I found this performance just recently after re-reading Thomas Jerome Seabrook’s excellent book ‘Bowie In Berlin – A New Career In A New Town’ (Jawbone Press – 2008), where a fleeting passage states that Bowie performed ‘Heroes’ live several times on television as part of his promotional obligations when the album was just released. For some reason after first reading the book in 2008, this fact did not strike a chord within me, but with Bowie’s recent passing and subsequently revisiting the Heroes lp, it being my all time favorite of his, I was intrigued to seek out this performance.

Different from the album version, single radio edit, as well as the ‘Helden’ single version sung in German (and as ‘Héros’ in French), this is indeed an elusive, mysterious ‘for TV mix only’ version, with different piano and bass performances never used except for here. The fact that his live band for the show had included Tony Visconti on bass guitar instead of George Murray and Sean Mayes on piano playing Bowie’s piano parts is notable on its own and brings the entire song into new territory. For some reason I think the piano and bass work much better for the overall groove here, maybe because they are louder in the mix, as well as the impromptu ‘cowbell’ part which was actually Visconti banging on an empty tape reel in the studio, and there seems to be no flanger on the bass track which is on George Murray’s original bass guitar part, which although was very intentional in the studio, tended to relegate the bass towards the background and part of the overall ambient wash of the track along with Eno’s synth work. The 3 guitar tracks from Robert Fripp have a totally different mix and balance here as well and are obviously on tape for this performance (since it would be impossible for Robert Fripp to show up for a television performance and play 3 guitar parts). The backing vocals are louder and more pronounced especially towards the end of the song (also being part of the backing tracks the band played along to for this performance). The overall approach here screams ‘radio hit’ for it’s time in it’s neat and tidy 3 minute length.

Interesting is Bowie’s vocal approach, Bowie now seems to be saying ‘I’d like to sing this song a bit differently now‘ while this mysterious band is playing live on television. His rock solid and affirmative approach here also tells me he has finally left the excesses and self destruction within a cocaine haze of his years previously living in Los Angeles finally and thankfully behind him for good, which is what drove him and Iggy Pop to move to West Berlin in order to kick their habits in the first place and consequently lead Bowie to create this one of a kind work of art, one of the most important and greatest albums of the 1970’s. The one thing I do miss is Eno’s beautiful EMS Sinthi A suitcase synth parts and Bowie’s ARP Solina strings and Chamberlin ‘sax stabs’ which I simply do not hear at all.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing I could find written or spoken about anywhere as to why they never released this mix on a subsequent record. Or who the rest of the musicians on stage indeed were during this TV show since they simply are not seen on camera. It seems such a shame to not have even filmed the band playing live with Bowie and at least showed them here and there during the performance, a bad TV production moment if there ever was one. But I would surmise Dennis Davis and Carlos Alomar are indeed on drums and guitar. Even though they are simply not credited on the You Tube info, it’s obviously them playing.

Probably having heard the original song at least 5,000 times by now, equally as powerful and eternal, this version just might be my favorite one of them all:

 

 

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