Writer(s): David Bowie, Brian Eno (see lyrics here)
Released: September 23, 1977
First Charted: October 15, 1977
Peak: 1 CL, 1 CO, 12 UK, 11 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.6 UK
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 207.91 video, 431.38 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
The title cut for David Bowie’s twelfth studio album was written by him with Brian Eno and produced by Tony Visconti. The three famously worked together on what has been called the Berlin Trilogy – Bowie’s 1977 Low album, Heroes, and Lodger in 1979. The song only reached #24 in the United Kingdom (but recharted at #12 after his death) and didn’t chart at all in the United States, but it has become one of his signature songs. It is said to be his second most-covered song after “Rebel Rebel.” WK
Bowie was inspired when he saw Visconti kissing backup singer Antonia Maass by the Berlin Wall as he looked out the window of the studio where they were recording. The song tells a tale of two lovers, one from East Berlin and the other from West Berlin, who met each day under a gun turret on the Berlin Wall. SF
Vocally, Bowie starts out singing in “an almost conversation tone; by the end of the song he’s tuning in a performance that could almost be called operatic, yet still achingly, passionately human.” AMG “By the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard…creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie’s doomed lovers.” WK
The title is a reference to the 1975 song “Hero” by German krautrock band Neu! WK and the tempo was inspired by the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man.” WK The song also features King Crimson’s guitarist Robert Fripp’s “exquisite work at once celebratory and an electric requiem.” AMG
Bowie’s performance of the song at the German Reichstag in West Berlin on June 6, 1987 has been cited as a catalyst for the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. WK Bowie called it one of the most emotional performances he’d ever done. He heard thousands of East Berliners singing and cheering from the other side of the wall. SF Bowie biographer David Buckley wrote that it “is perhaps pop’s definitive statement of the potential triumph of the human spirit over adversity.” WK All Music Guide’s Ned Raggett said it may be “Bowie’s finest individual song throughout his varied, fascinating career.” AMG
First posted 8/3/2021; last updated 7/13/2023.