio album of the same name, backed with the song "V-2 Schneider". A product of Bowie's "Berlin" period, the track was not a huge hit in the United Kingdom or United States after its release, but it has since become one of his signature songs. In January 2016, following Bowie's death, the song reached a new peak of number 12 in the UK Singles Chart. "'Heroes'" has been cited as Bowie's second-most covered song after "Rebel Rebel".
Inspired by the sight of Bowie's producer-engineer Tony Visconti embracing his lover by the Berlin Wall, the song tells the story of two lovers, one from East and one from West Berlin. Bowie's performance of "'Heroes'" on June 6, 1987, at the German Reichstag in West Berlin has been considered a catalyst to the later fall of the Berlin Wall. Following his death in January 2016, the German government thanked Bowie for "helping to bring down the Wall", adding "you are now among Heroes".
"'Heroes'" has received numerous accolades since its release, as seen with its inclusion on lists ranking the "greatest songs of all time" compiled by the music publications; Rolling Stone named the song the 46th greatest ever, and NME named it the 15th greatest. Bowie scholar David Buckley has written that "'Heroes'" "is perhaps pop's definitive statement of the potential triumph of the human spirit over adversity".
Title and lyrics
The song title is a reference to the 1975 track "Hero" by German krautrock band Neu!, whom Bowie and Eno admired. It was one of the early tracks recorded during the album sessions, but remained an instrumental until towards the end of production. The quotation marks in the title of the song, a deliberate affectation, were designed to impart an ironic quality on the otherwise romantic or triumphant words and music.
Bowie said that the "plodding tempo and rhythm" were inspired by the Velvet Underground song "I'm Waiting for the Man". Producer Tony Visconti took credit for inspiring the image of the lovers kissing "by the wall", when he and backing vocalist Antonia Maass (Maaß) embraced in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. Bowie claimed that the protagonists were based on an anonymous young couple, but Visconti, who was married to Mary Hopkin at the time, contends that Bowie was protecting him and his affair with Maass. Bowie confirmed this in 2003.
Richard Buskin of Sound on Sound described "'Heroes'" as a "highly experimental piece of art rock". The music, co-written by Bowie and Eno, has been likened to a Wall of Sound production, a forceful and noisy arrangement of guitars, percussion and synthesizers. Eno said the song always "sounded grand and heroic" and that he had "that very word – heroes – in my mind" even before Bowie wrote the lyrics. The backing track consists of a conventional arrangement of piano, bass guitar, rhythm guitar and drums. The other parts consist of synthesizer parts by Eno using an EMS VCS3 to produce detuned low-frequency drones, with the beat frequencies from the three oscillators, producing a juddering effect. In addition, King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp generated an unusual sustained sound by allowing his guitar to feed back and sitting at different positions in the room to alter the pitch of the feedback. Visconti mixed out Dennis Davis' kick drum, stating that the track "seemed to plod" with it but had a more energetic feel without it.
Bowie's vocal was recorded with a "multi-latch" system devised by Visconti that creatively misused gating. Three microphones were used to capture the vocal, with one microphone nine inches from Bowie, one 20 feet away and one 50 feet away. Each microphone was muted as the next one was triggered. As the music built, Bowie was forced to sing at increased volumes to overcome the gating effect, leading to an increasingly impassioned vocal performance as the song progresses. Jay Hodgson writes, "Bowie's performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard ... The more Bowie shouts just to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti's multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks, creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie's doomed lovers".
Release and legacy
"'Heroes'" was released in a variety of languages and lengths ("a collector's wet dream" in the words of NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray). In contrast to the bewildering audio situation, the video (directed by Stanley Dorfman) was a stark and simple affair, the singer captured performing the song in what appeared to be a single take with multiple cameras, swaying in front of a spotlight that created a monotone and near-silhouette effect. Despite a large promotional push, including Bowie's first live Top of the Pops appearance since 1973, "'Heroes'" reached only number 24 in the UK charts, and failed to make the US Billboard Hot 100.
Writing for NME on its release, Charlie Gillett slated the record, saying: "Well he had a pretty good run for our money, for a guy who was no singer. But I think his time has been and gone, and this just sounds weary. Then again, maybe the ponderous heavy riff will be absorbed on the radio, and the monotonous feel may just be hypnotic enough to drag people into buying it. I hope not." Despite the poor review it featured at number 6 in the NME's end of year critics poll for 1977.
Later assessments were more favourable. In February 1999, Q magazine listed "'Heroes'" as one of the 100 greatest singles of all time as voted by the readers. In March 2005, the same magazine placed it at number 56 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In 2004, Rolling Stone rated "'Heroes'" number 46 in its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was included in 2008's The Pitchfork Media 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. John J. Miller of National Review rated "'Heroes'" number 21 on a list of "the 50 greatest conservative rock songs" due to its anti-Soviet political context. It has also become a gay anthem. Uncut placed "'Heroes'" at number 1 in its 30 greatest Bowie songs in 2008.
Moby has said that "'Heroes'" is one of his favourite songs ever written, calling it "inevitable" that his music would be influenced by the song, and Dave Gahan, the lead singer of Depeche Mode, was hired into the band when band founder Vince Clarke heard him singing "'Heroes'" at a jam session.
Bowie regularly performed the song in concert. It was used in Chris Petit's film Radio On two years after its release. The song has become a mainstay of advertising in recent years, gracing efforts by Microsoft, Kodak, CGU Insurance, HBO Olé (HBO Latin America) and various sporting promoters throughout the world. It was also used as the intro to the video game NHL 99, released in 1998. "'Heroes'" also appears as downloadable content in the music video game series Rock Band in a three-song pack along with other Bowie songs "Moonage Daydream" and "Queen Bitch". The Australian television mockumentary We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian of the Year (title outside Australia: The Nominees) took its title from "'Heroes'". A cover of the single was used as ITV's theme song for its coverage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
"'Heroes'" is the main track of the 1981 german movie Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, for which Bowie provided the music. The song was played during the party scene in the 2001 film Antitrust. In 2009, the song was played over the closing credits of both the documentary The Cove, and What Goes Up, and also featured in that film, important to the plot's message.
In May 2010, the song was played over the extended closing credits of the final episode of Ashes to Ashes, in keeping with the various David Bowie allusions throughout that series (and its predecessor Life on Mars).
In 2012 the track was played as athletes from Great Britain entered the Olympic Stadium during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, and after medal ceremonies during the Olympics. It was also used as the Great Britain Paralympic team entered the stadium during the opening ceremony on 29 August 2012. The same year, it was featured in the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. First heard on a pick-up truck radio by the main characters, the song is important to both "flying through the tunnel" scenes and played over the closing credits.
In 2014, the song was featured in the premiere trailer for the Brazilian film Praia do Futuro. The song was also played in "You Don't Have to Live Like a Referee", an episode of The Simpsons as Lisa is trying to figure out how to make Homer into a hero for a speech contest at school.
In the days following Bowie's death in January 2016, the song was streamed on Spotify more than any other Bowie song. On Twitter the German Foreign Office paid homage to Bowie for "helping to bring down the wall". It reached a new peak of number 12 in the UK after Bowie's death.
|TIME||United States||"All-Time 100 Songs"||2011||N/A|
|Rolling Stone||United States||"The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"||2003||46|
|NME||United Kingdom||"100 Greatest Singles of All Time"||2002||5|
|NME||United Kingdom||"500 Greatest Songs of All Time"||2014||15|
|NME||United Kingdom||"100 Greatest Songs of NME's Lifetime...So Far"||2012||3|
|NME||United Kingdom||"NME Readers Best Tracks of the Last 60 Years"||2012||16|
|NME||United Kingdom||"Best tracks of the 1970s"||2014||4|
|NME||United Kingdom||"David Bowie's 40 Greatest Songs"||2014||1|
|Mojo Magazine||United Kingdom||"The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time"||1997||34|
|Sounds||United Kingdom||"All Time Top 100 Singles"||1985||2|
|Q||United Kingdom||"Q Readers Top 100 Singles of All Time"||1999||36|
|Pitchfork||United States||"The Pitchfork 500"||2008||N/A|
|Pitchfork||United States||"The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s"||2016||6|
|Radio X||United Kingdom||"The Top 1,000 Songs of All Time"||2010||24|
|Radio X||United Kingdom||"Best of British"||2016||7|
|Uncut||United Kingdom||"David Bowie's 30 best songs"||2008||1|
N/A designates unordered lists.
- RCA / PB 11121
- RCA / JD-11151 (US promo)
|1.||"'Heroes'" (Album version)||6:07|
|1.||"'Heroes'" (Single version)||3:29|
- RCA / PC-9821 (Germany)
|1.||"'Heroes'" / "'Helden'" (English/German version)||6:09|
|1.||"'Heroes'" / "'Héros'" (English/French version)||6:09|
- David Bowie: lead vocals, piano, ARP Solina String Ensemble, Chamberlin, percussion
- Robert Fripp: lead guitar
- Carlos Alomar: rhythm guitar
- George Murray: bass guitar
- Dennis Davis: drums
- Brian Eno: EMS VCS 3 synthesizer, guitar treatments
- Tony Visconti: backing vocals, tambourine, tape reel as percussion 
Charts and certifications
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||19|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||17|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||9|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||35|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||24|
|US Record World Singles Chart 101–150||126|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||14|
|Europe (Euro Digital Songs)||3|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||19|
|Japan Hot Overseas (Billboard)||18|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||47|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||34|
|Scotland (Official Charts Company)||8|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||17|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||12|
|US Hot Rock Songs (Billboard)||11|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||400,000|
sales+streaming figures based on certification alone
- Prior to the single release of "'Heroes'", Bowie first performed the song on the final episode of friend Marc Bolan's Granada Television series Marc (filmed 7 September 1977, broadcast 28 September 1977, after Bolan's funeral). This particular version, released as a 7" picture disc, on 22 September 2017, has an alternate backing track that was recorded with Bolan playing lead guitar and the T.Rex line up of Dino Dines on keyboards, and the rhythm section of Herbie Flowers on bass and Tony Newman on drums. Coincidentally, prior to joining T.Rex, Flowers and Newman were a part of Bowie's rhythm section on the Diamond Dogs album and its tour, documented on the live album David Live.
- Bowie performed the song when he appeared on Bing Crosby's 1977 Christmas TV special, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas. In the performance, filmed on 11 September 1977, Bowie sang over a prerecorded backing track.
- Performances from the Isolar II Tour have been released on Stage (1978) and Welcome to the Blackout (2018).
- Bowie performed the song live on his Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983, as seen in the 1984 concert video of that tour and as heard on the live album Serious Moonlight (Live '83), which was part of the 2018 box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988) and was released separately in 2019.
- The rendition at Live Aid in 1985 has been described as "the best version of 'Heroes' [Bowie] had ever sung". This performance featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards.
- Bowie performed the song live on his Glass Spider Tour, as seen in the 1988 concert video of that tour.
- The song was performed at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 by Bowie, Mick Ronson and Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon – the surviving members of Queen.
- An acoustic version of the song was played in 1996 at The Bridge School Benefit Concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, and later released on The Bridge School Benefit Concert album.
- Bowie's 25 June 2000 performance of the song at the Glastonbury Festival was released in 2018 on Glastonbury 2000.
- The song was performed by Bowie at The Concert for New York City on 20 October 2001. Before Bowie opened the concert he was asked to perform "'Heroes'". He said it wasn't appropriate as it was a love song, so he opened with a solo version of Paul Simon's "America", and then performed "'Heroes'" with the house band led by Paul Shaffer.
- Bowie performed the song live during the A Reality Tour in 2003, and a performance from November of that year was released on a DVD in 2004, and later on an album, released in 2010.
- The edited 7-inch single, running at 3:32 mins and backed with "V-2 Schneider", was released separately in English, French («Héros») and German („Helden“). All three of these cuts plus "V-2 Schneider" were released together as an Australian 4-track 7-inch.
- The complete English version as it appeared on the album was released as a Spanish 12-inch single.
- A version featuring the German single edit spliced into the second half of the full-length English track ("Heroes"/„Helden“) appeared on the German pressing of the LP and is also available on Bowie's soundtrack to the film Christiane F. and on the Rare album. A corresponding English/French version ("Heroes"/«Héros») appeared on the French pressing of the LP.
- The song has appeared, almost invariably in single edit form, on numerous Bowie compilations:
- Chameleon (Australia and New Zealand 1979)
- The Best of Bowie (1980)
- Fame and Fashion (1984) – album version
- Sound + Vision (1989) – „Helden“
- Changesbowie (1990)
- Bowie: The Singles 1969-1993 (1993)
- The Singles Collection (1993)
- The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979 (1998)
- Best of Bowie (2002) – „Helden“ on German/Swiss/Austrian edition
- The Platinum Collection (2005/2006)
- Nothing Has Changed (2014)
- Bowie Legacy (2016)
- It was released as a picture disc in the RCA Life Time picture disc set.
- The German („Helden“) and French («Héros») versions of the single, as well as the English/German ("Heroes"/„Helden“) and English/French ("Heroes"/«Héros») versions of the album track, were included on an EP in the 2017 boxed set A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982). The single version of the song was included on Re:Call 3, part of the same compilation.
- Oasis recorded a version of the song as a B-Side for the lead single, D'You Know What I Mean? to the album Be Here Now.
- The Wallflowers recorded a version of the song for the soundtrack to the 1998 film Godzilla. This version peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1998, as well as number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart, and number 23 on the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream charts.
- The 2001 musical film Moulin Rouge! includes a duet cover version from Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman as the concluding song in the "Elephant Love Medley".
- Swiss Metal band Celtic Frost recorded a cover of the song for their 1990 album Vanity/Nemesis.
- Apocalyptica recorded "'Helden'", the German version of the song for their album Worlds Collide (2007), featuring Till Lindemann of Rammstein on vocals.
- For the 2009 benefit album War Child Presents Heroes, TV on the Radio recorded a version after Bowie himself nominated the band to cover it, in keeping with the album's theme of "placing faith in the next generation".
- The X Factor finalists released a version for charity in 2010, which reached number one on the Irish, Scottish and UK Singles Chart.
- Peter Gabriel released an orchestral reinterpretation for his 2010 album Scratch My Back, also appearing in the third episode of the first season of the Netflix series Stranger Things and on the official soundtrack, and on the soundtrack for the film Lone Survivor.
- Depeche Mode released an official cover and video for the 40th anniversary of the song's release, with lead singer Dave Gahan stating, "Bowie is the one artist who I've stuck with since I was in my early teens. His albums are always my go-to on tour and covering '"Heroes"' is paying homage to Bowie."
- King Crimson recorded a version for their five-track EP Heroes: Live in Europe 2016. It won "Video of the Year" at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards.
- Coldplay performed the song as a tribute to Bowie on their A Head Full of Dreams Tour.
- Motörhead released official cover for their 2017 album Under Cöver.
- Blondie covered "'Heroes'" on the album Uncut 2003.03: Starman.
- Gang of Youths released a cover of "'Heroes'" as a non-album single, featured in the trailer for the 2017 film Justice League.
- The quotation marks are part of the title. On some single releases, the title does not include the quotes.
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Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall. youtu.be/YYjBQKIOb-w #RIPDavidBowie
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