Good gods, where do you even start with such a grand, momentous statement? This is my favorite David Bowie song. By such a huge margin that it’s not even close.
From the moment I heard it, “Heroes” utterly floored me like very few songs ever had, so much so that “Heroes” was the first David Bowie album I ever bought.
Put it this way: if David Bowie had been some guy who happened to collaborate with Brian Eno for this one record and then died in a car crash, there would be “Heroes.”
I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day
If Brian Eno had just been some guy who produced this song and nothing else in his entire career, there would be “Heroes”
For Robert Fripp, whose “Is that a guitar? No it’s a synth. No wait, it’s a guitar!” guitar turns greatness into transcendence, there is “Heroes.”
I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be heroes,
just for one day
Listen to the pulse of “Heroes.” Listen to the endless chugging rhythm that powers the whole song. You know what I hear in there? The Velvet Underground. I hear the piano on “I’m Waiting For My Man,” I hear the rhythmic rumble of “Sister Ray.” But “Heroes” ups the ante: it takes the drone of the Velvets and updates it into a whole new thing.
Let me say that again: “Heroes” takes the drone of the Velvet Underground and updates it into a whole new thing. In 1977, that was completely unheard-of. The Modern Lovers took the drone, but didn’t make it new. Eno made everything new, but often dispensed with the drone. But that’s it. Nearly 40 years down the road, lotsa folks have tried, but nobody has quite made it this far.
Meanwhile, in the second half of the song, Bowie ups the drama by suddenly singing at the top of his range, and “we can be heroes, just for one day” goes from being a challenge to being an absolute necessity, especially as the action moves to the Berlin Wall and he plays call-and-response with what I would like to imagine was a plethora of Brian Enos.
I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed,
as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be heroes,
just for one day
And of course, there’s the half-German version, “Heroes/Helden,” that showed up at KSFR back in 1981 (before it even went on the air) as part of the soundtrack for a German movie called Christiane F. The fact that it hits equally strong even sung in a completely different language just shows the eternal awesome unstoppable power of “Heroes.” For ever and ever.
“Heroes” Official Music Video
“Heroes / Helden”
“Heroes” Live in London, 1978
“Heroes” Live Aid, 1985
“Heroes” Live in Berlin, 2002