Few songs in this world are capable of evoking the overwhelming emotion that the correct performance of David Bowie’s classic song ‘Heroes’ can. The track remains one of the Starman’s finest songs and is a fitting reminder of his mercurial and wise talent. Though the song may have been born out of infidelity, what it has come to represent is the grace and goodness of all humanity.
‘Heroes’ isn’t only a classic because of the studio recording, though its feature as the titular number of Bowie’s 1977 Berlin influenced album is undoubtedly breathtaking for all who hear it. No, ‘Heroes’ is a landmark track because its themes of humanity’s need for connection set against a bleak backdrop offer up something we can all attach ourselves to.
The song may not have been a commercial success in either the United Kingdom or the United States but has since gone on to become one of the most covered tracks of all time. Whether it was because of the song’s ability to bring down the Berlin wall, something many have attested to over the years, suggesting his 1987 performance started to remove bricks. Though it will never be confirmed whether that was true, the song’s potency is undeniable and intimidating for a singer, it hasn’t stopped people trying to emulate Bowie’s effort.
The song was written alongside frequent collaborators Brian Eno and Tony Visconti while Bowie was in Berlin. In fact, in 1977, while he was recording at Hansa Tonstudio, he overlooked the Berlin Wall. The two lovers in the song Bowie later confirmed to be Visconti and the German girl he was having an affair with.
“I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time,” Bowie said to Performing Songwriter in 2003. “I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was. But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin,” he added.
“I did ask his permission if I could say that. I think possibly the marriage was in the last few months, and it was very touching because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that relationship which sort of motivated the song,” Bowie revealed. The song’s conception, however, is not important to the song’s eventual journey.
However people arrive at it, normally after listening to Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ for the first time you’re hooked. The artists below certainly were. In fact, they were hooked enough to produce their own covers.
Here, we’ve got eight of the finest covers of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’.
The best covers of David Bowie song ‘Heroes’
Never afraid to change the pace of things, Depeche Mode provided an electronic-inspired version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ back in 2017 when they covered the track as part of its widespread 40th-anniversary celebrations. Naturally, the song takes a new turn with Dave Gahan and the band at the helm.
Recorded as part of Highline Sessions, Gahan and the band are expertly directed by Tim Saccenti while delivering a breathtaking performance of the song that captures the hearts and minds of the public. “Heroes is the most special song at the moment,” said frontman Gahan during the performance, recalling how influential the Starman had been on his life.
Fans, it would seem, are capable of providing a new take on their favourite music. Depeche Mode are the proof.
Just three years after Bowie and his partner in crime Brian Eno wrote, recorded, and released ‘Heroes’, singer Harry and her Blondie bandmates were taking it on the road for special moments, covering the track occasionally as part of their live show.
Blondie, who had notably covered the track during The Palladium in New York and the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1978, arrived in London two years later for a triple-header of sell-out performances at the Hammersmith Odeon where the band would play three shows in a row.
The band would record their rendition of ‘Heroes’ and subsequently release it shortly after. Enjoy that fearsome recording of the seminal song, below.
The cover was released as a B-side to their 1997 single ‘D’You Know What I Mean?’ and, with it, the Manchester band deliver a lethal concoction of bravado, acknowledgement, and rock and roll star power. It’s the same dose of stardom that Bowie himself had infused his work with.
“This is the first song I heard by David Bowie,” remarks Noel in an interview mourning the Starman’s passing. Gallagher shares how the song changed his life and how seeing Bowie would shape him forever, explaining: “Singing this song with the light behind him. It totally fucking blew me away. I went down to my local second-hand record shop a couple of days later and got Best of Bowie and never looked back.
“And for all my talk of, ‘Well, what are his songs about? We don’t really know what they’re about’, I think ‘Heroes’ is quite straightforward. The sentiment is amazing: We can be heroes, if only for one day. We all can’t make it in life, but we can feel like we make it, for one day at a time. That’s why it’s my favourite.”
Perhaps it is because of Robert Fripp’s connection with the original recording or because Fripp and King Crimson really understood the track’s sentiment. Still, the band does a stand-up job covering the iconic track in this 2016 recording from a Berlin concert.
Fripp recalled how he came to work on the original song: “I got a phone call when I was living in New York in July 1977. It was Brian Eno,” he said.
“He said that he and David were recording in Berlin and passed me over. David said, ‘Would you be interested in playing some hairy rock ‘n’ roll guitar?’ I said, ‘Well, I haven’t really played for three years – but, if you’re prepared to take a risk, so will I.’ Shortly afterwards, a first-class ticket on Lufthansa arrived.”
Naturally, this cover is weird and wonderful.
If one cover from this list was as capable of garnering goosebumps from your skin as David Bowie, then it would be his namesake David Byrne and the brilliant Choir! Choir! Choir! who gave an astounding rendition of the song back in 2018.
On the performance, Byrne said with glee: “There is a transcendent feeling in being subsumed and surrendering to a group…One becomes a part of something larger than oneself, and something in our makeup rewards us when that happens. We cling to our individuality, but we experience true ecstasy when we give it up.”
It’s a truly joyous moment shared between Byrne and the choir and his audience as it becomes an anthemic moment of connection. There have been few covers of ‘Heroes’ that are so easily translatable into tears.
The moment when Prince performed a moving rendition of the iconic David Bowie song ‘Heroes’. The performance, which came as part of Prince’s final tour, took place at the Sony Centre for the Performing Art in Toronto, Canada, just a weeks after David Bowie passed away following a battle with cancer.
Prince’s Piano & A Microphone Tour saw the musician perform solo, arriving at the stage without a band and armed only with his voice and the keys. “I’m doing it to challenge myself; I won’t know what songs I’m going to do when I go on stage,” he said of the exposing tour. “I won’t have to because I won’t have a band,” he added.
Opening up with ‘I Would Die 4 U’, Prince rolled through his extensive back catalogue and returned for two encores that would include renditions of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, ‘Purple Rain’ and more. Earlier on in the set, Prince decided to pay homage to his friend, inspiration and colleague David Bowie.
In 2017, two years after Lemmy Kilmister’s death, Motörhead decided to pay tribute to some of their musical heroes and influences by releasing a covers album titled Under Cover.
The LP would see previously heard covers of Sex Pistols ‘God Save The Queen’, the Ramones’ ‘Rockaway Beach’, Metallica’s ‘Whiplash’ and a quite astounding cover of David Bowie’s fantastic song, ‘Heroes’.
The cover’s recording was one of the last things Lemmy would ever go into the studio for. “It’s such a great Bowie song, one of his best, and I could only see great things coming out of it from us, and so it proved to be,” explained the band’s Phil Campbell upon its release.
“And Lemmy ended up loving our version.” Mikkey Dee added, “He was very, very proud of it, not only because it turned out so well but because it was fun! Which is what projects like this should be – fun!”
Nico may well be best placed to replicate Bowie’s iconic song ‘Heroes’. Not only was the German star able to draw directly on the landmark’s nation-splitting power, but also she had grown artistically in the same fields Bowie had frequented during his early days.
The 1981 cover of the track featured on Nico’s return to the recording studio Drama of Exile and is flourished with post-punk overtones that are undersold by the synthesisers and electronic push. There’s an undeniable groove in the original and it’s one that Nico has seized upon.
This isn’t the first cover of the song that people think of but it hits real hard in modern music’s sense.