During the recording of “Heroes”, David Bowie and the studio team knew that the title track was special. Brian Eno and Tony Visconti both later said they associated it with the words ‘heroes’ and ‘heroic’, prior to learning of the title and lyrics.
I was only involved in that track up to doing the backing-track. He wrote the lyrics and the melody after I’d left – as he did for all the other tracks.
And, when I left, I already had a feeling about that track – it sounded grand and heroic. In fact, I had that very word in mind.
And then David brought the finished album round to my place and that track came up and it said ‘We can be heroes’ and I was absolutely It was such a strange feeling, you know. I just shivered with… When you shiver, it’s a fear reaction, isn’t it?
NME, 3 December 1977
Shortly after the album’s release, Bowie gave his reasons for added quotation marks around the title, explaining that it was an ironic commentary on the story of two lovers meeting beneath the Berlin Wall.
The situation that sparked off the whole thing was – I thought – highly ironic. There’s a wall by the studio – the album having been recorded at Hansa by the Wall in West Berlin – about there. It’s about twenty or thirty meters away from the studio and the control room looks out onto it. There’s a turret on top of the wall where the guards sit and during the course of lunch break every day, a boy and girl would meet out there and carry on.
They were obviously having an affair. And I thought of all the places to meet in Berlin, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the wall? They’d come from different directions and always meet there… Oh, they were both from the west, but they had always meet right there. And I – using license – presumed that they were feeling somewhat guilty about this affair and so they had imposed this restriction on themselves, thereby giving themselves an excuse for their heroic act. I used this as a basis… therefore it is ironic.
NME, 12 November 1977
In the same interview he downplayed the significance of the album title.
There was no reason why the album should have been called “Heroes”. It could have been called “The Sons of Silent Ages”. It was just a collection of stuff that I and Eno and Fripp had put together. Some of the stuff that was left off was very amusing, but this was the best of the batch, the stuff that knocked us out.
NME, 12 November 1977