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"Heroes" is a song written by David Bowie and Brian Eno in 1977. Produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, it was released both as a single and as the title track of the album "Heroes". A product of Bowie's fertile 'Berlin' period, life in the city was crystallized into a tale of two lovers who come together in the shadow of the 'Wall of Shame'marker (though here "the shame was on the other side"). While not a huge hit at the time, the song has gone on to become one of Bowie's signature tunes and is well known today for its appearance in numerous advertisements. It has been cited as Bowie's second most covered song after "Rebel Rebel".

Background

The title of the song is a reference to the 1975 track "Hero" by the Germanmarker 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 quote marks in the title, a deliberate affectation, were designed to impart an ironic quality on the otherwise highly romantic, even triumphant, words and music. Producer Tony Visconti took credit for inspiring the image of the lovers kissing "by the wall", when he and backing vocalist Antonia Maaß embraced in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studiomarker 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.

Recording

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 composed 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 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. Tony Visconti rigged up a system of three microphones to capture the epic vocal, with one microphone nine inches from Bowie, one 20 feet away and one 50 feet away. Only the first was opened for the quieter vocals at the start of the song, with the first and second opening on the louder passages, and all three on the loudest parts, creating progressively more reverb and ambience the louder the vocals became.

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, see Other releases below). 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 Top of the Pops appearance since 1972, "Heroes" only reached #24 in the UK charts, and failed to make the US Billboard Hot 100.

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 #56 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In 2004, Rolling Stone rated "Heroes" #46 in its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was included in 2008's The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. John J. Miller of National Review rated "Heroes" #21 on a list of "the 50 greatest conservative rock songs". Uncut placed "Heroes" as #1 in its 30 greatest Bowie songs in 2008.

Bowie has regularly performed the song in concert since its release (see Live versions below). Two years after its release, the song was used in Chris Petit's film Radio On. 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 3-song pack along with other David 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. Also in 2008 the Greek television channel MEGA featured the song in its new show Agria Paidia, which means "wild kids"; the music director of the show suggested it as a masterpiece of rock music and relative to the content.

Track listing

7": RCA / PB 11121 (US)

  1. "Heroes" (David Bowie, Brian Eno) – 3:38
  2. "V-2 Schneider" (Bowie) – 3:10


7": RCA / 20629 (Australia)

  1. "Heroes" (English version) (single edit) - 3:29
  2. "Héros" (French version) - 3:31
  3. "Helden" (German version) - 3:32
  4. "V-2 Schneider" - 3:10


12": RCA / JD-11151 (US)

  1. "Heroes" (album version) - 6:07
  2. "Heroes" (single edit) - 3:29


  • US promo


12": RCA / PC-9821 (GER)

  1. "Heroes" /"Helden" (English / German version) - 6:09
  2. "Heroes" /"Héros" (English /French version) - 6:09


  • Super Sound Single 33 rpm restamped to 45 rpm "Disco-Remix"


Production credits





Live versions

  • Bowie performed the song when he appeared on Bing Crosby's 1977 Christmas special.
  • A concert version recorded at the Philadelphia Spectrum in April 1978 was released on the live album Stage.
  • The rendition at Live Aid in 1985 has been described as "the best version of "Heroes" he had ever sung". This performance featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards.
  • It was performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 by Bowie, Mick Ronson and John Deacon, Roger Taylor, and Brian May - the surviving members of Queen.
  • An acoustic version of the song was played at The Bridge Benefit Concert in 1996, and later released on The Bridge Benefit Concert album.
  • The song was performed by David Bowie at The Concert for New York City on 20 October 2001.


Other releases

The Australian cover for "Heroes"/"Héros"/"Helden"
  • 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.
  • It appeared on the following compilations:
  • It was released as a picture disc in the RCA Life Time picture disc set.


Cover versions



Notes

References




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