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Under Pressure (1981) - Queen (feat. David Bowie) - Song Story ...

Summer 1981. Queen were recording their new album "Hot Space".....

History of the song "Under Pressure" - Queen feat. David Bowie (1981)

Where the album "Hot Space" was recorded

The city of Montreux in Switzerland has been the springboard for many hits written by some of the most famous bands. Among them were Queen and David Bowie. Summer 1981. Queen were recording their new album "Hot Space" at Mountain Studios. At the same time, David was recording at the same studio. He was working on a composition for the film "Cat People", by the way, the song was called the same. They saw each other all the time and crossed paths.....

Queen's "Hot Space" album cover
Queen's "Hot Space" album cover

Song recording

So one day, Queen were composing "Cool Cat", they were jamming and improvising and just messing around as usual. Bowie came round to visit them that evening and they got him to do it. In the end, they recorded his vocals, but David was not happy with the result, he said it was stupid and asked them to delete it. In the end he suggested to record a separate composition, a fully collaborative work.

David Bowie
David Bowie

They started with the arrangement. Bassist John Deacon came up with the theme, and Bowie and Freddie worked on the vocals and composition. David suggested that they split up into booths with Freddie, so that each recorded his part independently of the other, and then they would come together and mix it all together. So they did.

It wasn't easy work, the passions were boiling, and here's why... Everyone was a mature musician, everyone had their own opinion. Bowie, of course, was more mature, and he was imposing his point of view on Queen, and the guys were not bad either, and they stood their ground. And it was considered a Bowie song, even though he only came up with the vocals. He was trying to control the process, and it was fun. Brian May wasn't allowed to speak at all, as there were enough opinions already. Tensions were rising.

Brian would later tell us that as they split up in the booths, David was watching Mercury at work. He caught Freddie's motif, and it was easier for him to come up with his own. However, David and Freddie also began to get along badly towards the end. Bowie even wanted to ban the song from being released!

David Bowie and Freddy Mercury
David Bowie and Freddy Mercury

The release of the song "Under Pressure"

Luckily, they recorded a song and it was released! "Under Pressure" was released in October '81. It went straight to the top of the UK charts and was also included in VH1's golden collection of the best songs of the 80s.

The song was released by both Queen and Bowie. Queen had it as part of the album "Hot Space". For Bowie, it appeared on the "Best of Bowie" disc. There is no official music video for this song. For what reasons it's not clear, but director David Mallet edited a video from various shots taken from films of the time. It's pretty good!

Interesting facts

  • The original title of the song was "People on Streets", but Bowie changed it to "Under Pressure". He convinced Queen that it better reflected the essence of the song. And so it did.
  • Queen played "Under Pressure" at their concerts until 1986. Bowie, on the contrary, did not play it... Only after Freddie's death, in memory of his friend, he performed it. And since the mid-90s he included it in the permanent repertoire of his concerts.
  • Mercury never performed the song live with Bowie. I think Bowie regretted it afterwards. However, fans edited a Live performance of both of them and it turned out to be this:

https://youtu.be/YoDh_gHDvkk

  • When a concert in Freddie's memory took place, Bowie, along with Annie Lennox, performed "Under Pressure" with Queen musicians.

  • The song has become so popular that it's just about the most common soundtrack to films of the 90s and 00s.
  • Vanilla Ice borrowed the riff from "Under Pressure" for their song "Ice Ice Baby". There was even a court case, but the borrowing was so obvious that the band just decided to buy the rights to the song. They thought it was more profitable than paying royalties.

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