On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)
Our stay in the UK has been extended, dear reader, and we’re checking back in with the great man that is David Bowie. He has appeared twice before in 1970 with The Man Who Sold the World and in 1971 with Life on Mars? When we join Bowie in 1977 he has achieved a great deal of success beginning with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). However, all is not well now. Bowie has fled Los Angeles, fearing for his life given the heavy temptation of drugs there. With next to no money, Bowie has holed up in Berlin with Iggy Pop, recuperating and eager to kick his drug addiction. From this period Bowie would work with producers Brian Eno (formerly of Roxy Music and recently appearing on our list as a solo artist) and Tony Visconti. He recorded the Berlin Trilogy of Low (1977), “Heroes” (1977) and Lodger (1979) at this time. 1001 Songs have gone with the title track from the second of the three albums – “Heroes”.
“Heroes” began as an instrumental but Bowie later added lyrics and it became the story of an ill-fated couple, one from West Berlin and one from East Berlin. Belonging to opposite sides and divided by the Berlin Wall, this couple know that theirs is a love that is doomed but they still wish to be together. Knowing they have to snatch this moment they imagine themselves in a series of scenarios encompassed by the idea of being the “heroes” of the title. The song is notable for the line about them kissing by the wall, a lyric that Bowie was inspired to write after looking out of the Hansa Studio window and seeing a couple in a warm and loving embrace near the Berlin Wall. The problem was these individuals were producer, Tony Visconti, and backing singer, Antonia Maass. Visconti was married at this time to Welsh folk singer, Mary Hopkin. When asked about the song, Bowie would claim an anonymous couple inspired “Heroes” to protect Visconti, only admitting decades later when the producer and Hopkin had divorced, to the truth.
“Heroes” is one of David Bowie’s most famous songs and a beloved one from this period in his career. Although the background to the track was infidelity, Bowie’s premise of the doomed lovers divided by the Berlin Wall is a masterstroke, a more modern day Romeo and Juliet kind of situation, if you were. The Berlin Trilogy would revitalise Bowie with all three albums being critically acclaimed. As the 1980s dawned, Bowie would change style and approach with his music but his glory days would continue for a good long while yet.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)