As Heroes is 41 years old today I thought I’d write about why the album cover holds such an enduring fascination for me.
To put this album release in context, in 1977 the charts were dominated by Abba, Brotherhood of Man, Bee Gees and Baccara. Kenny Rogers got to number 1 with Lucille, Presley with Way Down and Donna Summer teamed with Moroder to produce the evergreen Rave classic I Feel Love. Rumours was released. Zeppelin cancelled the last leg of their US tour (due to Robert Plant’s bereavement of his son). Bolan (the John the evangelist of Glam) dies god rest his soul.
These more ‘mainstream’ sounds were being aggressively challenged by the new sounds: The Clash released their first album on CBS. The Pistols replaced Matlock with Vicious and released Bollocks on October 24th. The Stranglers released Rattus Norvegicus. The Jam released In The City. Flares and skate boards were IN. Star Wars and Close Encounters were THE films.
And orbitting above this maelstrom is Bowie. After Aladin Sane, Ziggy, The Thin White Duke and Halloween Jack, Bowie retreats to Berlin for his epochal trilogy of Low – my favourite Bowie MUSIC album (cover image courtesy of Nicolas Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’), Heroes and Lodger. He teams with Eno, Visconti, Alomar, Fripp, Iggy, using the Berlin Wall as his bleak canvas. While the UK is ‘Smashing It Up’ (respect to The Damned!) he’s absorbng Krautrock and Motorik influences from bands as diverse as Kraftwerk (they even name check him in Trans Europe Express) to Neu! Sounds so influential to the New Romanics, Cabaret Voltaire, Wire and Electro Klash in later years.
And then there’s the Heroes cover: Wondrous sans-serif typography devoid of any emotion. Bowie’s extra terrestrial pupils. The hand gesticulations. Monochrome photography (shot by Masayoshi Sukita) in an era of dayglo back home in the UK. A stripped back, sterile portrait of an artist in search of new sounds and on the verge of pioneering yet ANOTHER way of “seeing” music. And the cover will always personify this great artistic sword swipe for me.
Everything we do nowadays we accept and absorb without question because the tech available to us in the speed of a download means we don’t really have to question. It’s all there at our fingertips and as a result we appreciate little as we expect more. Heroes makes me question, it intrigues me because it will always remain slightly out of reach, and I’ll always want it to be that way.
Heroes represents the era-defining power of context: what happened before, and what happens AFTER. And Bowie changed it all (many times).
The RCA promotional poster for Heroes proclaimed ‘There’s Old Wave. There’s New Wave. And there’s David Bowie’ however my favourite is ‘Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming’ - a call to action which resonates to this day.