Running at the speed of life
“Heroes” was recorded in the summer of 1977, during one of David Bowie’s most prolific periods. The album Low was issued in January that year, and in March Bowie went on tour with Iggy Pop, for which he played keyboards and sang backing vocals.
The Idiot Tour, which lasted from 1 March to 16 April, and covered England, Canada and the USA, was Bowie’s first as part of a band since breaking up the Spiders From Mars on 3 July 1973. His involvement was unannounced in the press, although it soon became widely known.
Also in Iggy Pop’s band were guitarist Ricky Gardiner, who had worked on Low, and brothers Tony and Hunt Sales on bass guitar and drums.
It was the first time I’d ever really put myself into a band since the Spiders. It was great not having the pressure of being the singer up front. But there were too many drugs around at the time. I was trying to get away from those drugs and I was going through these really ambivalent things because I kept wanting to leave the tour to get off drugs. The drug use was unbelievable and I knew it was killing me, so that was a difficult side of it. But the playing was fun. Iggy would be preening himself before he went on and I’d be sitting there reading a book.
Q magazine, May 1993
The transatlantic itinerary also forced Bowie to confront his fear of flying, and on 10 March he took a flight for the first time since 1972, from London to New York. This freed him up to travel more widely, and following the tour he and Pop took a two-week holiday in Japan. The photo shoot for the “Heroes” album cover took place in Tokyo in late April.
In June Bowie and Pop recorded the Lust For Life album in Berlin in just two weeks, before the pair flew to Paris to promote Low, take part in more photo shoots and filming sessions, and attend the French premiere of The Man Who Fell To Earth.
The “Heroes” album was recorded in Berlin in July and August 1977 at a relatively relaxed pace, with the final mixes created in Montreux, Switzerland, at the end of August.
Bowie’s work rate continued apace as recording concluded. On 7 September he filmed a TV appearance on Marc Bolan’s TV show Marc, followed four days later by a performance of “Heroes” and the duet ‘Peace On Earth’/‘Little Drummer Boy’ on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas.
The “Heroes” single was released 23 September in the UK, France, Canada and Germany. On 27 September Bowie filmed promotional clips for “Heroes”, ‘Blackout’ and ‘Sense Of Doubt’.
On 13 October Bowie appeared on the Dutch television show TopPop, where he was interviewed and sang “Heroes” over a backing track. He was also presented with two gold discs by the show’s host, Ad Visser, for the Low album and the “Heroes” single; the latter had achieved gold status in the Netherlands in just two weeks.
The “Heroes” album was released the day after Bowie’s Amsterdam TV appearance. Bowie gave TV and radio interviews in Paris before returning to London, where on 19 October he performed “Heroes” on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops. He sang over a new backing track which Tony Visconti had recorded at his Good Earth Studios with a whole new set of musicians including Ricky Gardiner on guitar and Sean Mayes on piano. Visconti played bass guitar on the new recording.
We recorded “Heroes” for Top Of The Pops at Good Earth Studios, Tony’s studio in London. There was a full band and it was recorded minus vocals. I was asked to reproduce Robert Fripp’s line. I did not realise at the time that he had used an EBow. I did my best using feedback alone. As we went through the song, my amplifier started dying. As the song finished, so did the amp.
Uncut, April 2001
Bowie even found time for a safari holiday in Kenya with his son Zowie, leaving England on 21 October.
Bowie’s final studio sessions of 1977 were for a narration of Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf. The album was recorded in November at RCA Studios in New York, with music by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
In December the Melody Maker had awarded “Heroes” its rock album of the year. In the New Musical Express the album took second place in the readers’ poll, while Bowie topped the best singer and songwriter poll. Bowie celebrated Christmas with Zowie and his assistant Coco Schwab in Berlin, with one of his most successful years just behind him.