“ ‘Heroes’ ” is a David Bowie song from 1977 about lovers separated by the Berlin Wall. The quotation marks are part of the song’s title: the word “hero” is used semi-cynically throughout, as Bowie sings about love’s limits in the face of power and violence:
Though nothing will drive them away,
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day
Though nothing will keep us together,
We could steal time, just for one day.
It’s also a legendary track among recording engineers because of a cool piece of studio trickery: Bowie’s lead vocal was recorded in a symphony-sized recording studio through three microphones simultaneously, ranging in distance from directly in front of the singer to the other end of the hall, connected to noise gates to automatically change the way Bowie’s voice was recorded depending on how loudly he was singing. Producer Tony Visconti described his process like this in 2011:
I only had the one track left, so I couldn’t record these microphones on separate tracks. What I did is put a gate on microphone two and another gate on microphone three, so when he sang like this [deep voice] those microphones wouldn’t open up, you wouldn’t hear the ambience in the room. When he sang like this [loud voice], the middle microphone would open up and when he went [screams]—that’s called Bowie histrionics—all three microphones would open up and the reverb you hear on that recording is only that room.
Jay Hodgson’s 2010 book Understanding Records: A Field Guide to Recording Practice (which this non-recording-engineer found via Wikipedia) offers an explanation of the way form and function merge here:
Bowie’s performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard. …the distanced effect which multi-latching generated on “ ‘Heroes’ ” is obviously reinforced by Visconti’s treatment of Bowie’s backing vocals during the final verse and chorus. Beginning at 4:28, it is the backing line which appears driest and loudest in mix; the conventional dynamic relationship between lead and backing vocals is, in this case, reversed so Bowie’s lead vocals are buried far back in the mix while his backing vocals swell to the fore. The more Bowie shouts to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti’s multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks, creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie’s doomed lovers…
But there’s no sense reading about music when you can listen to it. Here’s David Bowie, repeating trite lines about heroism that his song’s narrator only half-believes, as noise and feedback increase in volume and nearly bury his voice. By the time he admits that “We’re nothing, and nothing will help us,” he’s screaming.
You can also hear a version of this song in the new trailer for Justice League!