"Heroes"

  1. Beauty And The Beast [3.32]

  2. Joe The Lion [3.05]

  3. "Heroes" [6.07]

  4. Sons Of The Silent Age [3.15]

  5. Blackout [3.50]

  6. V-2 Schneider [3.10]

  7. Sense Of Doubt [3.57]

  8. Moss Garden [5.03]

  9. Neukoln [4.34]

  10. The Secret Life Of Arabia [3.46]

Bonus tracks on 1991 reissue:

  • Abdulmajid  [3.40]

  • Joe The Lion (Remixed Version 1991)  [3.08]

"Heroes"

Released:

  • RCA Victor PL 2522 - October 1977

  • RCA International INTS 5066 - June 1983

  • RCA International NL 83857 - November 1984

  • EMI EMD 1025 - August 1991

  • EMI 7243 5219080 - Sepyember 1999

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Saxophone, Koto

  • Carlos Alomar: Guitar

  • Dennis Davis: Percussion

  • George Murray: Bass

  • Brian Eno: Synthesizers, Keyboards, Guitar Treatments

  • Robert Fripp: Guitar

  • Antonia Maass/Tony Visconti: Backing Vocals

Recorded:

  • Hansa By The Wall, Berlin

Producers:

  • David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Following the completion of Iggy Pop's Lust For Life in May 1977, Bowie summoned Tony Visconti and Brian Eno to Berlin to begin work on his new album. Hansa By The Wall Studio 2, a spacious converted dance hall that had once been used for social functions by the Gestapo, offered a less claustrophobic environment than that of the Low sessions. "It was more expansive," said Visconti later. "He used a bigger studio. Just five hundred yards from East Berlin, from the Wall, and every afternoon I'd sit down at that 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 - I think they wanted to go home, actually." Carlos Alomar confirms that both the proximity of the Wall and the studio's history affected the creative process: "These things are hanging in the air," he tells David Buckley, "and when things get darker physically, you kind of think of darker themes too. Berlin was a rather dark, industrial place to work."

 

Joining Low veterans Alomar, Davis, Murray and Eno was ex-King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, who had been an occasional acquaintance of Bowie's since 1969, and who had already collaborated with Eno on the experimental albums (No Pussyfooting) and Evening Star. Above all else, it is Fripp's unique guitar sound which sets "Heroes" apart from its predecessor. "Fripp did everything in about six hours, straight off the plane from New York," Eno later told the NME. "He arrived at the studio at 11 pm, and we said, 'Do you fancy doing something?'...So I plugged him into the synthesizer for treatments and we just played virtually everything we'd done at him and he'd just start up without even knowing the chord sequence. By the next day, he'd finished, packed up and gone home. It was all first takes, incredible." Many years later Bowie recalled, "The only premise that I gave him was to play with total abandonment, and in a way that he would never consider playing on his own albums. I said 'Play like Albert King,' and he would look puzzled for a few moments, and then he'd go in and try his damnedest to get somewhere near it, but it would come out his way. So things like "Joe The Lion" were him really having a bash at the blues. He was great like that - he really got into the swing of it."

 

The initial recording process was rapid, with the majority of the instrumental backings laid down during the first two days. "We did second takes, but they weren't nearly as good," said Eno. "We'd sort of say, 'Let's do this, then,' and we'd do it, then someone would say 'Stop' and that would be it, the length of the piece. It seemed completely arbitrary to me. David would say, 'OK, it's that, that twice as long as that and then that. Then do this a couple of times, then come back to that.' And in that tiny space of time, Carlos Alomar would have worked out this lovely melody line. All of those little melody parts are his, and he thinks them out at lightning speed. He's quite remarkable." Eno later remembered another unusual aspect of the studio methodology: "My recollection is, for some reason, we slipped into the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore characters - Bowie was Pete and I was Dud...It was hilarious, I don't think I've ever laughed so much making a record. Which is funny, when you think how the album sounds, but I often think you make music to be the place that you aren't in." Bowie later confirmed Eno's recollection: "We certainly had our share of schoolboy giggling fits...Brian and I did have Pete and Dud done pretty pat. Long dialogues about John Cage performing on a 'prepared layer' at the Bricklayer's Arms on the Old Kent Road and suchlike. Quite silly."

 

As on Low, no lyrics were written or vocals recorded until all but Bowie and Visconti had departed. David's vocal work remained true to the spontaneous spirit of the sessions, as the producer later attested: "He'd never have a clue what he'd sing about until he actually walked in front of the microphone." Bowie confirmed that the songs were written with "absolutely no idea of the consequences, and no preconceptions of any kind." In his autobiography, Visconti recalled that "He'd arrive at the studio with a partial lyric, and we'd start recording his vocal with what little he'd have. I would record the first two lines, then he would hold up his hand for me to stop, listen to the playback, and then he'd write another scribbled couplet on his pad atop the studio piano. I could hear him off-mic mumbling a few alternates, then walk up to the mic with something to sing. When he had something, he'd ask me to drop in his voice immediately after his first couplet." Backing vocals were provided by Visconti and his new girlfriend, local jazz singer Antonia Maass, whose kiss with the producer beneath the Berlin Wall famously inspired part of the title track's lyric.

 

Visconti later described "Heroes" as "a very positive version of Low. It was such a positive period of his life. He was, in fact, a hero. We all felt like heroes. It was a heroic album." The sense of heroism was qualified, however, by David's insistence on the ironic quotation marks around the album's title, which he admitted was chosen at random. "I thought I'd pick on the only narrative song to use as the title," he told the NME in 1977. "It was arbitrary, really, because there's no concept to the album...It could have been called The Sons Of The Silent Ages. It was just a collection of stuff that I and Eno and Fripp had put together. Some of the stuff that was left off was very amusing, but this was the best of the batch, the stuff that knocked us out."

 

One particularly affirmative development was that the "Heroes" sessions more or less coincided with the decisive severance of Bowie's dependence on cocaine, although he later admitted that it would be several more years before he was entirely clean. "I would have days where things were moving in the room," he recalled in 1983, "and this was when I was totally straight. It took the first two years in Berlin to really cleanse my system. Especially physically and emotionally." (Quite when Bowie finally renounced cocaine remains a moot point, but it was later than is often assumed. Certainly more than one musician has confirmed that there were lapses at after-show parties during 1983's Serious Moonlight tour, and David himself once confessed that "I slipped around Let's Dance." Guitarist Keith Armstrong tells Paul Trynka an anecdote about scoring some cocaine for David during the 1985 studio sessions for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, while Bowie has even made a cryptic but surprising remark to the effect that 1987's Never Let Me Down was "a drug album"; but to all intents and purposes the hardcore dependency was over by the end of 1977.)

 

In contrast with the breakneck pace of Low and Lust For Life, following the initial burst of recording the sessions progressed at a more leisurely pace, with vocals, overdubs and mixing continuing on and off until August. The final mixes took place at Mountain Studios in Montreux, on the shores of Lake Geneva - Bowie's first visit to a studio that would become one of his regular haunts. Among the engineers at Mountain was Dave Richards, a new name in the Bowie roll-call who would make his mark on many future productions. His assistant, Eugene Chaplin, was a neighbour of David's in Switzerland and the son of a rather well-known silent comedian.

 

During the sessions, David made several trips to Paris (to give interviews, shoot the video for "Be My Wife" and attend the premiere of The Man Who Fell To Earth) and took a holiday in Spain with Bianca Jagger. In early September he returned to Britain to record his appearances on Marc and Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, and to participate in a barrage of interviews. Having done almost nothing to sell Low, he went to the other extreme for "Heroes", performing the title track on Top Of The Pops and various Continental counterparts. In Germany and France, the album was released with customised versions of the title track re-recorded in the appropriate languages. There were even whispers - sadly unfounded - that David was preparing to perform the song on ATV's The Muppet Show. "I didn't promote Low at all and some people thought my heart wasn't in it," he explained. "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." To Melody Maker, he added:" "Heroes" is, I think, compassionate. Compassionate for people and the silly desperate situation they've got themselves into. That we've all got ourselves into, generally by ignorance and rash decisions."

 

Propelled by a marketing slogan that read "There's Old Wave, there's New Wave and there's David Bowie", "Heroes" climbed to number 3 in the UK chart and generated a flush of admiring notices. The NME welcomed the album as "among the most mature and trenchant Bowie has achieved" and his "most moving performance in years". Melody Maker, which made "Heroes" its album of the year, hailed it and its predecessor as "among the most adventurous and notably challenging records yet thrust upon the rock audience. Inevitably controversial, these albums have combined the theories and techniques of modern electronic music with lyrics that have found Bowie dispensing with traditional forms of narrative in pursuit of a new musical vocabulary adequate to the pervasive mood of despair and pessimism that he has divined in contemporary society." In America, where Low had already taken a pasting, "Heroes" stalled at number 35 and the single sank without trace. Billboard cautiously reviewed the album as "a musical excursion into a realm only Bowie himself can define", adding that "Bowie's lyrics are filled with dark forebodings buried in synthesizer electronics."

 

The persuasive but single-minded hypothesis advanced by the Gillmans in their influential biography, combined with Visconti's quotes and of course the undeniably uplifting title track itself, have led to a common perception of "Heroes" as a triumphant burst of optimism. Even the most rudimentary inspection reveals precious little evidence of this: the music is often colder and bleaker than anything on Low. Certainly, the lyrics show a change of tack, being wittier and more plentiful than on the previous album, and the decision to play out with the pop-friendly "Secret Life Of Arabia" instead of the more obvious dying fall of "Neukoln" suggests a brightening agenda. But it would be misleading to describe "Heroes" as a happy album. "It's louder and harder and played with more energy in a way," Bowie mused in 2001, "but lyrically it seems far more psychotic. By now I was living full time in Berlin, so my own mood was good. Buoyant even. But those lyrics come from a nook in the unconscious. Still, a lot of house-cleaning going on, I feel." Indeed, the lyrics systematically return to a running theme of drunkenness - something to which Bowie later admitted he had succumbed in Berlin during the long recovery from cocaine addiction - and although at times the music is serene and emotionally positive, at others it is almost demented in its darkness. Masayoshi Sukita's sleeve photograph, based like that of The Idiot on Erich Heckel's paintings Roquairol and Young Man, shows 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 1983 David suggested that the album was about "looking at the street life in Berlin...there's a serious quality to the people, a resistance to silliness."

 

Another theme foregrounded by "Heroes" - one which Bowie would take to greater extremes on Lodger - is its sense of cultural cosmopolitanism. The "Japanese influence" in the lyric of "Blackout" and the koto in "Moss Garden" indicate that his thoughts were once again with the country that had inspired him during the Ziggy period. The Middle Eastern undertones of "Neukoln" and "The Secret Life Of Arabia" seal the sense of "Heroes" as an aural Berlin. The conflicts inherent in the city's ramshackle diversity - the enriching quality of multi-racial life set against its social inequities and the displacement of the individual - make for an album with a bittersweet flavour.

 

Although at the time of its release "Heroes" was greeted as a work that made sense of Low and artistically superseded it, the pendulum of history has tended to swing back in favour of Low's more dangerously experimental achievements. "Heroes" repeats the pattern of keeping the more conventional songs on the first side and the ambient instrumentals on the second, and ultimately it stands as a consolidation and a refinement of its trailblazing predecessor rather than a definitive new work in its own right. All the same, "Heroes" is a very fine album indeed, and remains one of Bowie's most influential works. The great Patti Smith eulogised the album in a long poem for the Hit Parader in 1978, and it was in deference to "Heroes" that U2 chose to record 1991's Achtung Baby with Brian Eno at Hansa By The Wall. "Heroes" was a significant point of reference during the recording of The Walker Brothers' 1978 album Nite Flights, itself a substantial influence on later Bowie projects. And shortly before his death, John Lennon admitted that he had approached Double Fantasy with the ambition to "do something as good as "Heroes"." Few albums in the annals of rock can stake as impressive a claim as that.