“Heroes” was originally released as a single on the 23 September 1977, and subsequently on the “Heroes” album on 14 October.
This Top of the Pops performance was recorded on the 19 October 1977, and is particularly interesting because it was sung live in front of an audience in the Top of the Pops studio over a new backing track, which had been recorded with a one-off band the previous day.
The appearance was the last of a series of performances of the new single on television. Bowie had already appeared on Marc Bolan’s show and Bing Crosby’s Christmas Special (UK) in September 1997, then in October on L’altra Domenica and Odeon (Italy), Pop Shop (Netherlands) and Les Rendez-vous du Dimanche (France).
Instead of miming to a backing track, Bowie and producer Tony Visconti assembled a band to make a pre-recorded backing tape for Bowie’s first Top of the Pops appearance in five years. The day before the broadcast, Bowie arrived in London and headed straight to Visconti’s Good Earth studios in Soho for the recording session with Visconti, pianist Sean Mayes and guitarist Ricky Gardiner. Mayes’ band Fumble had opened for Bowie and the Spiders back in 1972.
“I’d heard nothing from him for five years,” Mayes told David Currie. “Then out of the blue came a phone call to do “Heroes” for Top of the Pops”. Mayes went on to play keyboards on Bowie’s Isolar II world tour.
Ricky Gardiner had played guitar on the Low album, Iggy Pop‘s Lust For Life album and on Iggy’s subsequent 1977 tour. “I was asked to reproduce Robert Fripp‘s line,” he told Stephen Dalton in 2001. “I did not realise at the time that he had used an E Bow. I did my best using feedback alone. As we went through the song, my amplifier started dying. As the song finished, so did the amp.”
The following day Bowie taped his appearance at the BBC studios, accompanied by the new backing track, before heading back to Soho with Visconti for a drink. The next day, Bowie told the Melody Maker at the Dorchester Hotel that this unprecedented amount of promotion was “to prove my belief in the album. Both Low and “Heroes” have been met with confused reactions. That was to be expected, of course. But I didn’t promote Low at all, and some people thought my heart wasn’t in it.”
About this video
This Top of the Pops performance of “Heroes” is quite commonly available online, and a portion of it was in this year’s Bowie at the BBC show. However, like the majority of classic Bowie performances, a completely satisfactory version has not previously been readily available. Prior to this video, it has only been available in low quality / incomplete / marred by info text boxes / canned applause obscuring the opening of the track etc.
Sourced from three digital broadcasts, and three pre-broadcast recordings and outtakes, this version is complete. It includes a pre-broadcast section which gives us a glimpse into the behind the scenes filming of the show – basically presenter Dave Lee Travis larking about, until what sounds like the shoot manager calling for quiet on the set. It includes a brief shot of Bowie leaning on a piece of the set, waiting to start the performance, and he can be heard clearing his throat before the backing track starts.
Thanks to Nacho Video for another great production job!