To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Bowie’s iconic album ‘Heroes’ (October 14), here’s twenty of the geekiest facts about the record.
1The only true Berliner
It was the only album of the Berlin trilogy actually fully recorded in Berlin. Low was made in France but mixed in a Hansa studio in Berlin, and Lodger was recorded in Switzerland and New York.
Bowie moved to Berlin in order to “pull himself together” after his rowdier years in LA. “I nearly overdosed several times” and “It was like being in a car going towards the edge of a cliff” are just some of the recollections he shared about his time there.
3An NME album of the year
‘Heroes’ was NME’s album of the year in 1977, beating the likes of Ian Dury’s ‘New Boots and Panties!!’, Elvis Costello’s ‘My Aim is True’ and Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ – despite our less than perfect rating of 8/10. In 2014 NME also named Heroes (the song) the 14th best song of all time.
4The ‘Joe The Lion’ lyrics didn’t take an hour
According to co-producer Toni Visconti, the lyrics for Joe The Lion were written and recorded at the microphone “in less than an hour”.
The album wasn’t as commercially successful as one might think when first released, managing 3rd in the UK charts and Dutch charts. Heroes, the title track only managed 24th in the UK charts and failed to make America’s billboard 100 at all.
6The cover for ‘The Next Day’ is an altered version of Heroes’ cover
The cover of Bowie’s 2013 album, ‘The Next Day’, is an altered version of the one for ‘Heroes’. The altered and obscured version of the ‘Heroes’ cover has ‘Heroes’ crossed out and Bowie’s face obscured by an opaque white box reading ‘The Next Day’.
7Eno’s Oblique Strategy Cards
‘Sense of Doubt’ was made almost entirely through the use of Brian Eno’s iconic Oblique Strategy Cards. These cards are designed to encourage lateral thinking and to restrict the composer. Examples of these cards include ‘be dirty’ and ‘in total darkness, or a very large room, very quietly’.
8Fripp recorded almost all his parts the day he arrived
Nearly all of Robert Fripp’s lead guitar for the album was recorded within the evening he arrived from the USA. In fact, according to Brian Eno in a 1977 interview with NMEL “everything on the album is a first take. I mean, we did the second takes but they weren’t nearly as good.”
9Wall in view
The studio was about 500 yards from the Berlin Wall. Apparently when Visconti sat at the mixing desk in the studio, he could see straight out into a control room of The Berlin Wall occupied round-the-clock by guards and their rifles.
10The title is influenced by Neu!
The title is a nod to the track “Hero” on the album Neu! ’75. Guitarist Michael Rother of German band Neu! had been approached to play on the album, but it wasn’t to be.
11Bowie played five instruments, sang, backing-sang and produced on the album
Along with vocals, backing vocals and production for the album, David Bowie plays five instruments on the record: Piano/Keyboard, Saxophone, Guitar, Tambourine and a Koto, the traditional Japanese string instrument, which can be heard in ‘Moss Garden’.
12Title track ‘Heroes’ was left as an instrumental for weeks
It wasn’t until Bowie saw producer Toni Visconti embracing backing signer Antonia Maaß outside that he was able to write the lyrics. The track had been an instrumental for weeks, and it was the romance between the two that Bowie saw by the Berlin Wall that inspired the words. The reference is particularly obvious in the line: “Standing by the wall/The guns shot above our heads/And we kissed as though nothing could fall”.
13Bowie summarized the album as a series of ‘New Music Expressions’.
Pretty good acronym, that.
14Hansa-by-the-Wall lives on
It’s still a working studio and popular tourist destination. The Manic Street Preachers notably also recorded their eleventh and twelfth albums there: ‘Rewind The Film’ and ‘Futurology’.
15Only one song was written before the recording began
According to Brian Eno, ‘Sons Of The Silent Age’ was the only song written before the recording began. All others were improvised in the studio. ‘Sons Of The Silent Age’ was also the album’s working title.
1630% of the songs on the album are instrumental
This is likely a result of working with ambient-minimalist, Brian Eno.
17Bowie doesn’t eat when recording
According to Eno: “Bowie gets into a very peculiar state when he’s working. He doesn’t eat”. When recording ‘Heroes’ “he’d break a raw egg into his mouth and that was his food for the day, virtually”.
18Bowie’s first Sax note on V-2 Schneider was a mistake
On track six, ‘V-2 Schneider’, Bowie accidentally played an off-note at the start of his sax piece. They liked it so much that it stayed.
19To record the vocals on title track ‘Heroes’ Visconti used three microphones
These microphones were placed nine inches from Bowie, twenty feet away, and the third fifty feet away from Bowie. The levels were adjusted in such a way that Bowie had to shout louder and louder again as the song progressed.
20At the time, Bowie had made an album for every 2.5 years of his life
‘Heroes’ was Bowie’s twelfth album. Being thirty at the time, this meant that on average Bowie had made an album for every 2.5 years of his life.
Words: Rhys Thomas