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"'Heroes'"[a] is a song recorded by the English musician David Bowie. It was co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno, produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, recorded in July and August 1977, and released on 23 September 1977. 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 Bowie's 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 one of Bowie's backing vocalists 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 was considered a catalyst to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. Following Bowie's 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".
Inspiration and recording
The title of the song 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 highly romantic, even triumphant, words and music. Bowie said that the "plodding tempo and rhythm" were inspired by "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's habit in the period following the song's release was to say 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.
The music, co-written by Bowie and Eno, has been likened to a Wall of Sound production, an undulating juggernaut of guitars, percussion and synthesizers. Eno has said that musically the piece always "sounded grand and heroic" and that he had "that very word - heroes - in my mind" even before Bowie wrote the lyrics. The basic backing track on the recording consists of a conventional arrangement of piano, bass guitar, rhythm guitar and drums. However the remaining instrumental additions are highly distinctive. These largely consist of synthesizer parts by Eno using an EMSVCS3 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 (pitched feedback). Tony 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 aftermath
"'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'" only reached 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'" as 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.
"'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 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.
In 2017, the song was played at the end of the series finale of animated television series Regular Show.
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'sGranada 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.
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.
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:
It was released as a picture disc in the RCALife 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.
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."
Depeche Mode released an official cover and video for the 40th anniversary of the song's release, with lead singer Dave Gahan stating that "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."
^The quotation marks are part of the title. In certain single releases, the song is stylized without the quotes.
^"With 'Heroes', David Bowie pulled off the rare feat of having a major hit with a highly experimental piece of art-rock, which featured among other highlights live synth treatments from Brian Eno, pitched feedback from Robert Fripp and a lead vocal with level-triggered ambience." Buskin, Richard (October 2004). "Classic Tracks: Heroes". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 2015.
^Robert Matthew-Walker David Bowie, theatre of music 1985 p46 "The use of quotation marks possibly implies that the "Heroes" are not to be taken too seriously."
^Chris Welch David Bowie: changes, 1970-1980 1999 p116 "The use of quotation marks around the title meant that Bowie felt there was something ironic about being a rock 'n' roll hero to his fans, while he kept his own emotional life as far distant and remote and private as possible."