David Bowie’s “Heroes” Delightfully Performed by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Cov­er tunes are not trib­ute bands. The best cov­ers don’t aim to be car­bon copies. They expand our con­cept of the orig­i­nal with an unex­pect­ed ele­ment or fresh lens.

Would you believe me if I told you that the Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain’s take on David Bowie’s “Heroes”—the sec­ond most cov­ered tune in the late rocker’s canon—is even sex­i­er than the orig­i­nal?



Noth­ing ever will be.

It is, how­ev­er, a com­pelling case for the pow­er of mul­ti­ple ukule­les.

A sin­gle uke could only be dwarfed by the mem­o­ry of “Heroes”’ dri­ving, famous­ly lay­ered sound, a group effort that includ­ed pro­duc­er Tony Vis­con­ti and gui­tarist Robert Fripp.

Bowie may have referred to the tem­po and rhythm as “plod­ding,” but co-writer Bri­an Eno’s descrip­tion of the sound as some­thing “grand and hero­ic” comes much clos­er to the mark.

Are eight ukes grand and hero­ic? Well, no. Not real­ly.

And there is some­thing unde­ni­ably humor­ous about a row of for­mal­ly attired, seat­ed, mid­dle-aged men and women, wail­ing away in uni­son with their right hands, but it’s telling that the audi­ence at New York’s mul­ti­me­dia art cabaret (le) Pois­son Rouge isn’t laugh­ing.

Admit­ted­ly, there were a few iso­lat­ed chuck­les in the begin­ning, a few notes in.


Prob­a­bly been dragged there on blind dates with ukulele-enthu­si­asts.

To be char­i­ta­ble, there will always be those in need of con­vinc­ing that the ukulele is a legit­i­mate instru­ment.

Who bet­ter to con­vince them than the Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain, whose very name sug­gests that its mem­bers are in on the joke, and capa­ble of turn­ing it on its head?

The lyrics, as most Bowie fans can tell you, were inspired by real life, but not exact­ly Bowie’s. The tune was on sol­id foot­ing, but the words were still slow to come, when Bowie glanced out the win­dow of his Berlin record­ing stu­dio to catch a back up singer and Vis­con­ti, mar­ried at the time, enjoy­ing what they believed was a stolen kiss.

The rest, as they say is his­to­ry, kept some­what shroud­ed in mys­tery until rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly.

The Ukulele Orches­tra singers wise­ly steer clear of Bowie’s howl­ing, emo­tion­al deliv­ery, which Vis­con­ti got on tape almost before the ink on those lyrics had time to dry.

Instead, they hon­or him, and the place this song has in so many people’s hearts, with their sin­cer­i­ty.

Lis­ten to the Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain’s take on Bowie’s Life on Mars here.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain Per­forms Stun­ning Cov­ers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it,” Talk­ing Heads’ “Psy­cho Killer” & More

Pro­duc­er Tony Vis­con­ti Breaks Down the Mak­ing of David Bowie’s Clas­sic “Heroes,” Track by Track

George Har­ri­son Explains Why Every­one Should Play the Ukulele

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 24 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.