“Heroes”

Since the summer of 2020, I’ve featured a piece of classical music each Sunday.

The song “‘Heroes’” from the album of the same title, the second in David Bowie’s (1947-2016) “Berlin Trilogy,” a song co-written with Brian Eno, is certainly not a classical piece. However, it is definitely a rock classic and likely one of Bowie’s most-covered songs.

Quoting from the notes to the post of the official studio version of the song on Peter Gabriel’s YouTube channel, “The track is taken from Peter’s eighth studio album Scratch My Back, the first part of Peter’s song-swap project. Originally conceived as a reciprocal arrangement that would be released as one album it was Peter’s half that arrived first, in 2010, featuring his orchestral interpretations of some of his favourite songs.

The other half of the collection, And I’ll Scratch Yours, was released in 2013, again featuring 12 tracks, this time, other artists covering Gabriel songs. But these were not all the same artists covered in 2010 by Gabriel, as some didn’t provide covers while others refused to participate in the project. (How rude!)

The British arranger, composer and violist John Metcalfe made the orchestral arrangements for most of the songs Gabriel chose for Scratch My Back, including “‘Heroes.’” And they are stunning arrangements. “‘Heroes’” is particularly magnificent: the London Scratch Orchestra starts slowly and softly with violas, and builds to a crescendo at the beginning of the third verse, gradually falling back to a soft ending. It’s the kind of music that gives me goosebumps.

I think the song is about perseverance and dreaming, dusting oneself off, getting back up and hoping for a better future after being knocked down by life’s trials. The song was inspired by Bowie observing producer-engineer Tony Visconti and his wife embracing near the Berlin Wall, and tells the story of lovers who live on either side of the wall. An enlightening 2016 article on Vox.com tells how a 1987 concert by Bowie was seen as provoking global pressures that eventually led to the tearing down of the wall in 1989.

“I, I wish you could swim
Like dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes, just for one day
Oh we can be Heroes, just for one day

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive us away
Oh we can be Heroes, just for one day
Oh we can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember
Standing, standing by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame, the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
And we can be Heroes, just for one day”

(“‘Heroes,’” by David Bowie, Brian Eno.
Peter Gabriel orchestral rendition arranged by Peter Metcalfe.
Lyrics edited from a version on AZLyrics.com.)

Today’s selection is the third piece I have featured from Scratch My Back; please see my posts on Lou Reed’s “The Power of the Heart” and Bon Iver’s “Flume” for the other two.

Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the song from Peter Gabriel’s YouTube channel:

I also found an official video of a live performance of the piece in Verona, Italy in 2010. I enjoy the visual representation, though I find some of the more subtle orchestration in the studio version comes through a little better. At the same time, when the orchestra really gets going, it’s pretty fabulous, too.

And, it’s not orchestral, so maybe it doesn’t belong on Classical Sunday, but why not check out the official video of Bowie’s original version while you’re here? The video features the radio edit; check here for the full album version that includes additional verses not sung on the radio edit or by Gabriel. (In either version, you’ll notice, among the many “Eno” backing effects, some of that slide guitar I was referencing and comparing in my post earlier this week on LCD Soundsystem’s “call the police.”):

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