Freddie Mercury and David Bowie - "Under Pressure": surprising facts about the hit that was born "under pressure

"Freddie and David had different views on how the mix should be done, and the sound engineer had absolutely no idea what to do!"

Backstage rivalries and creating "under pressure" - how the hit "Under Pressure" was born

When David Bowie and Freddie Mercury teamed up to record "Under Pressure."we have one of the best duets of all time! The composition became the calling card of both musicians, an international hit and a classic of its time! However, the process of its creation really took place "under pressure.".

Creative differences and the clash of two strong personalities made it difficult to record and even put the mixing desk out of commission! But it was this tension and made "Under Pressure" such a powerful hit.

A chance meeting in Switzerland

David Bowie and Queen
David Bowie and Queen

The meeting of David Bowie and Queen in Switzerland was an accident. Ironically, the musicians ended up in a quiet town Montreux - the band was recording at Mountain Studios, while Rock Chameleon was busy recording as well. Everybody already knew each other, so this meeting could be called "a typical friendly clash".

How exactly Bowie ended up in the studio with Queen is not entirely clear, as versions differ. The band's tour manager, Peter Hince, claims that David was invited by Roger Taylor. But Bowie himself said that the meeting in the studio happened thanks to the efforts of the sound engineer David Richards. Anyway, when it happened, everyone wanted to have some fun!

From covers to a unique hit

David Bowie and Queen
Queen and David Bowie

No one was planning to record anything - the musicians were just having fun and performing. covers on various songs. From the recollections of Peter Hince:

"They were happy to see each other, and they just started goofing around. They performed covers, some of their own stuff... It was fun!"

The idea to engage in new material was put forward by Bowie. Later he spoke of it this way:

"It was completely spontaneous, not planned. I thought it was a good idea!"

David Bowie in the 1980s
David Bowie in the 1980s

And here's what I remembered Roger Taylor:

"We were all drunk! We were in the studio and just playing all kinds of old songs for fun, and then David suggested we record something of our own."

"Speed is the real sister of talent!"

David Bowie and Queen
David Bowie and the members of Queen

The music was written by the whole "gang," and on the fly! Here's what he said about it Brian May:

"We played some old songs, and then something new started coming out, and we said, 'Okay, let's try to record this.' It was totally spontaneous. We were fumbling together, like some kind of ensemble, for a minuscule song."

Freddie Mercury and Brian May
Freddie Mercury and Brian May

It all started with John Deacon played a six-note riff. Then the musicians interrupted for lunch, during which they drank several more bottles of wine. When they got back to work, the song began to take shape. According to Deacon, Bowie gave him some good advice on some of the chords. After the musicians recorded a backing track to what would later become "Under Pressure."several band members decided to call it a night. It was late, and they drank a lot of wine, but David Bowie wanted to keep creating!

David Bowie in 1983
David Bowie

Remarkably, the original title of the song was "People on the streets." (People on the Streets). These words appeared in the original lyrics written by the musicians during their first night of work, but the next day, as Bowie continued to pull leadership role on themselves, everyone focused on the lyrics "under pressure. This expression fully described the atmosphere that reigned in the studio and the way the composition was born.

"Bumped horns."

David Bowie and Freddie Mercury chatting backstage
David Bowie and Freddie Mercury chatting backstage

When everyone returned to the studio the next day, David continued to direct the vocal component of the song. Brian May recalled:

"Freddie and David no doubt bumped horns. But it's when the sparks fly that everything turns out great!"

According to Peter Hince, Bowie and Mercury behaved as "consummate professionals who do not tolerate outside advice:

"David took charge of the vocals, which caused some tension. But that's how you get good music - by creating it under tension!"

Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury

Bowie suggested unusual idea recording the vocals. When the phonogram was ready, David said:

"Let each of us go into the vocal booth and sing the way we think the melody should go - the way we have it in our heads - and we'll assemble a vocal out of it."

So they did. But the tension continued all the way to New York, where a few weeks later Mercury and Bowie met again to make final mix for the track.

"Freddie and David had different views on how the mix should be done, and the sound engineer had absolutely no idea what to do!" recalled May.

Not only the recording participants suffered from the tension, but also... the equipment! While the musicians were finishing the song, mixing console suddenly decided to break! The end result was what Brian May called the "assembled" version of Under Pressure.

The song has never been performed as a duet.

Two icons of the era: on the left - David Bowie, on the right - Freddie Mercury
Two icons of the era: David Bowie, Freddie Mercury

Queen often played "Under Pressure" at their concerts - it was an important song for them because of "David and lyrical content.". Bowie didn't return to this song until a 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute concert, when he performed it with Annie Lennox. Brian May recalled this emotional scene:

"David has made a wonderful contribution to the show..."

Starting in 2000, Bowie regularly included this song in his set list. Notably, both Mercury and Bowie have performed on Live Aid in 1985, but the opportunity for the duo was missed...

Finally, I would like to add that there are other entries Queen + David Bowie. The word goes out to Peter Hince:

"Of course, there were other tracks recorded by Queen and Bowie that never came out. Pretty raw, but original material definitely. They were just incredibly spontaneous, good musicians. I can categorically say that I know there were finished tracks, not mixed, but fully formed songs that were recorded!"

Brian May confirmed this theory in 2017. Who knows, maybe in the future a pleasant surprise awaits us, and someday these tracks will reach us after all? Let's hope so!


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