The single was an edited version which reduced the running time from 6:07 to 3:32, and omitted the first two and final verses. This shorter version has become a mainstay of Bowie compilations.
“Heroes” was not a major hit upon its release, peaking at number 24 in the UK. In the US it was a commercial failure, going no further than number 126 on the Record World singles chart.
It fared better in Ireland and the Netherlands, where it reached numbers eight and nine in their respective charts, and made the top 20 in Austria, Australia, Belgium, and Germany.
The German and French versions were released in their respective countries as ‘Helden’ and ‘Héros’. These, plus the English version and ‘V-2 Schneider’, were compiled for a four-song 7″ single in Australia. In Spain the full-length English album version was issued as a 12″ single.
‘Helden’ and ‘Héros’, plus the extended English/German and English/French album versions, were included in a “Heroes” EP included in the 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982). The edited English-language single was included in the same box’s compilation Re:Call 3.
The “Heroes” album was released on 14 October 1977. It was backed by a strong promotional campaign from RCA, which used the slogan “There’s New Wave, there’s Old Wave, and there’s David Bowie.”
The album fared somewhat better than the single, peaking at number three in the UK and the Netherlands, reaching number six in Australia, and going top twenty in Austria, France, New Zealand, and Sweden. In the US it was less successful, going no further than number 35.
The song’s legacy
Despite poor initial commercial fortunes, “Heroes” grew to become one of David Bowie’s signature songs. Following Bowie’s death in January 2016, the German foreign office even cited the song as a factor in the collapse of communism in the country, adding: “you are now among Heroes”.
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) January 11, 2016
In the wake of Bowie’s death, “Heroes” reached a new high of number 12 in the UK’s official singles chart. Rolling Stone has put the song as the 46th greatest of all time, while NME ranked it the 15th in a similar poll.
“Heroes” was the final song in Bowie’s 2015 musical Lazarus, and on the original cast recording released in October the following year. It was sung by cast members Michael C Hall and Sophia Anne Caruso.