Heroes (David Bowie song)

Heroes (David Bowie song)
Single by David Bowie
from the album "Heroes"
Released 23 September 1977
Format 7" single
Recorded Hansa Studio by the Wall, Berlin July–August 1977
Genre Krautrock, art rock
Length 3:32 (Single edit)
6:07 (Full-length album version)
Label RCA Records
PB 1121
Writer(s) David Bowie, Brian Eno
Producer David Bowie, Tony Visconti
David Bowie singles chronology
"Be My Wife"
"Beauty and the Beast"
"Heroes" track listing
"Joe the Lion"
"Sons of the Silent Age"

"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]



The title of the song is a reference to the 1975 track Hero by the German band Neu!,[2] 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, a deliberate affectation, were designed to impart an ironic quality on the otherwise highly romantic, even triumphant, words and music.[3][4] 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.[5] 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.[5] 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 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. Tony Visconti rigged up a system 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.[6]

Release and aftermath

"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,[3] see Other releases below). In contrast to the bewildering audio situation, the video (directed by Stanley Dorfman)[7] 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 1972,[5] "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 Stone rated "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".[8] Uncut placed "Heroes" as #1 in its 30 greatest Bowie songs in 2008.

Bowie has regularly performed the song in concert since its release (see Live versions below). 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 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 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 also featured over the closing credits in the 2009 documentary film, The Cove.

Track listing

7": RCA / PB 11121 (US)

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

7": RCA / 20629 (Australia)

  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)

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

12": RCA / PC-9821 (GER)

  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

Live versions

  • 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" he had ever sung".[9] This performance featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards.
  • 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.[10]
  • The song was performed by Bowie at The Concert for New York City on 20 October 2001.

Other releases

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 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.
  • It appeared on the following compilations:
  • It was released as a picture disc in the RCA Life Time picture disc set.

The X Factor UK 2010 finalists version

Single by The X Factor Finalists 2010
Released 21 November 2010 (2010-11-21)
Format CD single, digital single
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 TV talent show The X Factor in the United Kingdom released a cover version of the song on November 21, 2010 in aid of Help for Heroes.[11] All sixteen of the acts returned to The X Factor to perform the single live. The title of this version omitted the quotation marks.


The finalists premiered the song live on November 21, 2010 on the program, 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. Series 5 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.[12]

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.[13] The video for the single was filmed on 2 November 2010[14] at Three Mills Studios.[15] 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

The single shot to number one on the Irish Singles Chart on 25 November 2010. On the 28th November 2010, Heroes charted at number-one on the UK Singles Chart. It was the third consecutive year, where The X Factor Finalists' charity single has topped UK and Irish single charts.[16][17]


Chart (2010) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[18] 1
Scotland (The Official Charts Company)[19] 1
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[20] 1

Chart precession and succession

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 Versions

  • The song was re-released in 1998 by The Wallflowers and it was featured in the album Godzilla:The Album


  1. ^ a b c d Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: pp.90-92
  2. ^ Mat Snow (2007). "Making Heroes", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: p.69
  3. ^ a b Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.90-92
  4. ^ NME interview in 1977 with Charles Shaar Murray. Retrieved from Bowie: Golden Years 20 February 2007.
  5. ^ a b c David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.323-326
  6. ^ Richard Buskin (October 2004). "Classic Tracks: Heroes", Sound on Sound. Retrieved 20 February 2007.
  7. ^ Gallo, Phil (12 November 2008). "Bowie Videos Play MoMA". Variety.com: The Set List (Reed Elsevier). http://weblogs.variety.com/thesetlist/2008/11/bowie-videos-pl.html. Retrieved 1 November 2009. 
  8. ^ John J. Miller (26 May 2006). "Rockin' the Right", National Review Online. Retrieved 20 February 2007.
  9. ^ David Buckley (1999). Op Cit: p.424
  10. ^ David Bowie - Heroes (Live Germany 1978) at youtube.com
  11. ^ BBC Newsbeat
  12. ^ Routledge, Rebecca (25 October 2009). "'X Factor' stars record charity single". Digital Spy. http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/xfactor/news/a183531/x-factor-stars-record-charity-single.html. Retrieved 30 October 2009. 
  13. ^ "X Factor: finalists cover David Bowie for charity". Newsbeat (BBC Online). 15 October 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/11549701. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  14. ^ Nissim, Mayer (3 November 2010). "Katie 'could be asked to leave X Factor'". Digital Spy (London: Hachette Filipacchi UK). http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/s103/the-x-factor/news/a285695/katie-could-be-asked-to-leave-x-factor.html. Retrieved 3 November 2010. 
  15. ^ "The making of 'Heroes'" (video). The X Factor. itv.com. 24 November 2010. http://xfactor.itv.com/2010/videos/video/watch_the-making-of-heroes_item_201530.htm. Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  16. ^ "Top 50 singles, week ending 25 November 2010". Chart-Track. GFK. http://www.chart-track.co.uk/index.jsp?c=p%2Fmusicvideo%2Fmusic%2Farchive%2Findex_test.jsp&ct=240001&arch=t&lyr=2010&year=2010&week=47. Retrieved 28 November 2010. 
  17. ^ "Top 40 Official UK Singles archive – 4th December 2010". The Official Charts Company. 28 November 2010. http://www.theofficialcharts.com/archive-chart/_/1/2010-12-04. Retrieved 28 November 2010. 
  18. ^ "Chart Track". Irish Singles Chart. Irish Recorded Music Association.
  19. ^ "Archive Chart". Scottish Singles Top 40. The Official Charts Company.
  20. ^ "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart. The Official Charts Company.


  • Buckley, David (2000) [1999]. Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story. London: Virgin. ISBN 0-7535-0457-X. 
  • Carr, Roy; Murray, Charles Shaar (1981). David Bowie: An Illustrated Record. New York: Avon. ISBN 0-380779-66-8. 
  • Pegg, Nicholas (2004) [2000]. The Complete David Bowie. London: Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 1-903111-14-5. 

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