David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)

My first Bowie album

I am fairly sure that “Heroes” was the first album by Bowie I ever owned. It must have been around 1981 when I was working in a record shop two weeks as part of an assignment for school. All kids got to work as interns at real work places. I choose a record store in my small home town Skövde. My friend worked at a bakery and got home every day with a bag full of still warm sweet pastries. I got to pick one record “for free” after my two weeks of work. The decision felt monumental… it was “Heroes”…

At that time I didn’t like it that much, I might have been too young. I had “Alladin sane” and “Diamond dogs” on a TDK audio tape and those records were much easier to fall in love with. A couple of years later when “Let’s dance” came out, “Heroes” almost was forgotten.

Just as “Low” we get one side of the album with songs with lyrics and a second side with mostly instrumental songs. The album is an entity best listened to as a whole entity. It is mature music, not easy listening. The album opens with the pulsating and almost frantic “Beauty and the beast”. You really can’t say no to the beauty and the beast. Liebling… It is a great first song.

“Joe the lion” is not my favourite on the album. The inspiration to the song was the performance artist Chris Burden who got his 15 minutes of fame by having himself nailed to the top of a Volkswagen in 1974. Bowie’s vocals are impressive though.

“Heroes” is the third song. Is it too famous? How can you even start to assess a song that you have heard so many times? Is it boring? Is it great? As a part of the experience listening to the album it is great! Bowie may have written it about the stolen kisses his producer Tony Visconti and Antonia Maas got beneath the Berlin wall during the recording sessions. Legend has it that produced Tony Visconti put three microphones with different distances to Bowie in the room. They got activated at different sound levels and due to their respective distance to the singer a slight delay was introduced for each mic. When Bowie is singing more and more forcefully power he sings in chorus with himself.

“Sons of the silent age” is a slow song with a heavy saxophone and a showcase for David singing. What is he thinking of here? In “Blackout” he is either signing of an actual blackout in New York City or his mental breakdown before he moved to Berlin.

Now we come to the very exciting second side of the album. It’s an atmospheric ambient music that is all about feelings. The songs are written by Bowie with a lot of help by Brian Eno who also introduced the oblique strategies where he would distribute random “strategy” cards to the band to follow. Eno said nein to rehearsals, to induce a creative environment built on chaos and uncertainties.

“V-2 Schnider” is an almost instrumental powerhouse with military undertones. Bowie’s sax is played in the wrong key, but it works anyway. The subsequent three instrumental songs make up a mighty section. “Sense of doubt” feels like a space ship taking off and traveling to unseen places, “Moss garden” takes us to Japan. “Neuköln” is a melancholic lament for the Turkish immigrants in the Berlin district Neukölln. The lonely saxophone is crying! The song could easily been used in the classic movie Blade runner.

The album is rounded off with an almost disco-esque dance romp, “The secret life of Arabia”. It’s one of the hidden treasures of the album, even though one could argue that it’s actually misplaced on the album. It should not have been the last song. But, hand claps! Catchy!

My rating: 7/10

Side A:

  1. Beauty and the beast
  2. Joe the Lion
  3. “Heroes”
  4. Sons of the silent age
  5. Blackout

Side B:

  1. V-2 Schneider
  2. Sense of doubt
  3. Moss garden
  4. Neuköln
  5. The secret life of Arabia

Best songs: “Heroes”, “The secret life of Arabia”

Produced by: David Bowie and Tony Visconti

Media: Remastered 180 gram vinyl, reissued in 2018

Released: October 14, 1977

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