The second instalment in his “Berlin Trilogy”, David Bowie’s “Heroes” owes the most of the trio’s albums to the then-divided German metropolis. Unlike the preceding Low and 1979’s succeeding Lodger, “Heroes” was totally conceived and recorded in Berlin, and the record’s content was significantly influenced by the city’s cultural and political vibe.
Listen to “Heroes” here.
“It was like living in a timeless zone”
Along with his friend and former Stooges frontman Iggy Pop, Bowie had left Los Angeles and relocated to Berlin while finishing work on his previous album. He had many reasons to move. His desire to jettison his increasingly toxic LA lifestyle was paramount, but he was also tuning into newly discovered envelope-pushing German outfits such as Neu!, Harmonia and Kraftwerk, and he’d begun to incorporate those artists’ minimalist approach into his own music.
Bowie and Pop thus moved into an apartment above a car-spares shop at Hauptstrasse 155 in West Berlin’s Schöneberg district. The two men enjoyed the relative anonymity of their new existence, and Bowie quickly absorbed the atmosphere in the divided city. “When I settled there, I found the claustrophobia of the [Berlin] Wall almost comforting,” he said in a 2003 interview with Vogue. “I agree that at times it was like living in a timeless zone. No English TV to speak of, except AFN – the American Forces Network.”
“The atmosphere was dense”
“Heroes” was recorded at Berlin’s famous Hansa Tonstudio 2 during July and August 1977. The complex was widely known as “Hansa By The Wall” due to its close proximity to the notorious Berlin Wall, which physically divided democratic West Berlin from communist East Berlin. As producer Tony Visconti later recalled, the Wall’s looming presence contributed to “Heroes”’s overall sound, which was generally darker and denser than Low.
“The theme of the album was very upbeat, and we were always in a good mood, but the atmosphere was dense due to the visual proximity of the Wall from the [studio’s] control room,” Visconti remembered in the book accompanying the 2017 Bowie box set, A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982). “We could see the Russian Red Guards in their turrets all day long – and they were watching us through huge binoculars.”
In this setting, Bowie and his team recorded “Heroes” while riding the crest of an almighty creative wave. Bowie had already spent much of March and April 1977 touring the UK and US with Iggy Pop’s band, in support of Pop’s Bowie-produced solo album The Idiot. He’d then spent half of June 1977 at Hansa, co-writing and producing Pop’s next album, Lust For Life – a record which also featured Bowie’s future Tin Machine rhythm section, Tony and Hunt Sales. Consequently, it came as no great surprise to Tony Visconti when Bowie told him he only had one new song – the imperious ballad Sons Of The Silent Age – in the bag when the “Heroes” sessions began.