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Heroes

"HEROES"

released October 14, 1977

RCA PL12522 (UK)

Side one
Beauty And The Beast
3:32
Joe The Lion 3:05
Heroes (Bowie/Bowie-Eno) 6:07
Sons Of The Silent Age 3:15
Blackout 3:50

Side two
V-2 Schneider
3:10
Sense Of Doubt 3:57
Moss Garden (Bowie-Eno) 5:03
Neuköln (Bowie-Eno) 4:34
The Secret Life Of Arabia (Bowie/Bowie-Eno-Alomar) 3:46

David Bowie (vocals, keyboards, guitar, saxophone, koto)
Carlos Alomar (rhythm guitar)
Robert Fripp (lead guitar)
Brian Eno (synthesisers, keyboards, guitar treatments)
George Murray (bass)
Dennis Davis (drums, percussion)
Tony Visconti, Antonia Maas (backing vocals)

Produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti
Recorded at Hansa By The Wall, Berlin
August 1977
Engineers: Tony Visconti, Colin Thurston
Mixed at Mountain Studios
Assistant engineers: Dave Richards, Eugene Chaplin

Cover photography by Sukita

Selected reissues

1985 RCA CD

September 1991 Rykodisc/EMI remastered CD
with bonus tracks
Abdulmajid (Bowie-Eno) recorded 1976-79
Joe the Lion (Bowie) 1991 remix

1999 EMI remastered CD

2007 Toshiba EMI mini LP replica CD

 

Production

Low sessions

Fripp, Eno and Bowie at Hansa Photo by Christian Simonpietri

August 1977

Brian Eno (1977): David would say 'Okay, it's that, that, twice as long on that, and then that — and we do this a couple of times and then back to that again. And after that very brief instruction, we'd start playing — and, in that tiny space of time, Carlos would have worked out this lovely line. He's quite remarkable. He gives those pieces a lot of character. The whole thing — except Sons Of The Silent Age, which was written beforehand — was evolved on the spot in the studio. Not only that, everything on the album is a first take! I mean, we did second takes but they weren't nearly as good. [187][MacDonald, Ian. ‘Eno Part 2: Another False World – How To Make A Modern Record’ (NME, 3 December 1977)]

Bowie (1999): A couple were very definitely first and only takes. I think the rest were probably run at two or more times until the feel was right. With such great musicians the notes were never in doubt so we looked at 'feel' as being the priority. [106][Dalton, Stephen. David Bowie and Tony Visconti interviews (for Uncut, April 2001)]

Brian Eno (1977): It was all done in a very casual kind of way. We'd sort of say "Let's do this then" — and we'd do it, and then someone would say "Stop" and that would be it, the length of the piece. It seemed completely arbitrary to me. [187][MacDonald, Ian. ‘Eno Part 2: Another False World – How To Make A Modern Record’ (NME, 3 December 1977)]

Tony Visconti (2001): We always started these albums as making demos. That went right on until Scary Monsters. Then we'd realise that the demos needed just a little editing without re-recording. Sometimes I would take a great section and copy it and edit it into the song later on, cutting right across the 24-track tape. I wouldn't say they were first takes, we worked hard and long on each track. We didn't go into say 25 takes, but I'd say that most tracks were done in about five takes. [105][Dalton, Stephen and Hughes, Rob. ‘Trans Europe excess’ (Uncut, April 2001)]

Then they called Robert Fripp, Eno’s collaborator on No Pussyfooting.

Robert Fripp (1979): [David] said, "We tried playing guitars ourselves; it's not working. Do you think you can come in and play some burning rock-and-roll guitar?" I said, "Well, I haven't really played guitar for three years... but I'll have a go!" [166][Jones, Allan. ‘Riding On The Dynamic Of Disaster: An Interview With Robert Fripp’ (Melody Maker, 28 April 1979)]

Brian Eno (1977): Fripp did everything he did in about six hours — and that was straight off the plane from New York too! He arrived at the studio at about 11pm and we said “Do you fancy doing anything?” and he said “Might as well hear what you've been doing.” And while we were setting up the tapes, he got out his guitar and said “Might as well try a few things." So I plugged him into the synthesiser for treatments and we just played virtually everything we'd done at him — and he'd just start up without even knowing the chord sequences. [187][MacDonald, Ian. ‘Eno Part 2: Another False World – How To Make A Modern Record’ (NME, 3 December 1977)]

Robert Fripp (1979): And the very first thing they did was put up Beauty And The Beast. And I played straight over it. This is the way I did the rest of the album. They'd put up a track and I'd play. I wouldn't bother rehearsing it. I'd just play. [166][Jones, Allan. ‘Riding On The Dynamic Of Disaster: An Interview With Robert Fripp’ (Melody Maker, 28 April 1979)]

Brian Eno (1977): It was a very extraordinary performance. By the next day, he'd finished, packed up, and gone home. All first takes again. Incredible. [187][MacDonald, Ian. ‘Eno Part 2: Another False World – How To Make A Modern Record’ (NME, 3 December 1977)]

Bowie (2001): Most of my vocals were first takes, some written as I sang. Most famously Joe The Lion, I suppose. I would put the headphones on, stand at the mike, listen to a verse, jot down some key words that came into mind then take. Then I would repeat the same process for the next section etc. It was something that I learned from working with Iggy and I thought a very effective way of breaking normality in the lyric. [105][Dalton, Stephen and Hughes, Rob. ‘Trans-Europe Excess’ (Uncut, April 2001)]

Bowie (1977): I had no melody, so I only sang the lines I’d written for four or five bars at a time. Having sung one line, I’d take a breath and do the same thing again, and so on to the end. I never knew the complete melody until I’d finished the song and played the whole thing back.

We spent a lot of time laughing, actually. Laughing at ourselves, laughing at our pretentiousness and at some of the stuff that came out and never got on to the album. It was rich with self-parody as well as a lot of inventive ideas. There’s a sense of foreboding that one wouldn’t have expected to come out of that environment, but it did. [Berlin] is not a relaxed place, certainly, and it produces a kind of nervous mirth – whistling in the dark. [129][Gelly, Dave. Creating An Atmosphere Of Panic (The Observer, 20 November 1977)]

Bowie (1977): Berlin is a city made up of bars for sad disillusioned people to get drunk in. One never knows how long it is going to remain there. One fancies that it is going very fast. That's one of the reasons why I was attracted to the city. It's a feeling that I really tried to capture in the paintings, while I was there, of the Turks that live in the city. There's a track on the album called Neuköln, and that's the area of Berlin where the Turks are shackled in bad conditions. [164][Jones, Allan. Goodbye To Ziggy And All That’ (Melody Maker, 29 October 1977)]

David Bowie interview (excerpt)

Charles Shaar Murray • NME, November 12, 1977

CSM: Why does Heroes - or more accurately "Heroes" - come in quotes? Are the inverted commas actually part of the title?

DB: Yeah. Firstly - it was quite a silly point really - I thought I'd pick on the only narrative song to use as the title. It was arbitrary, really, because there's no concept to the album.

CSM: I'd felt that the use of quotes indicate a dimension of irony about the word "heroes" or about the whole concept of heroism.

DB: Well, in that example they were, on that title track. The situation that sparked off the whole thing was - I thought - highly ironic. There's a wall by the studio - the album having been recorded at Hansa By The Wall in West Berlin - about there. It's about twenty or thirty metres away from the studio and the control room looks out onto it. There's a turret on top of the wall where the guards sit and during the course of lunch break every day, a boy and girl would meet out there and carry on. They were obviously having an affair. And I thought of all the places to meet in Berlin, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the wall? They'd come from different directions and always meet there… Oh, they were both from the west, but they had always met right there. 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… therefore it is ironic. Yes it is. You're perfectly right about that, but there was no reason why the album should have been called "Heroes". 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.

CSM: Do you find that recording in a studio that's right by the Berlin Wall gives you a sense of being on the edge of something?

DB: That's exactly right. I find that I have to put myself in those situations to produce any reasonable good writing. I've still got that same thing about when I get to a country or a situation and I have to put myself on a dangerous level, whether emotionally or mentally or physically, and it resolves in things like that: living in Berlin leading what is quite a spartan life for a person of my means, and in forcing myself to live according to the restrictions of that city.

•••

Further reading:
Eno Part 2: Another false world – how to make a modern record
Ian MacDonald • New Musical Express • December 3,1977

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this page updated October 29, 2020