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Music / "Heroes" (David Bowie Album)

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"Just for one day."

"There's old wave, there's new wave, and there's David Bowie."
"Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming."
Taglines from the album's advertising campaign.

"Heroes"note  is the twelfth studio album by David Bowie, released through RCA Records on October 14, 1977, exactly nine months to the day after its direct predecessor, Low. It was his second collaboration with Brian Eno, with whom he previously worked on Low in late 1976 and would work again on Lodger in late 1978/early 1979note , and as such is the second part of what critics and fans call the "Berlin Trilogy" of his Krautrock/art rock/proto-Post-Punk albums.

As with Low, "Heroes" consists of ambient-inspired art rock, with lyrical songs encompassing side A and instrumentals occupying most of side B. However, "Heroes" is considerably more accessible than its predecessor; while Low was proto-Post-Rock with minimalist lyrics, the songs on "Heroes" are familiarly Bowie-esque art rock, among other things featuring stream-of-consciousness lyrics with word salad tendencies that presage Lodger. Bowie was highly enthusiastic about the album's production, pulling all-nighters and working closely with Eno to provide an album that was less melancholic than Low while going deeper into its experimental direction, finding a middle ground between it and Bowie's trademark brand of leftfield rock. The end result was a much more upbeat album that more closely reflected Bowie's natural artistic passion, embodied by a highly improvisational composition and recording process.

Released at a time when artists influenced by him were first reaching mainstream prominence (particularly the Punk Rock movement, influenced by Bowie's Glam Rock material from the early '70s), Bowie promoted "Heroes" aggressively throughout the rest of 1977 and 1978, contrary to the intentional lack of promotion for Low. Between numerous interviews, TV performances (including a spot on Bing Crosby's posthumously-aired final Christmas special), and an extensive world tour, Bowie was adamant in ensuring that people understood his enthusiasm for the album. The effort paid off in the UK, where "Heroes" peaked at No. 3, staying on the charts for 26 consecutive weeks before ultimately going gold both there and in Canada. In the US, it peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200.

"Heroes" was supported by two singles: the Title Track and "Beauty and the Beast".


Side One

  1. "Beauty and the Beast" (3:32)
  2. "Joe the Lion" (3:05)
  3. ""Heroes"" (6:07)
  4. "Sons of the Silent Age" (3:15)
  5. "Blackout" (3:50)

Side Two

  1. "V-2 Schneider" (3:10)
  2. "Sense of Doubt" (3:57)
  3. "Moss Garden" (5:03)
  4. "Neuköln" (4:34)
  5. "The Secret Life of Arabia" (3:46)

Bonus Tracks (1991 Reissue):

  1. "Abdulmajid"
  2. "Joe the Lion (remix)"

Tell you who you are if you trope me to my car:

  • The Ace: By his own account, Robert Fripp hadn't played guitar in three years when Brian Eno brought him in to play on the album. He was incredibly jet-lagged when he arrived in Berlin from New York. Regardless, his first take was used in the final mix of "Beauty on the Beast", and it's impossible to imagine the title track without his distinctive guitar sound.
  • Alliterative Title: "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sons of the Silent Age".
  • Ambient: The second side of this album mostly falls into this genre, as was the case with Low earlier that year.
  • Blasphemous Boast: The titular character of "Joe the Lion" boasts about how "you can buy God."
  • Book Ends: This album, like its predecessor, Low, contains some strange examples. "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Secret Life of Arabia" provide an example of stylistic bookends: they are unusual, catchy dance songs on an album that is, overall, fairly subdued. "V-2 Schneider" and "Secret Life" also bookend the album's B-side as vocal pieces on an otherwise instrumental album side. "Secret Life" also serves as the latter half of an unusual example of bookends between albums: Low opened with "Speed of Life", and the first verse of "Secret Life" opens with the line "I was running at the speed of life."
  • Bottle Episode: All action takes place in Berlin and it was recorded there too. Consequently, its the only Berlin Trilogy album that can make this claim.
  • Dark Reprise: The Title Track repeats the first verse near the middle of the song; however, rather than being delivered in a calm and wistful manner, its reappearance is shouted in anguish.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The black-and-white cover.
  • Digital Destruction:
    • Due to a mastering error, the initial US CD release by RCA Records lops off the first 1.8 seconds of "Beauty and the Beast"; a similar glitch is present on RCA's US CD release of Young Americans. The European RCA CD, meanwhile, features an audibly congested low end, a trait not present on other releases.
    • The initial version of the 2017 remaster, included in the Boxed Set A New Career in a New Town [1977–1982], featured an audible volume drop partway through the Title Track. Parlophone Records claimed that it was to obscure irreversible damage on the master tape, but eventually relented after further complaints and included a revised version of the remaster on replacement discs for affected buyers. This fixed version was also incorporated on the standalone CD, LP, and digital releases.
  • Distinct Double Album: Another single-disc variant. As with Low, the album is full of abstract art rock pieces on the first side, while the second is instrumental save for "V-2 Schneider" and "The Secret Life of Arabia".
  • Echoing Acoustics: The Title Track indulges in this with the instrumentation and plays with it on Bowie's vocals, which were recorded using a series of microphones placed at increasing distances from him in an orchestra hall. As the song progressed, the recording would lower levels on the closest microphone and raise them on the farthest, forcing Bowie to sing louder and louder to be heard over the backing track until he was practically screaming, thus capturing the natural echo of the recording area.
  • Epic Rocking: "'Heroes'" runs six-plus minutes on the album; most people are more familiar with the shorter single edit that leaves out the first two verses.
  • Face on the Cover: A Masayoshi Sukita photograph of Bowie striking a pose with his hands, with the white levels upped to the point where Bowie's face appears almost like he's wearing a blank mask. For reference, here is the untouched version of the photo.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Tracks two through four on the second side fade into one another.
  • Hero for a Day: Literal line in the refrain of "'Heroes'".
    We could be heroes... just for one day
  • In the Style of: "'Heroes'" replicates the "Wall of Sound" production style of Phil Spector.
  • Krautrock: While not a true example of this genre, the music on this album is inspired by artists from the Krautrock movement such as Kraftwerk (to whom "V-2 Schneider" is dedicated) and Neu! (whose guitarist was asked to play on the album before being replaced by Robert Fripp).
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: "Neuköln" ends with Bowie's saxophone part petering out over an extended period of time.
  • Lighter and Softer: Tony Visconti himself described the album as "a very positive version of Low." Tracks on the album tend to range between bouncy & eccentric and ethereally subdued; even the darker instrumentals "Sense of Doubt" and "Neuköln" are considerably less bleak compared to the extended wailing drones of "Warszawa" and "Subterraneans".
  • Limited Lyrics Song: The only line in "V-2 Schneider" is a Title Drop, which Bowie sings twice.
  • Location Song: "'Heroes'", about two lovers meeting at the Berlin Wall.
  • Mood Whiplash: The B-Side of the album embodies this, with the Lighter and Softer "V-2 Schneider", "Moss Garden" and "The Secret Life of Arabia" alternating with the Darker and Edgier "Sense of Doubt" and "Neuköln".
  • Name and Name: "Beauty and the Beast"
  • Named After Somebody Famous: "V-2 Schneider" is named after Kraftwerk member Florian Schneider.
  • Occidental Otaku: The album shows Bowie's interest in Japanese culture on "Moss Garden" with him playing a koto. Bowie also mentions being "under Japanese influence" during the second verse in "Blackout".
  • One-Word Title: "'Heroes'", as well as the tracks "Neuköln" and "Blackout".
  • Production Throwback:
    • The cover art is partly a nod to Iggy Pop's album The Idiot (which Bowie had produced and co-written a number of tracks on) from earlier in the year, right down to featuring the same photographer. The reference is more than fitting, as The Idiot was more or less a prelude to the Berlin Trilogy.
    • The title track features the synthesized train sounds that previously opened the title track to Station to Station.
    • The closing track "The Secret Life of Arabia" opens with the line "I was running at the speed of life," harking back to the opening track on Low, "Speed of Life".
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • The line "Someone fetch a priest" on "Beauty and the Beast" came from producer Tony Visconti's idiosyncratic curse "Someone fuck a priest."
    • The lovers by the wall in "'Heroes'"— whom Bowie claimed at the time of release were inspired by an anonymous couple he saw by the Berlin Wall— were actually inspired by the then-married Visconti and a woman he was having an affair with.
  • Record Producer: As with the other Berlin Trilogy albums, many people think Brian Eno was the producer. Bowie's frequent collaborator Tony Visconti actually produced, although Eno was an important contributor (even moreso here than on Low, cowriting almost half of the album). This mistake tends to be further exacerbated by the fact that Eno would take many of the techniques used on "Heroes" to the three albums he actually did produce with Talking Heads during and after the Berlin Trilogy.
  • Re-Cut:
    • UK 8-track releases reshuffle the tracklist to account for the four-program format. On such editions, the running order is "'Heroes'", "Blackout", "The Secret Life of Arabia", "Sons of the Silent Age", "Joe the Lion", "V-2 Schneider", "Sense of Doubt", "Moss Garden", "Neuköln", and "Beauty and the Beast". Additionally, "Moss Garden" is split into two parts due to it overlapping with the changeover between programs three and four.
    • North American 8-track releases preserve the LP running order, but split the Title Track and "Moss Garden" into two parts due to them overlapping with the changeovers between programs.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • "Joe the Lion" is the No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Chris Burden, a performance artist who once had himself crucified on a Volkswagen ("Nail me to my car/And I'll tell you who you are"). Burden and this incident are directly mentioned in the liner notes of a later Bowie album, Outside.
    • "Blackout" is based on the New York City blackout the previous summer, which knocked out the vast majority of the city for a whole day and resulted in widespread rioting following longstanding tensions caused by both a two-year financial crisis and the Son of Sam murders.
  • Sarcastic Title: "'Heroes'" is in Scare Quotes most likely because its inspiration was only heroic in a very superficial sense: Bowie once saw producer Tony Visconti embracing backing vocalist Antonia Maass by the Berlin Wall after he left work, but Visconti was married to another woman at the time and they both worked right next to the wall anyway. Whether this is actually significant to the song's content isn't really certain, however.
  • Scare Quotes: Both the album and its title song have quotation marks as part of the title.
  • Separated by the Wall: "'Heroes'" has mention of lovers and the Berlin Wall, but technically never specifies if they're separated by the wall (the real people that inspired it were not; they met on the same side).
  • Shout-Out:
    • The album title (and by extent, the name of the Title Track) is derived from Neu!'s 1975 song "Hero".
    • As with the cover photo to the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album The Idiot, the cover photo to this album is based on Roquairol by German impressionist painter Erich Heckel. Note that both photos were taken by Masayoshi Sukita.
    • The Title Track is the centrepiece of the film Christiane F. (1981) and David Bowie even performs it live and integrally when the titular character visits one of his concerts.
    • Three guesses as to what "Beauty and the Beast" is named after.
    • "V-2 Schneider" is a shout-out to Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk, who Bowie considered an influence on his output since Station to Station.
  • Special Guest: King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp plays on this album, most prominently on the title track. Fripp hadn't actually played for three years when Brian Eno called him to play on the album, so Bowie & Eno can be credited with bringing him out of retirement. The first song he recorded for was "Beauty and the Beast". Naturally, he nailed it on the first take. While jet-lagged, no less.
  • Spell My Name With An S: "Neuköln" was named after the German neighbourhood of "Neukölln".
  • Time Marches On: If one interprets the wall in the title track to be the Berlin Wall (it did factor into the song's inspiration), that makes the song a bit dated since that wall fell on November 9, 1989— but then again there are still many other walls in this world, literally and metaphorically.
  • Title Track: "'Heroes'"
    We could be heroes... just for one day
  • Translated Cover Version: Bowie recorded "'Heroes'" not only in English, but also in French as "'Heros'" and German as "'Helden'". As these versions were based on the song's single edit, the album mixes add in the first part of the English version.
  • Tuckerization: The bonus track "Abdulmajid", included on the 1991 Rykodisc CD release, is titled after the maiden name of Iman, Bowie's girlfriend at the time the reissue was put out (Bowie married her the following year).
  • Word Salad Lyrics: The album makes liberal use of this trope, but it is most prominent on the opening track "Beauty and the Beast" and the closing track "The Secret Life of Arabia". The Title Track is perhaps the only overt aversion of this trope on the album.
  • The X of Y: "Sons of the Silent Age", "The Secret Life of Arabia".

Alternative Title(s): Heroes