"Heroes" (David Bowie song)

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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"
Released 23 September 1977 (1977-09-23)
Recorded July and August 1977 at Hansa Studio by the Wall, West Berlin
  • 6:07 (album version)
  • 3:32 (single version)
Label RCA
David Bowie singles chronology
"Be My Wife"
"Beauty and the Beast"
"Be My Wife"
"Beauty and the Beast"
Alternative release
"Heroes" track listing
"Joe the Lion"
"Sons of the Silent Age"
Music video
"Heroes" on YouTube

"'Heroes'"[a] is a song recorded by the English musician David Bowie, written by Brian Eno and Bowie. Produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, it was 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 at the time, but has gone on to 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".[3]

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.[4][5][6] 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".[7]

"'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.[8][9][10] Bowie scholar David Buckley has written that "Heroes" "is perhaps pop's definitive statement of the potential triumph of the human spirit over adversity".[11]

Inspiration and recording[edit]

The title of the song is a reference to the 1975 track "Hero" by German krautrock band Neu!,[12] 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.[3] 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.[13][14][15][16] 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.[17] 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.[3]

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.[17] 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.[3] 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 (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.[18]

Bowie's vocal was recorded 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.[18] 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 and aftermath[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[13]). In contrast to the bewildering audio situation, the video (directed by Stanley Dorfman)[21] 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,[17] ""Heroes"" only reached number 24 in the UK charts, and failed to make the US Billboard Hot 100.

In Italy, the song was certified gold by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.[22]

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."[23] Despite the poor review it featured at number 6 in the NME's end of year critics poll for 1977.[24]

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"[25] due to its anti-Soviet political context, despite its status as a gay anthem.[26][27] Uncut placed ""Heroes"" as number 1 in its 30 greatest Bowie songs in 2008.[28]

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,[29] 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.[30]

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.

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] On Twitter the German Foreign Office paid homage to Bowie for "helping to bring down the wall."[35][36] It reached a new peak of number 12 in the UK after Bowie's death.[37]

The song was played at the end of the series finale of animated television series Regular Show.[38]


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
TIME United States "All-Time 100 Songs"[39] 2011 *
Rolling Stone United States "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[40] 2003 46
NME United Kingdom "100 Greatest Singles of All Time"[41] 2002 5
NME United Kingdom "500 Greatest Songs Of All Time"[9] 2014 15
NME United Kingdom "100 Greatest Songs Of NME's Lifetime...So Far"[42] 2012 3
NME United Kingdom "NME Readers Best Tracks Of The Last 60 Years"[42] 2012 16
NME United Kingdom "Best tracks of the 1970s"[42] 2014 4
NME United Kingdom "David Bowie's 40 Greatest Songs"[43] 2014 1
Mojo Magazine United Kingdom "The 100 Greatest Singles Of All Time"[44] 1997 34
Sounds United Kingdom "All Time Top 100 Singles"[45] 1985 2
Q United Kingdom "Q Readers Top 100 Singles Of All Time"[46] 1999 36
Pitchfork United States "The Pitchfork 500"[10] 2008 *
Pitchfork United States "The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s"[47] 2016 6
Radio X United Kingdom "The Top 1,000 Songs Of All Time"[48] 2010 24
Radio X United Kingdom "Best of British"[49] 2016 7
Uncut United Kingdom "David Bowie’s 30 best songs"[50] 2008 1

(*) designates unordered lists.

Track listing[edit]

7" vinyl[edit]

  • RCA / PB 11121[2]
Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. ""Heroes"" 3:38
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "V-2 Schneider" Bowie 3:10

12" vinyls[edit]

  • RCA / JD-11151 (US promo)[51]
Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. ""Heroes"" (Album version)
  • David Bowie
  • Brian Eno
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. ""Heroes"" (Single version)
  • Bowie
  • Eno
  • RCA / PC-9821 (Germany)[52]
Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. ""Heroes"" / ""Helden"" (English/German version)
  • David Bowie
  • Brian Eno
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. ""Heroes"" / ""Héros"" (English/French version)
  • Bowie
  • Eno

Production credits[edit]

Charts and certifications[edit]


Chart (1977–78) Peak
Australia (AMR) 11
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[54] 19
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[55] 17
Germany (Official German Charts)[56] 19
Ireland (IRMA)[57] 8
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[58] 9
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[59] 35
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[60] 24
US Record World Singles Chart 101–150[61] 126
Chart (2016) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[62] 36
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[54] 14
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[58] 47
Europe (Euro Digital Songs)[63] 3
France (SNEP)[64] 9
Ireland (IRMA)[65] 29
Italy (FIMI)[66] 17
Japan Hot Overseas (Billboard)[67] 18
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[59] 34
Portugal (Hung Medien)[68] 32
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[69] 37
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[70] 17
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[71] 12
US Hot Rock Songs (Billboard)[72] 11


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Italy (FIMI)[73] Gold 7,500double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[74] Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Live versions[edit]

  • 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,[75] after Bolan's funeral). This particular version, released as a 7" picture disc, on 22 September 2017,[76] 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.[77] 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.
  • A concert performance recorded in the spring of 1978 was released on the live album Stage.
  • Bowie performed the song live on his 1983 Serious Moonlight Tour, as seen in the 1984 concert video, Serious Moonlight.
  • The rendition at Live Aid in 1985 has been described as "the best version of ""Heroes"" [Bowie] had ever sung".[78] This performance featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards.
  • Bowie performed the song live on his 1987 Glass Spider Tour, as seen in the 1988 concert video, Glass Spider.
  • 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.
  • The song was performed by Bowie at The Concert for New York City on 20 October 2001.
  • Bowie performed the song live during his 2003 Reality Tour, and a performance from November of that year was released on the A Reality Tour DVD in 2004, and included on the A Reality Tour album, released in 2010.
  • When Bowie opened the post 9/11 "Concert For New York City" 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.

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.[79]

Cover versions[edit]


  1. ^ The quotation marks are part of the title. In certain single releases, the song is stylized without the quotes.[2]
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  11. ^ David Buckley (2015-05-30). David Bowie: The Music and The Changes. Books.google.com.au. p. 63. Retrieved 2016-10-12. 
  12. ^ Mat Snow (2007). "Making Heroes", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: p.69
  13. ^ a b Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.90–92
  14. ^ 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."
  15. ^ 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."
  16. ^ NME interview in 1977 with Charles Shaar Murray Archived 3 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved from Bowie: Golden Years 20 February 2007.
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  33. ^ "Berlin Film Review: 'Praia do Futuro'". Variety. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  34. ^ Quoctrung Bui; Josh Katz; Jasmine C. Lee (January 12, 2016). "The David Bowie Song That Fans Are Listening to Most: 'Heroes'". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 
  35. ^ GermanForeignOffice @GermanyDiplo (2016-01-11). "GermanForeignOffice on Twitter". German Foreign Office. Twitter. 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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External links[edit]