"Heroes" is a song by English musician David Bowie. It was co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno, produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, and recorded in July and August 1977 at Hansa Studio by the Wall. It was released on 23 September 1977 as the lead single from his 12th studio album of the same name, backed with the song "V-2 Schneider". A product of Bowie's "Berlin" period, the track was not a huge hit in the United Kingdom or United States after its release, but it has since become one of his signature songs. In January 2016, following Bowie's death, the song reached a new peak of number 12 in the UK Singles Chart. "Heroes" has been cited as Bowie's second-most covered song after "Rebel Rebel".
Inspired by the sight of Bowie's producer/engineer Tony Visconti embracing one of Bowie's backing vocalists by the Berlin Wall, the song tells the story of two lovers, one from East and one from West Berlin. Bowie's performance of "Heroes" on June 6, 1987 at the German Reichstag in West Berlin was considered a catalyst to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. Following his death in January 2016, the German government thanked Bowie for "helping to bring down the Wall", adding "you are now among Heroes".
"Heroes" has received numerous accolades since its release, as seen with its inclusion on lists ranking the 'greatest songs of all time' compiled by the music publications; Rolling Stone named the song the 46th greatest ever, and NME named it the 15th greatest. Bowie scholar David Buckley has written that "Heroes" "is perhaps pop's definitive statement of the potential triumph of the human spirit over adversity".
The song title is a reference to the 1975 track "Hero" by German krautrock band Neu!, 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. The quotation marks in the title of the song, a deliberate affectation, were designed to impart an ironic quality on the otherwise romantic or triumphant words and music.
Bowie said that the "plodding tempo and rhythm" were inspired by the Velvet Underground song "I'm Waiting for the Man". Producer Tony Visconti took credit for inspiring the image of the lovers kissing "by the wall", when he and backing vocalist Antonia Maass (Maaß) embraced in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. Bowie claimed 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.
Richard Buskin of Sound on Sound described "Heroes" as a "highly experimental piece of art rock". The music, co-written by Bowie and Eno, has been likened to a Wall of Sound production, a forceful and noisy arrangement of guitars, percussion and synthesizers. Eno said the song always "sounded grand and heroic" and that he had "that very word – heroes – in my mind" even before Bowie wrote the lyrics. The backing track consists of a conventional arrangement of piano, bass guitar, rhythm guitar and drums. The other parts 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. Visconti mixed out Dennis Davis' kick drum, stating that the track "seemed to plod" with it but had a more energetic feel without it.
In contrast to the bewildering audio situation, the video (directed by Stanley Dorfman) 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.