“I, I can remember"
On Friday 23rd September 1977, David Bowie released the title track from his forthcoming album, "Heroes", as a 7" 45 backed by V-2 Schneider. The track has a rich history and a prominent place in popular culture, deservedly so.
Originally Bowie claimed that "Heroes" was inspired by a pair of young lovers he used to watch from the studio window of Hansa as they met by the Berlin Wall: “I thought of all the places to meet in Berlin, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the Wall? And I, using license, presumed that they were feeling somewhat guilty about this affair and so they had imposed this restriction on themselves, thereby giving themselves an excuse for their heroic act. I used this as a basis.”
Co-producer Tony Visconti later revealed that Bowie was simply covering for Tony’s secret rendezvous with his lover, "Heroes" backing singer Antonia Maaß. “It was us. Coco was sitting up in the control room with David, and both of them said, ‘We saw you walking by the wall,’ and that’s where he got that idea from. Because I was married at the time, David protected me all these years by not saying that he saw Antonia and me kiss by the wall.”
In 2003 Bowie confirmed the truth: “I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Wall that prompted the idea for "Heroes". Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time, so I couldn’t talk about it. But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met while we were in Berlin. I think possibly his 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.”
Apparently, Antonia Maaß also helped David with the pronunciation of the German version of "Heroes", Helden.
It remains one of Bowie’s most covered songs, with a just released studio version by Depeche Mode joining the likes of (in no particular order), Arcade Fire, Prince, Blondie, Oasis, Nico, Depeche Mode, Motörhead, P.J. Proby, LCD Soundsystem, Peter Gabriel, Billy Preston, Janelle Monae, King Crimson, Philip Glass, Kasabian, Magnetic Fields, TV On The Radio, The Wallflowers and many, many more.
But it wasn’t always this way.
The single was announced in the music press in the UK via news snippets and an enigmatic advert, bottom right in our montage.
The video didn’t come till a bit later and certainly wasn't screened anywhere at the time of release. The performance on Marc Bolan’s TV show was broadcast five days after the release.
Neither of RCA’s clever slogans: “Tomorrow Belongs To Those Who Can Hear It Coming” and “There’s Old Wave, There’s New Wave and There’s David Bowie” accompanied the UK single release (they came later with the album), and UK reviews weren’t too good either. So it’s not surprising that "Heroes" only managed a peak position of #24 on the Official UK Singles Chart.
It’s not like Bowie himself didn’t do his bit in terms of promotion. Alongside lots of interviews, Bowie performed the song on different TV shows several times during the promotion. The record also came out in picture sleeves around the globe, though again, not in the UK. "Heroes" fared better in many other countries than it did in the UK, including top ten positions in both The Netherlands and Ireland.
The album was received far better in the UK, but that’s another story.
There were versions issued with German, French and English vocals, see the Helden advert and the French and German picture sleeves in our montage.
The picture sleeve at top right is the German 12" released in 1981, with the following tracks:
A: "Heroes"/"Helden" (English/German Version)
B: "Heroes"/"Héros" (English/French Version)
This was the first time the title Héros was used for the French version.
The "Heroes" limited edition 40th-anniversary 7" picture disc was issued yesterday via Parlophone, and we have a sneaky feeling it might fare a little better this time around than it did originally in the UK.
Original UK release date: September 23 1977
Highest chart position: UK: #24 US: N/A
Originally appeared on: "Heroes"
Produced by: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Video directed by: Nick Ferguson
FOOTNOTE: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the release date on the UK demo label in our montage of 23 AUG 1977. This was an RCA error and some of the copies were corrected manually in ballpoint pen!
#DBHERO40 #BowieHeroes #BowieVinyl