"'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' (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".[1]

It was the lead track on Peter Gabriel's 2010 covers album, Scratch My Back. Among other notable covers, The Wallflowers recorded a version of the song for the soundtrack to the filmGodzilla. This version peaked at #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1998, as well as #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart, and #23 on the Billboard Top 40 Mainstreamcharts.

Since its release, listeners and critics have continued to praise the song as one of the greatest of all time. It was named as NME's 15th greatest song of all time, was named among Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and among TIME Magazine's 'All-Time 100 Songs'

Inspiration and recording[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The title of the song is a reference to the 1975 track "Hero" by the German band Neu!,[3] 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.[1] 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.[4][5][6][7] 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 Studio window.[8] 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.[1]

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.[8] 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.[1] The basic backing track on the recording consists of a conventional arrangement of pianobass 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 rigged up a system, a creative misuse of gating that may be termed "multi-latch gating",[9] 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.[10] Each microphone is muted as the next one is triggered. "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".[11]

Release and aftermath[edit source | editbeta]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[4]). In contrast to the bewildering audio situation, the video (directed by Stanley Dorfman)[12] 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 1973,[8] "'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 Stonerated "'Heroes'" #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'" #21 on a list of "the 50 greatest conservative rock songs".[13] Uncut placed "'Heroes'" as #1 in its 30 greatest Bowie songs in 2008.[citation needed]

Moby has claimed that "'Heroes'" is one of his favourite songs ever written, calling it "inevitable" that his music would be influenced by the song,[14] and Dave Gahan, lead singer for Depeche Mode, was hired into the band when band founder Vince Clarke heard him singing "'Heroes'" at a jam session.[15]

Bowie has regularly performed the song in concert since its release. 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 byMicrosoftKodak, 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.

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 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.[16] It was then also used as the Great Britain Paralympic team entered the stadium during the opening ceremony on 29 August 2012.

In 2012, the song was featured in the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 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.


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
TIME United States "All-Time 100 Songs"[1] 2011 *
Rolling Stone United States "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[2] 2003 46
NME United Kingdom "500 Greatest Songs Of All Time"[3] 2014 15
NME United Kingdom "100 Greatest Songs Of NME's Lifetime...So Far"[4] 2012 3
NME United Kingdom "NME Readers Best Tracks Of The Last 60 Years"[5] 2012 16
NME United Kingdom "Best tracks of the 1970s"[6] 2014 4
Mojo Magazine United Kingdom "The 100 Greatest Singles Of All Time"[7] 1997 34
Q United Kingdom "Q Readers Top 100 Singles Of All Time"[8] 1999 36
Q United Kingdom "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever"[9] 2005 56
Q United Kingdom "100 Greatest Songs of All Time"[10] 2006 68
Pitchfork Media United States "The Pitchfork 500: Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present"[11] 2008 *
Uncut United Kingdom "30 greatest Bowie songs"[12] 2008 1

(*) designates unordered lists.

Track listing[edit source | editbeta]Edit

7": RCA / PB 11121 (US)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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

7": RCA / 20629 (Australia)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  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)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  1. "'Heroes'" (album version) – 6:07
  2. "'Heroes'" (single edit) – 3:29
  • US promo

12": RCA / PC-9821 (GER)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  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"

The Thunderpuss 2000 Remixes:

  • Radio Mix (04:14)
  • X-tended Mix (07:45)
  • Superdub (06:01)
  • Thunderpuss 2000 Club Mix (08:22)
  • The Beats of Thunderpuss (05:15)

Production credits[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Live versions[edit source | editbeta]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, broadcasted 20 September 1977 - after Bolan's funeral). This particular version has an alternate backing track that was recorded with Bolan[citation needed] 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. 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.
  • 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' [Bowie] had ever sung".[17] This performance featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards.
  • Bowie performed the song live during his 1987 Glass Spider Tour, released on video in 1988 and video and audio on a 2007 special edition re-release.
  • 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 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.
  • David Bowie performed "'Heroes'" live in Bremen, Germany in 1978.[18]
  • 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, released on video in 2004 and as an audio CD in 2010

Other releases[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]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 X Factor 2010 finalists version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Single by The X Factor finalists 2010
Released 21 November 2010
Format CD singledigital download
Genre Pop
Length 4:22
Label Syco
The X Factor finalists chronology
"You Are Not Alone"




"Wishing on a Star"


The final sixteen acts from the seventh series of The X Factor, including Matt CardleRebecca Ferguson and One Direction, released a cover version of the song on 21 November 2010 in aid of Help for Heroes.[19] All sixteen of the acts returned to The X Factor to perform the single live. The title of this version omitted the quotation marks.

Background[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The finalists premiered the song live on 21 November 2010 on The X Factor; the single was available for digital download that day and a physical release followed the day after. The release of the song follows a similar occurrence a year earlier, when the final twelve acts from the fifth series and sixith series. The series 5 finalists released a cover version of Mariah Carey's "Hero" in aid of Help for Heroes, series 6, a cover version of Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone".[20]

The song, said to have been recorded in the week beginning 18 October 2010, was released as a charity single in aid of Help for Heroes, a charity which supports injured servicemen and women.[21] The video for the single was filmed on 2 November 2010[22] at Three Mills Studios.[23] All sixteen finalists performed the song on 20 November's results show. It is the third year in a row that finalists have released a charity record.

Chart performance[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The single shot to number one on the Irish Singles Chart on 25 November 2010, and charted at number one on the UK Singles Chart three days later. It was the third consecutive year, whereThe X Factor finalists' charity single has topped UK and Irish single charts.[24][25]

Charts[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (2010) Peak


Ireland (IRMA)[26] 1
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[27] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[28] 1

Chart succession[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Preceded by

"Love You More" by JLS

UK Singles Chart number-one single

28 November 2010 – 12 December 2010

Succeeded by

"The Time (Dirty Bit)" by The Black Eyed Peas

Preceded by

"Only Girl (In the World)" by Rihanna

Irish Singles Chart number-one single

26 November 2010 – 17 December 2010

Succeeded by

"When We Collide" by Matt Cardle

Other cover versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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