"Heroes" (David Bowie song)

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"'Heroes'"
Heroes by David Bowie UK vinyl single.jpg
One of A-side labels of UK vinyl single
Single by David Bowie
from the album "Heroes"
B-side"V-2 Schneider"
Released23 September 1977 (1977-09-23)
RecordedJuly–August 1977
StudioHansa Studio by the Wall (West Berlin)
GenreArt rock
Length
  • 6:07 (album)
  • 3:32 (single)
LabelRCA
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
David Bowie singles chronology
"Be My Wife"
(1977)
"'Heroes'"
(1977)
"Beauty and the Beast"
(1978)
Music video
"'Heroes'" on YouTube

"'Heroes'"[a] is a song by English singer-songwriter 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 the 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".[1]

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 6 June 1987, at the German Reichstag in West Berlin has been considered a catalyst to the later fall of the Berlin Wall.[2][3][4] Following his death in January 2016, the German government thanked Bowie for "helping to bring down the Wall", adding "you are now among Heroes".[5]

"'Heroes'" has received numerous accolades since its release, as seen with its inclusion on lists ranking the "greatest songs" compiled by various music publications; Rolling Stone named the song the 46th greatest ever, and NME named it the 15th greatest.[6] Bowie scholar David Buckley has written that "'Heroes'" "is perhaps pop's definitive statement of the potential triumph of the human spirit over adversity".[7]

Title and lyrics[edit]

The song title is a reference to the 1975 track "Hero" by German krautrock band Neu!,[8] 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.[9] 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.[10][11][12][13]

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.[14] 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, over two decades after Visconti and Hopkin's eventual divorce.[9]

Music[edit]

Bowie said that the "plodding tempo and rhythm" were inspired by the Velvet Underground song "I'm Waiting for the Man".[15]

Richard Buskin of Sound on Sound described "'Heroes'" as a "highly experimental piece of art rock".[16] The music, co-written by Bowie and Eno, is in a two-chord progression (D–G), with a "brief excursion to familiar chords" in the key of G.[17] Biographer David Buckley likens it to a Wall of Sound production, a forceful and noisy arrangement of guitars, percussion and synthesizers.[14] 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.[18] 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.[16]

Vocal gating progression[edit]

Bowie's vocal was recorded after most of the session musicians had departed Berlin,[18] with a "multi-latch" system devised by Visconti that creatively misused gating.[19] 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.[16] 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.[20]

Release[edit]

"'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[10]). In contrast to the bewildering audio situation, the video (directed by Nick Ferguson[9]) 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.

"'Heroes'" was released on 23 September 1977 as the lead single of Bowie's 12th studio album of the same name by RCA Victor (as RCA / PB 11121), with a length of 3:32, and with fellow album track "V-2 Schneider" as the B-side.[21] It subsequently appeared, with a longer length of 6:07, as the third track, between "Joe the Lion" and "Sons of the Silent Age", on the album in October the same year.[22] Another 12" single, containing both the single and album versions, was released in the US by RCA Victor (as RCA / JD-11151) the same year.[23] The German and French versions, titled "'Helden'" and "'Héros'", respectively, was released by RCA Victor (RCA / PC-9821).[24] Despite a large promotional push, including Bowie's first live Top of the Pops appearance since 1973,[14] "'Heroes'" reached only number 24 in the UK charts, and failed to make the US Billboard Hot 100.[25] In Italy, the song was certified gold by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.[26]

Bowie filmed a promotional music video for the track in 1977. Directed by Nick Ferguson and shot in Paris, it features numerous shots of Bowie against a backdrop of white light and wearing the same bomber-jacket he wore on the "Heroes" album cover.[25] Pegg believes the effect is similar to Liza Minnelli's performance of "Maybe This Time" in the 1972 film Cabaret.[25]

Reception and legacy[edit]

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."[27] Despite the poor review it featured at number 6 in the NME's end of year critics poll for 1977.[28]

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"[29] due to its anti-Soviet political context. It has also become a gay anthem.[30][31] Uncut placed "'Heroes'" at number 1 in its 30 greatest Bowie songs in 2008.[32]

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,[33] 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.[34]

Bowie regularly performed the song in concert.

Accolades[edit]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
TIME United States "All-Time 100 Songs"[35] 2011 N/A
Rolling Stone United States "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[36] 2003 46
NME United Kingdom "100 Greatest Singles of All Time"[37] 2002 5
NME United Kingdom "500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[38] 2014 15
NME United Kingdom "100 Greatest Songs of NME's Lifetime...So Far"[39] 2012 3
NME United Kingdom "NME Readers Best Tracks of the Last 60 Years"[39] 2012 16
NME United Kingdom "Best tracks of the 1970s"[39] 2014 4
NME United Kingdom "David Bowie's 40 Greatest Songs"[40] 2014 1
Mojo Magazine United Kingdom "The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time"[41] 1997 34
Sounds United Kingdom "All Time Top 100 Singles"[42] 1985 2
Q United Kingdom "Q Readers Top 100 Singles of All Time"[43] 1999 36
Pitchfork United States The Pitchfork 500[44] 2008 N/A
Pitchfork United States "The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s"[45] 2016 6
Radio X United Kingdom "The Top 1,000 Songs of All Time"[46] 2010 24
Radio X United Kingdom "Best of British"[47] 2016 7
Uncut United Kingdom "David Bowie's 30 best songs"[48] 2008 1

N/A designates unordered lists.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by David Bowie and Brian Eno, except where noted.

7" vinyl
  1. "'Heroes'" – 3:38
  2. "V-2 Schneider" (Bowie) – 3:10
12" vinyl
  • RCA / JD-11151 (US promo)[23]
  1. "'Heroes'" (Album version) – 6:07
  2. "'Heroes'" (Single version) – 3:29
  • RCA / PC-9821 (Germany)[24]
  1. "'Heroes'" / "'Helden'" (English/German version) – 6:09
  2. "'Heroes'" / "'Héros'" (English/French version) – 6:09

Personnel[edit]

Charts and certifications[edit]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[71]
digital sales since 2011
Gold 45,000double-dagger
Italy (FIMI)[72]
digital sales since 2009
Gold 25,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[73]
digital sales since 2004
Platinum 600,000double-dagger

double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Live versions[edit]

Other releases[edit]

  • 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 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.[80]

Cover versions[edit]

The Wallflowers version[edit]

"Heroes"
The Wallflowers Heroes cover.jpg
Single by The Wallflowers
from the album Godzilla: The Album
B-side"Invisible City" (live)
Released1998
Recorded1998
Length4:00
LabelEpic
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Andrew Slater
The Wallflowers singles chronology
"Three Marlenas"
(1997)
"Heroes"
(1998)
"Sleepwalker"
(2000)

American rock band The Wallflowers recorded a version of the song for the soundtrack to the 1998 monster film Godzilla. This version peaked at number 10 on the US 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 chart. In Canada, the single topped the RPM Alternative 30 for six weeks and reached number 13 on the RPM Top Singles chart.

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]
Chart (1998) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[81] 38
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[82] 13
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[83] 28
Canada Rock/Alternative (RPM)[84] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[85] 85
Iceland (Íslenski Listinn Topp 40)[86] 21
US Radio Songs (Billboard)[87] 27
US Adult Alternative Songs (Billboard)[88] 3
US Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[89] 20
US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[90] 9
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[91] 4
US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard)[92] 23
Year-end charts[edit]
Chart (1998) Position
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[93] 62
Canada Rock/Alternative (RPM)[94] 5

Other covers[edit]

Later use of the song[edit]

  • 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.[106] 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.[107] 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 2013, the song was featured in the Daniel Radcliffe horror fantasy film, Horns.
  • In 2014, the song was featured in the premiere trailer for the Brazilian film Praia do Futuro.[108] 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.[109] On Twitter the German Foreign Office paid homage to Bowie for "helping to bring down the wall".[110][111] It reached a new peak of number 12 in the UK after Bowie's death.[112]
  • In 2017, the song was played at the end of the series finale of the animated television series Regular Show.[113]
  • In 2018, the song was used as the closing track for the TV series Lucifer.[114]
  • In 2019, a cover of " 'Heroes '" by Peter Gabriel (which has been used by the show once before, in episode 3 of the first season) was played at the end of the Stranger Things season 3 episode "Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt". It was also used in the 2020 Star Trek: Short Treks episode "Children of Mars".
  • The 2019 film Jojo Rabbit uses Bowie's German version of the song ("Helden") during the final scene and closing credits.
  • At VE day 2020 Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp recorded a homemade version of " 'Heroes' " on YouTube.

Use in advertising[edit]

The song has been used in advertising, 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. The song has also been used in U.S. Walmart television ads to depict first responders and Walmart workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ The quotation marks are part of the title. On some single releases, the title does not include the quotes.
Citations
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  10. ^ a b Carr & Murray 1981, pp. 90–92.
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^ 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."
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Sources

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