Stories Behind Classic Songs, Part 2 (Special Bowie Edition)

1) Heroes was written about an affair

No doubt that the whole Berlin Trilogy of albums stands out as one of Bowie’s most influential and consistently great musical achievements. And for an artist that has managed to remain relevant for 5 decades that says a lot. Especially when that level was maintained with an appetite for constant musical experimentation and mask changing. The fact that Bowie never tried to reproduce any of his classic albums only affirms their status.

Just as happened with most of his eras, one song remained in the public consciousness as representative of it. “Heroes” is the case for the Berlin period, which Bowie himself described as a “very pretty love song” in a 1977 interview that finds him coked-up extremely excited about his new album. The romantic nature of the lyrics was inspired by an actual real-life love story, though one that has been kept as secret for a long time. Song and album producer Tony Visconti was having an affair at the time with a German singer by the name of Antonia Maass (credited with backing vocals on the album) and it was the picture of the two together that gave Bowie the initial inspiration. In order to keep Visconti’s then-wife from finding out, Bowie would just deny any direct inspiration for the song’s protagonists at the time of its release. He eventually received Visconti’s permission to do so.

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Rumor has it that if you play Heroes backwards you can hear Visconti’s wife going berserk.

Tony Visconti produced over 10 David Bowie records throughout his career, including all 3 from his Berlin era, The Man Who Sold the World, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) as well as 2016’s Blackstar.

2) Space Oddity was turned down by George Martin

Bowie’s breakthrough single came after a number of unsuccessful attempts. Singles were released both under his name and as part of groups as early as 1964 and a self-titled LP debut came in 1967. But if his debut was criticized for its old-fashioned music-hall arrangements, then the release of Space Oddity in 1969 with its space flight theme came just at the right moment. Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey from the previous year was still making waves in the cinema world, while the Apollo 11 mission was just 5 days away from being launched. Though it seemed like a perfect fit, George Martin was not of the same impression. The legendary producer behind The Beatles was Bowie’s first choice but it left him continuing his search. Then the aforementioned Tony Visconti turned the task down as well, although he ended up producing the rest of the album. Visconti’s reasons for negatively singling out Space Oddity were that he saw it as nothing but a “cheap shot” taken at the Apollo mission.

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Gus Dudgeon ended up producing the song, who would become known for his Elton John collaborations that started a year later.

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Categories: Stories Behind Classic Songs

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2 replies

  1. You would think Space Oddity would have been right up George Martin’s alley. Since the song has stood the test of time, the critics may have been shortsighted.

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