Album: Heroes (1977)
Charted: 12
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  • This song tells the story of a German couple who are so determined to be together that they meet every day under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall. Bowie, who was living in Berlin at the time, was inspired by an affair between his producer Tony Visconti and backup singer Antonia Maass, who would kiss "by the wall" in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. Bowie didn't mention Visconti's role in inspiring this song until 2003, when he told Performing Songwriter magazine: "I'm allowed to talk about it now. I wasn't at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was (laughs). But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he'd met whilst we were in Berlin. I did ask his permission if I could say that. I think possibly the marriage was in the last few months, and it was very touching because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that relationship which sort of motivated the song." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Michael Lloyd - London, England
  • Bowie moved to Berlin after burning out from touring and fame. He rented a cheap apartment above an auto-repair shop, which is where he wrote this album.
  • Robert Fripp, formerly of King Crimson, played guitar on this track. His band, King Crimson, performed the song at the Admiralspalast in Berlin on September 11, 2016 in celebration of Bowie. This version was released on an EP called Heroes in 2017.
  • Brian Eno, formerly of Roxy Music, helped Bowie write and produce this. Eno moved to Berlin with Bowie and worked on his albums Low, Heroes, and Lodger. These albums were much more experimental and less commercial than Bowie's previous work, but they still sold well in England.
  • Co-writer Eno said of this in the April 2007 Q Magazine: "It's a beautiful song. But incredibly melancholy at the same time. We can be heroes, but actually we know that something's missing, something's lost."
  • Bowie released versions of this song in English, German, and French. The German version is called "Helden"; the French is "Héros."
  • Featured in this song are not only Brian Eno's synthesizer and Robert Fripp's guitar, but also producer Tony Visconti banging on a metal ashtray that was lying around the studio.
  • This song is featured in the films Christiane F (1981) and The Parole Officer (2001). It also ended up as a Microsoft commercial theme.
  • Bowie played this at Live Aid from Wembley Stadium, England in 1985, and also at the Berlin Wall in 1987. Regarding the later performance, Bowie said in his Performing Songwriter interview: "I'll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I've ever done. I was in tears. They'd backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn't realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I'd never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did 'Heroes' it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it's almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more. That's the town where it was written, and that's the particular situation that it was written about. It was just extraordinary. We did it in Berlin last year as well – 'Heroes' – and there's no other city I can do that song in now that comes close to how it's received. This time, what was so fantastic is that the audience – it was the Max Schmeling Hall, which holds about 10-15,000 – half the audience had been in East Berlin that time way before. So now I was face-to-face with the people I had been singing it to all those years ago. And we were all singing it together. Again, it was powerful. Things like that really give you a sense of what performance can do. They happen so rarely at that kind of magnitude. Most nights I find very enjoyable. These days, I really enjoy performing. But something like that doesn't come along very often, and when it does, you kind of think, 'Well, if I never do anything again, it won't matter.'"
  • The Wallflowers covered this in 1998. Their version was used on the soundtrack to the movie Godzilla.
  • The single version, which appears on the ChangesBowie album, is shortened, leaving out a good chunk of the first verse.
  • Bowie first performed this on a television show hosted by his friend Marc Bolan, who was the lead singer for T-Rex. A week later, Bolan died when his girlfriend crashed their car into a tree.
  • Bowie played this at the "Concert For New York." Organized by Paul McCartney, it was a tribute to the police, firemen, and rescue workers involved in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
  • Blondie recorded a live cover on January 12, 1980 at The Hammersmith Odeon. It can be found on the disc Blondie and Beyond.
  • David Bowie told Q magazine's 1001 Best Songs Ever: "It's a bitch to sing, 'cos I really have to give it some towards the end. I pace myself throughout the show and often place it near to a point where I can take a vocal break afterwards. As long as I'm touring I don't see a time when I won't be singing 'Heroes.' It's a good one to belt out and I get a kick out of it every time."
  • This was originally an instrumental composition, whose title was a reference to the 1975 track "Hero" by the German Krautrock band Neu!.
  • The finalists from the seventh series of The X Factor released a cover version in November 2010 in aid of armed forces charity Help For Heroes, which topped both the UK and Irish Singles Charts. The choice of song follows a trend as in 2008, the fifth series of X Factor finalists reached #1 with a cover of Mariah Carey's "Hero."

    Despite a plethora of cover versions from other acts over the years, the X Factor 2010 Finalists are the first act aside from Bowie ever to have a hit single with the song.
  • Bowie made a video for this song which aired in an unusual place: a Bing Crosby Christmas special (you can see Bowie doing some sweet mime moves in the clip). In 1977 Crosby recorded a Christmas special in London called Merrie Olde Christmas, playing the England theme to the hilt. Bowie agreed to sing a duet with Crosby, which became the famous "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth" mashup. Bowie's "Heroes" video also aired on the show with an introduction by Crosby. The show aired in November 1977, about a month after Crosby died.

    What became the "official" video for the song was shot later in September 1977 and directed by Nick Ferguson, a painter who also did set design and directed various film and TV projects.
  • Janelle Monae recorded a cover for a 2014 Pepsi football-based advertising campaign "Now Is What You Make It." Asked by The Guardian if she needed Bowie's permission to use his song, the R&B songstress replied: "Oh, he's a fan. He's aware of me. His wife Iman is a huge supporter and she has told me countless times what a big fan he is. So he had to clear me doing the song and I'm so grateful."
  • This song is central in the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. You hear it more than once throughout the movie. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Gudni - Iceland
  • Something of an underachiever when originally released, "Heroes" peaked at a lowly #24 back in 1977 in the UK and failed to make the Hot 100. In the week after David Bowie's death, the song finally made the Top 20 in the country of his birth, leaping into the chart at #12.
  • Peter Gabriel recorded a haunting orchestral version for his 2010 album Scratch My Back. His rendition was featured prominently in the season 1 Stranger Things episode "Holly Jolly." It plays at the end when a body is discovered at the quarry. It showed up again at the end of the season 3 finale, "The Battle Of Starcourt."

    Gabriel's version was also used in the 2013 movie Lone Survivor.

Comments: 29

  • Cp from VirginiaAnd another account of how the song came to be is on the website Louder (loudersound.com). See the article "The story behind the song: Heroes by David Bowie," by Bill DeMain.
  • Cp from VirginiaFrom Showbiz Cheatsheets: "According to Iman in foreword to her 2001 memoir 'I Am Iman,' Bowie revealed that the song was inspired by the 1956 book 'A Grave For a Dolphin' by Alberto Denti di Pirajno. 'I thought it a magical and beautiful love story and in part it had inspired my song ‘Heroes,''he said.
    Iman reiterated the story in a 2021 interview with Vogue. 'This is a very fantastical journey between a girl — and you won’t believe it, but a Somali girl — and a dolphin,' she said. 'And this book is really special because, funny enough, way before David and I met, this was one of his favorite books. And actually, he told me that some of the lyrics from his song ‘Heroes’ were actually inspired by this book.'
  • Ken from DenmarkHeroes features in a german language version in the 2019 feature film: Jojo Rabbit,
    check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdjUqerkZ08
  • Gavin from St. Francis Bay - South Africa Lemmy of Motörhead did a very nice version of this.
  • Pete from Grass Valley, CaQuestion: Who is the crying man in the film clip shown behind Bowie in the concert video of "Herooes"?
  • Timtak from YamaguchiEspecially in the light of Paige's Bowie quote (thank you) which shows that the song was about some sort of transexual tension within Bowie, the conventional "Visconti's affair" interpretation does not seem appropriate. Something homosexual, as Charlotte and Anita say, seems to be going on. See the video, where Bowie is as quiveringly camp as he has ever been.

    Bowie was cagey about what his songs were about. I am inclined to believe that most of them were are about the same thing, the discovery of a very large "girl with mousy hair" "Starman" "man who sold the world," "cow" mirror girl (videos for Space Oddity in which there are two, and "Where are we now" in which he is conjoined with a mirror) inside himself.

    As we can see from Piage's quote the wall is a metaphor for the boundary between himself and the outside world. It is at this boundary that he meets a lover ("and that's a fact" suggesting it is not quite). It seems to me, in my experience, that this boundary is the mirror of our visual field, the "veil of perception" where our first person view from the eyes of a giant (which Bowie expresses in the Star-man video where he uses his fingers close to his eyes to suggest tininess) meets the visual world of our self-representations, as "mice". As argued in only the most off-the-wall European philosophy (Freud, Lacan, Derrida) we are having an auto love affair, an auto-Valentine's Day.
  • Wecanbeheroes from Onecity, ZambiaHeroes by David Bowie

    If you heard this song today, you can be a hero today.

    If you hear this song tomorrow, it can inspire you to be a hero for that day.

    On any day that you hear this song, you can be a hero 'just for one day'.
  • Barry from London, United Kingdom'Heroes' was played in the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony when the Team GB team entered the stadium and subsequently after each medal ceremony when they were awarded a gold medal (and during the Paralympics).
  • Lulutea from Bandung, Indonesiathis song also is featured in the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  • Dave from Sterling, FlHe kept doing this song better and better over the years . I think the best rendition was the one in New York for the 9-11 thing.
  • Rachael from Caledonia, IlI think this is such a sweet song. Beautiful, really.
  • Louise from Newcastle, United KingdomThis song is beautiful. I first noticed the song when it made an apperance on Moulin Rouge.
  • Peter from Stockholm, SwedenAt least one of the greatest "Bowie songs.." And I remember the video; so stripped and emotionall. Yes, I also hear both stories about alcoholism ( slightly romatisezed ) and homosexuality.
  • Peter from Stockholm, SwedenProbably one of the greatest songs that's ever been written!
  • Perttu from JyväskyläApocalyptica (Finnish cello heavy band, known for Metallica covers) has also made their version of this with Till Lindemann from "Rammstein" in vocals and I love that, because solo cello sounds like a dolphin or seagull in the end and Lindemann's deep, heavy and masculine bass-baritone fits to that theme. Also the lyrics are very poetic, romantic and bit philosophic (love, existence (for a day), being hero), I think.
  • Scott from Boston, MaI grew up in the 90s and loved the Wallflowers' version and I never even knew Bowie sang the original. In fact, since I was only 10, I'm not sure I even knew who David Bowie was. Now, all I listen to is classic rock and I have to say the original is much better. This is my favorite Bowie song.
  • Joaquin from Lima, PeruThere is an outstanding performance pf this song by Bowie, Mick Ronson & Queen at Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  • Perry from Detroit, MiHow could anybody prefer the cover by The Wallflowers? This song was way before it's time.
  • Jethro from Va Beach, VaOasis also covered this song Live.
  • Andy from Arlington, VaIt may be heresy, but I prefer the Wallflowers cover.
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhIt amazes me a song this good only charts 24th on the british chart and not even appear on American charts Top 40. Makes you wonder how coked up people must have been to listen to Kasey and the Sunshine Band and ignore this. Damn that disco trash.
  • Ben from Nyc, MsI tear up every time I hear the opening cords. Bowies Greatest work.
  • Luke from Sheffield, EnglandThere's myth about that Bowie wrote this song in Hansa Studio's, after seeing a couple kissing by the Berlin Wall. Tony Visconti who produced says you can't even SEE the Berlin Wall from Hansa studios.Having gone to record there myself - it's true, you can't....It's especially harder to see anything at all over the last few years.
  • Anita from Nyc, NyI agree with Charlotte: "And the shame was on the other side"
    Homosexuality was considered "bourgeouis decadence" by the East German Communist regime --and Bowie was living Schoeneberg, which was THE gay neighborhood in Berlin at the time and the home of the famous "El Dorado" club. When he says, "You will be Queen," I don't think that is a reference to Elizabeth II! And as far as what Bowie himself says about the song? Well, have you seen the magnificent film, "Velvet Goldmine"? I'd take Bowie's post-1983 comments with a grain of salt.
  • Paige from Sheffield, EnglandBowie: "At that time, with the [Berlin] Wall still up, there was a feeling of terrific tension throughout the city. It was either very young or very old people. There were no family units in Berlin. It was a city of extremes. It vacillated between the absurd -- the whole drag, transvestite night-club type of thing -- and real radical, Marxist political thought. And it seemed like this really was the focus of the new Europe. It was right here. For the first time, the tension was outside of me rather than within me. And it was a real interesting process, writing for me under those conditions."
  • Charlotte from Norwich, United StatesIt also eludes to the desire to fight homophobia
  • Amy from Mcalisterville, PaI'm a huge Bowie fan. This is a awesome song. Everytime I hear it I just stop what I'm doing, relax and listen to the powerful lyrics. Ashes to Ashes is another cool song. If you ever get a chance to see Bowie in concert, go for it.
  • Louis from London, Englandthis song is all about desperation
  • Rich from Uk, United StatesDavid Bowie said this song was about an alcohlic and his wife. . . the anti-heros as you would.
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