On this day, in 1977, David Bowie released his “Heroes” single. While the song was not a smash hit at the time, it has since become one of the late, great man’s most beloved tracks. Adding to the magic of this classic ‘Berlin period’ number are its “celestial” electric guitar tracks, courtesy of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.
Bowie and synth pioneer Brian Eno were already several days into recording the song that would soon be called “Heroes” when Fripp got the call asking him to fly to Germany and join them in the studio. Fripp and Eno had already released two albums together under their collaborative Fripp & Eno moniker, namely (No Pussyfooting) and Evening Star in 1973 and 1975, respectively.
These experimental, ambient works were a sign of things to come when the pair linked up in the studio again to record the title track of Bowie’s new album.
“I was at home in my apartment in New York, Waterside Plaza, in July 1977 and the telephone went,” recalled Fripp (opens in new tab). “It was Brian Eno calling from Berlin. He said, “Hang on, I’m here with David Bowie. I’ll pass you over.” And David Bowie said to me, “Do you think you can play some hairy rock ‘n’ roll guitar?” I said, “Well, I haven’t played guitar for a while. I’m not sure. But if you’re prepared to take the risk, so am I.” Shortly afterwards, a first-class ticket arrived on Lufthansa to Germany.
Though Fripp’s sustained guitar parts may sound as if they were generated using an Ebow, they were in fact the result of some carefully controlled feedback. Using plenty of volume, the guitarist measured various distances from the amplifier denoting points at which certain notes would feed back.
Leaning on Fripp and Eno’s tried and tested method of treating the guitar signal with a synthesizer the team laid down three distinctive-sounding tracks full of shifting tones and pitches. And when layered together that good old studio magic came into play as they fitted together perfectly, giving the song a unique identity all its own.
Buy Heroes (opens in new tab)here.
Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab), Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.
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