"Heroes" (David Bowie album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||14 October 1977|
|Studio||Hansa (West Berlin)|
|David Bowie chronology|
|Singles from "Heroes"|
"Heroes" is the 12th studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 14 October 1977 by RCA Records. After releasing Low earlier that year, Bowie toured as the keyboardist of his friend and singer Iggy Pop. At the conclusion of the tour, they recorded Pop's second solo album Lust for Life at Hansa Tonstudio in West Berlin before Bowie regrouped there with collaborator Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti to record "Heroes". It was the second instalment of his "Berlin Trilogy", following Low and preceding Lodger (1979). Of the three albums, it was the only one wholly recorded in Berlin. Much of the same personnel from Low returned for the sessions, augmented by King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.
The album was recorded sporadically from July to August 1977. The majority of the tracks were composed on the spot in the studio, the lyrics not being written until Bowie stood in front of the microphone. The music itself is based in art rock and experimental rock, and builds upon its predecessor's electronic and ambient approaches, albeit with more positive tones, atmospheres and passionate performances. The album also follows the same structure as its predecessor, side one featuring more conventional tracks and side two featuring mostly instrumental tracks.
The cover photo, like Iggy Pop's The Idiot, is a nod to the painting Roquairol by German artist Erich Heckel. Upon release, "Heroes" was a commercial success, peaking at No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 35 on the US Billboard 200. It was the best-received work of the "Berlin Trilogy" on release, NME and Melody Maker naming it Album of the Year. Bowie promoted the album extensively, appearing on several television programmes and interviews. He supported Low and "Heroes" on the Isolar II world tour throughout 1978, performances of which have appeared on the live albums Stage (1978) and Welcome to the Blackout (2018).
Retrospectively, "Heroes" has continued to receive positive reviews, many reviewers praising Bowie's growth as an artist and Fripp's contributions. Although opinion has tended to view Low as the more groundbreaking record, "Heroes" is regarded as one of Bowie's best and most influential works. The title track, initially unsuccessful as a single, remains one of Bowie's best-known and acclaimed songs. An altered and obscured version of the cover artwork later appeared as the artwork for Bowie's 2013 album The Next Day. The album has been reissued several times and was remastered in 2017 as part of the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) box set.
In the second half of 1976, Bowie moved to Switzerland with his wife Angela to escape the drug culture of Los Angeles. He then moved to the Château d'Hérouville in Hérouville, France with his friend, singer Iggy Pop, where the two recorded his debut studio album The Idiot in the summer of 1976. After meeting musician Brian Eno the same year, Bowie, producer Tony Visconti and Eno began work on Low, the first instalment of what would come to be known as the "Berlin Trilogy". Recording for Low began in September 1976 and continued through November, finishing up at Hansa Tonstudio in West Berlin, following Bowie and Pop's move there.
RCA Records stalled on releasing Low for three months, fearing poor commercial performance. Upon its eventual release in January 1977, it received little to no promotion from both RCA and Bowie himself, who felt it was his "least commercial" record up to that point and instead opted to tour as Pop's keyboardist. The tour, launched to support The Idiot, lasted from March to April 1977. After the tour's completion, Bowie and Pop returned to Hansa Tonstudio, where they recorded Pop's next solo album Lust for Life in two and a half weeks, from April to May 1977.
Recording for "Heroes" began following the completion of Pop's Lust for Life in May 1977. For the album, Bowie, Visconti and Eno regrouped at Hansa Tonstudio in West Berlin. Although the album was the second instalment of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy", it was the only one recorded entirely in Berlin. Hansa was a former concert hall converted into a recording studio that had been used by Gestapo officers during World War II as a ballroom. The studio was located about 500 yards from the Berlin Wall, leading Bowie to describe it as "the hall by the wall". Describing how the location of the studio affected the creative process, Visconti recalled: "Every afternoon I'd sit down at [a] desk and see three Russian Red Guards looking at us with binoculars, with their Sten guns over their shoulders, and the barbed wire, and I knew that there were mines buried in that wall, and that atmosphere was so provocative and so stimulating and so frightening that the band played with so much energy". Guitarist Carlos Alomar told biographer David Buckley: "These things [Germans, Nazis, the Wall, oppression] are hanging in the air, and when things get darker physically, you kind of think of darker themes too. Berlin was a rather dark, industrial place to work." Despite the dark atmosphere, Visconti particularly had an exciting time creating the album, saying, "It was one of my last great adventures in making albums."
Most of the album was recorded with the same personnel as its predecessor Low, with Alomar, George Murray and Dennis Davis as the core band. An addition to the lineup was guitarist Robert Fripp, formerly of the band King Crimson, who was recruited at Eno's suggestion. The guitarist recalled: "I got a phone call [from Brian Eno] when I was living in New York in July 1977. He said that he and David were recording in Berlin and passed me over. David said, 'Would you be interested in playing some hairy rock 'n' roll guitar?' I said, 'Well, I haven't really played for three years – but, if you're prepared to take a risk, so will I.' Shortly afterward, a first-class ticket on Lufthansa arrived." Upon his arrival to the studio, Fripp sat down and recorded lead guitar parts for tracks he had never heard before. He also received little guidance from Bowie, who had yet to write lyrics or melodies. Fripp completed all his guitar parts in three days. Fripp's playing received significant praise from Visconti and Eno, who were impressed with Fripp's ability to play for songs he had never heard before with such "virtuosity". According to biographer Nicholas Pegg, Fripp was not Bowie's first choice. Michael Rother of the German band Neu! had originally been approached to contribute, but shortly before the sessions began, he was contacted by an unknown person and informed that Bowie had changed his mind, although later interviews with Bowie suggested otherwise.
Unlike the speedy recording processes of Low and Lust for Life, "Heroes" was recorded more sporadically following the initial sessions in July, with overdubs, vocals and mixing lasting until August 1977. However, like its predecessor, lyrics weren't written or recorded until all but Bowie and Visconti departed. Visconti later attested: "He'd never have a clue what he'd sing about until he actually walked in front of the microphone." Backing vocals were provided by Visconti and his then-girlfriend Antonia Maass, a local jazz singer. The final mixes were done at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, a studio that would become one of Bowie's mainstays. An engineer at Mountain, Dave Richards, would also become one of his regulars. Richards' assistant was Eugene Chaplin, the son of silent film star Charlie Chaplin.
Music and lyrics
As the second release of the "Berlin Trilogy", the music on "Heroes" expands on the material found on its predecessor Low. The songs have been described by Consequence of Sound as art rock and experimental rock, while also further continuing Bowie's work in the electronic and ambient genres. Like its predecessor, the songs on "Heroes" emphasise tone and atmosphere rather than guitar-based rock. However, the songs have been described as more positive in both tone and atmosphere than the songs of its predecessor. Visconti would describe the album as "a very positive version of Low." It also follows the same structure as its predecessor, with side one featuring more conventional tracks, and side two featuring mostly instrumental tracks.
Author Peter Doggett writes that whereas Low featured lyrics of autobiographical nature, the lyrics of "Heroes" were "oblique and often deliberately evasive", and were sung with an "astonishing[ly]" amount of passion. Visconti recalled that lyrics were made up on the spot, with Bowie sometimes ad-libbing entire songs, singing "at the top of his lungs". Songs of this instance included "Joe the Lion", a tribute to American artist Chris Burden, who was known for his outlandish publicity stunts, and "Blackout", which references the New York City blackout of 1977. Like the second side of Low, the imagery of the Berlin Wall dominates "Heroes" throughout; a kiss between Visconti and Maass at the foot of the Wall inspired a lyric for the title track. Bowie's vocal for "'Heroes'" goes from calm and playful to a near-scream, a style he called "Bowie histrionics". Musically, Fripp's guitar feedback dominates throughout, while the bass pulsates and Eno synthesisers blends in the background. Bowie explained the song is about "facing reality and standing up to it" and finding joyness in life. Buckley particularly highlights the lyric "We can be heroes, just for one day" as "an acknowledgment that the future didn't belong to him anymore, [but] to everyone".
"Sons of the Silent Age" was the only song written before the sessions began and was originally intended to be the album's title track. The lyrics are influenced by the works of Jacques Brel and follow several characters that are, in O'Leary's words, "part-homo superior/part-Bewlay Brothers". Musically, the song is noted by biographers as different than the rest of the songs on the album, in that the themes present reflect ideals from the previous decade rather than the contemporary, while O'Leary likens its sound to that of Hunky Dory (1971) than the rest of the album. Biographers also consider the album's closer, "The Secret Life of Arabia", as a precursor to what Bowie would explore on Lodger.
Eno employed his Oblique Strategies cards during the recording of the album. According to O'Leary, these cards were "part-fortune cookie, part-Monopoly 'Chance' cards", intended to spark creative ideas. Although these cards were used greatly throughout the Lodger sessions, Eno and Bowie only used them on "Heroes" when creating the instrumentals, including on "V-2 Schneider", "Sense of Doubt" and "Moss Garden". The instrumentals are described by Buckley as dark and gloomy. "Sense of Doubt" puts a repeating four-note piano motif against a set of synthesisers to paint an image of a barren landscape. Bowie plays the Japanese instrument koto on "Moss Garden" which, together with synths, evoke a sound resembling aeroplanes flying overhead; Bowie further emphasises his fascination with Japan by stating he's "under Japanese influence" in "Blackout". The track segues into "Neuköln", which is named after a district in Berlin of the same name. The track uses sound to capture the feeling of despair and desparation that the Turkish immigrants who lived there experienced.
The majority of Low was influenced by Krautrock bands such as Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Neu! Earlier in 1977, Kraftwerk name-checked both Bowie and Iggy Pop on the title track of Trans-Europe Express, which was Kraftwerk's response to the title track of Station to Station. Although the influence of Kraftwerk and Harmonia are less prominent on "Heroes" in favour of Edgar Froese, Bowie paid tribute by naming the album after Neu!'s track "Hero" from their album Neu! '75, while "V-2 Schneider" is inspired by and named after Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider. However, many British listeners assumed "V-2" was a reference to the type of rockets used by the German army in World War II. "V-2 Schneider" is also notable for having an off-beat saxophone part played by Bowie, who began the take on the wrong beat but decided he liked it better and kept it as is.
Artwork and release
The cover photo was taken by Japanese photographer Masayoshi Sukita. Like the artwork for Iggy Pop's The Idiot, the cover is a nod to German artist Erich Heckel's paintings Roquairol and Young Man. Pegg describes Bowie's pose as "a wild-eyed Bowie locked in a rigid pose of serio-comic agitation, raising a flat palm as though he has just mimetically lifted the final mask of artifice from his face." In an interview with Charles Shaar Murray of NME, Bowie said that the quotation marks in the title "indicate a dimension of irony about the word 'heroes' or about the whole concept of heroism". Visconti would later state that the album was "heroic" in that it was a very positive period of Bowie's life and during the making of the album, everyone felt like heroes. Regarding the title, Bowie said, "I thought I'd pick on the only narrative song to use as the title," quipping he could have titled it The Sons of Silent Ages.
The title track was chosen as the lead single and released on 23 September 1977, with fellow album track "V-2 Schneider" as the B-side and the catalogue number RCA PB 1121. It was released in a shortened edited form in the hopes of more airplay, but Buckley believes this edit results in the song losing some of its "dramatic appeal". It was supported by a music video, shot in Paris and directed by Nick Ferguson, that features Bowie in the same jacket on the album cover against a backdrop of white light. For the German and French releases of the single, titled "'Héros'" and "'Helden'", respectively, Bowie re-recorded his vocals in both languages, with lyrics translated by Antonia Maass for the German release. Despite the song's later mass acclaim, it was initially a failure, peaking at No. 24 on the UK Singles Chart and failing to chart in the US. Pegg and Chris O'Leary note that it wasn't until Bowie's Live Aid performance in 1985 did the song become recognised as a classic. Bowie later remarked in 2003: "This is a strange phenomenon that happens with my songs Stateside. Many of the crowd favourites were never radio or chart hits, and '"Heroes"' tops them all."
"Heroes" was released on 14 October 1977 by RCA Records, with the catalogue number RCA PL 12522. Its release came four months after the Clash's debut album and two weeks before the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, two influential records in the punk rock movement. Buckley notes Bowie's 1974 album Diamond Dogs as an influence on punk, as well as Bowie himself, in terms of both music and fashion. RCA marketed the album with the slogan "There's Old Wave. There's New Wave. And there's David Bowie ..." Unlike Low, Bowie himself promoted the album extensively, conducting numerous interviews and performing on various television programmes, including Marc, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas (where he recorded "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" with Crosby), and Top of the Pops (where he performed the title track). Regarding his extensive promotion, Bowie explained at the time:
"I didn't promote Low at all and some people thought my heart wasn't in it. This time, I wanted to put everything into pushing the new album. I believe in the last two albums, you see, more than anything I've done before. I mean, I look back on a lot of my earlier work and, although there's much that I appreciate about it, there's not a great deal that I actually like...There's a lot more heart and emotion in Low and, especially, the new album."
The album was a commercial success in the UK, peaking at No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and remained on the chart for 33 weeks. It fared less favourably in the US, where it peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200, spending 19 weeks on the chart. Doggett writes that the album ended a string of eight top 20 albums in the US, becoming his worst-selling album there since 1971's Hunky Dory. RCA released "Beauty and the Beast" as the second single on 6 January 1978, with "Sense of Doubt" as the B-side and the catalogue number RCA 1190. It became a minor success in the UK, peaking at No. 39 on the UK Singles Chart, staying on the chart for three weeks. NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray remarked that its "jarring, threatening edge...obviously put off a great many of the floating singles buyers attracted by the intoxicating romanticism of its immediate predecessor". The single was released in the US and Spain on a 12" promo and in a five-minute extended form, which failed to chart despite having "Fame" as the B-side.
|Christgau's Record Guide||B+|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
On release, "Heroes" received very positive reviews from music critics. Melody Maker named the album its "Album of the Year", calling it and its predecessor "among the most adventurous and notably challenging records yet thrust upon the rock audience." NME also named it their "album of the year", calling it Bowie's "most moving performance in years" and commended the artist's growing maturity. Rolling Stone highlighted Eno's contribution, contending that after Bowie's "auteurist exploitation" of the former on Low, "Heroes" "prompts a much more enthusiastic reading of the collaboration, which here takes the form of a union of Bowie's dramatic instincts and Eno's unshakable sonic serenity". The Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was less receptive to Eno's contributions, particularly the second side's instrumentals, saying that they are "interesting background" but "merely noteworthy as foreground, admirably rather than attractively ragged", in comparison to "their counterparts on Low". In the Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll, "Heroes" finished 21st in the voting for 1977's top album.
Retrospective reviews continue to be positive, with many reviewers praising Bowie's growth as an artist and Fripp's contributions. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic praised the album, noting the growing artistic maturity compared to its predecessor. He further praised the addition of Fripp, stating that his guitar adds a greater "musical foundation" to the electronic sound. He ultimately writes: "The difference between Low and "Heroes" [essentially] lies in the details, but the record is equally challenging and groundbreaking." Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork similarly praised the record, calling Bowie's vocal performances some of his finest and highlighted Fripp as the standout. In a review in which he commended the entire "Berlin Trilogy", Dombal identified "Heroes" as the album that indicated the most artistic growth for Bowie, after turning 30 and escaping years of drug addiction. Many reviewers and biographers have particularly highlighted the title track as one of Bowie's finest, with some considering it his greatest song.
Aftermath and legacy
Upon completion of his promotional appearances for "Heroes", Bowie flew to New York to record narration for an adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev's classical composition Peter and the Wolf, which was released as an album in May 1978. Bowie later said that it was a Christmas present for his son, Duncan Jones, then 7 years old. Afterwards, Bowie returned to Switzerland, where he was approached by director David Hemmings to appear in his upcoming film Just a Gigolo. Bowie agreed to the project due to wanting to work with Hemmings, whom he called "a real actor's director", the idea of starring in a film set in pre-Holocaust Berlin, and after learning actress Marlene Dietrich would be coming out of her almost two-decade-long retirement to star in the film. Shooting began in January 1978 and was troublesome: Bowie filed for divorce during shooting and Dietrich refused to leave her Paris apartment. Thus, the two never met and their scenes were shot separately and spliced together for the finished product. Released in February 1979, Just a Gigolo was panned by both critics and audiences. Bowie himself was critical of the film, calling it "my 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one" in an interview with NME.
After filming his scenes for Just a Gigolo in February 1978, Bowie began rehearsals for an upcoming tour. The Isolar II world tour, also known as "the Stage tour", lasted from March to the end of the year. Songs from both Low and "Heroes" made up the majority of the shows, while Ziggy Stardust-era songs and other hits from 1973 to 1976 were played. By now Bowie had broken his drug addiction; Buckley writes that the tour was "Bowie's first tour for five years in which he had probably not anaesthetised himself with copious quantities of cocaine before taking the stage. ... Without the oblivion that drugs had brought, he was now in a healthy enough mental condition to want to make friends." Performances from the tour were released on the live album Stage in September the same year, and again from a different venue in 2018 on Welcome to the Blackout.
An early instance of the album's enduring influence is John Lennon's comment in 1980 that, when making his album Double Fantasy, his ambition was to "do something as good as "Heroes"." In 1990, after hiring Eno to produce Achtung Baby (1991), the Irish rock band U2 chose to record it at Hansa by the Wall in Berlin in honor of "Heroes" being recorded there.
In 1997, American composer Philip Glass adapted the album into a classical suite, titled "Heroes" Symphony. A follow-up to his earlier 1992 adaptation of Low, titled "Low" Symphony, the piece is separated into six movements, each named after tracks on "Heroes". Like its predecessor, Glass acknowledged Eno's contributions as equal to Bowie's on the original album and credited the movements to the two equally. Unlike the "Low" Symphony, the "Heroes" Symphony was developed into a ballet by American choreographer Twyla Tharp. Both the ballet and Symphony were greeted with acclaim. Bowie and Glass remained in contact with each other until 2003 and discussed making a third symphony, which never came to fruition. After Bowie's death in 2016, Glass stated the two had talked about adapting Lodger for the third symphony, which adapted as his 12th symphony in 2019. Glass described Low and "Heroes" as "part of the new classics of our time".
The cover of Bowie's 2013 album, The Next Day, is an altered and obscured version of the "Heroes" cover. This version has the word "'Heroes'" crossed out and Bowie's face obscured by an opaque white box reading "The Next Day". Designer Jonathan Barnbrook explained that Bowie had a feeling of isolation when making "Heroes" and he wanted to recapture that feeling for The Next Day. He further emphasised: "We tried out every single Bowie cover there's been, but it ended up as "Heroes" because it's such an iconic album, and the image on the front has the right kind of distance...The Next Day, in combination with the "Heroes" image, and what the album is saying about somebody who's looking back at his age...it just felt appropriate."
Although "Heroes" was the most well-received work of the "Berlin Trilogy" on release, in subsequent decades, critical and public opinion has typically fallen in favour of Low as the more groundbreaking record due to its daring experimental achievements. Pegg writes that the album is rather seen as an extension or refinement upon its predecessor's achievements rather than a "definitive new work" on its own. Nevertheless, "Heroes" has been regarded as one of Bowie's best and most influential works. In 2018, the writers of Consequence of Sound ranked "Heroes" as Bowie's fifth-greatest album, writing: "The weary 'optimism' of "Heroes" is mesmerizing. Even on its gloomiest tracks, there's this upbeat, impassioned impression that everything's okay, even just for one day." In 2020, Brian Kay of Classic Rock History ranked "Heroes", along with Low and Lodger, as Bowie's seventh greatest work, calling the trilogy a "fascinating chapter" in Bowie's life. In 2013, NME ranked the album 329th in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Based on "Heroes"' appearances in professional rankings and listings, the aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists it as 11th most acclaimed album of 1977, the 81st most acclaimed album of the 1970s and the 253rd most acclaimed album in history.
All tracks are written by David Bowie, except where noted.
|1.||"Beauty and the Beast"||3:32|
|2.||"Joe the Lion"||3:05|
|3.||"'Heroes'"||Bowie, Brian Eno||6:07|
|4.||"Sons of the Silent Age"||3:15|
|2.||"Sense of Doubt"||3:57|
|3.||"Moss Garden"||Bowie, Eno||5:03|
|5.||"The Secret Life of Arabia"||Bowie, Eno, Carlos Alomar||3:46|
|Total length:||20:30 (40:19)|
"Heroes" was first released on CD by RCA Records in the mid-1980s. It was reissued in 1991 by Rykodisc with two bonus tracks. The 1991 edition was released in the UK on CD, cassette and LP by EMI Records, and was subsequently rereleased on a numbered 20-bit SBM AU20 Gold CD edition. A further CD release in 1999 by EMI/Virgin, without bonus tracks, featured 24-bit digitally remastered sound.
In 2017, the album was remastered for the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) box set released by Parlophone that September. It was released in CD, vinyl, and digital formats, as part of this compilation and then separately in February 2018. A volume shift in the 2017 remaster of the title track received ire from fans and critics, but Parlophone proceeded to describe it as intentional and unalterable, because of damages in the original master tapes. After the critical voices would not lessen, a statement was released on the official Bowie website announcing corrected replacement disks for the "Heroes" CD and LP; the replacement disc offer lasted until June 2018. The amended remaster featured on the replacement discs was also used for the standalone CD and LP release of "Heroes" in February 2018.
|11.||"Abdulmajid" (Previously unreleased track, recorded 1976–79)||Bowie, Eno||3:40|
|12.||"Joe the Lion" (Remixed version, 1991)||3:08|
- David Bowie – vocals, keyboards, guitars, saxophone, koto, tambourine, backing vocals, producer
- Brian Eno – synthesisers, keyboards, guitar treatments
- Robert Fripp – lead guitar
- Carlos Alomar – rhythm guitar
- George Murray – bass guitar
- Dennis Davis – drums, percussion
- Tony Visconti – percussion, backing vocals, producer
- Antonia Maass (Maaß) – backing vocals
- Colin Thurston – engineer
- Masayoshi Sukita – cover photograph
Charts and certifications
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Low, Heroes (Rykodisc). Groundbreaking ambient electronic work from one of pop's most enduring icons.
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