Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure

I can’t help but think of that awful song by Vanilia Ice when I hear this now.

Vanilla Ice sampled this on “Ice Ice Baby,” which was a huge hit in 1990. It appears that the sample was never cleared and a settlement was reached with Queen and Bowie long after Vanilla’s song hit it big… I was very happy to see this happen.

John Deacon (Queen’s Bass Player) came up with the iconic two-note bass riff, although it came very close to vanishing. Deacon came up with the riff, then the band went for pizza before coming back to continue rehearsals. Upon returning, Deacon had completely forgotten his idea! Luckily, Taylor eventually remembered how the bassline went. The song is credited to Queen and David Bowie.

The song peaked at #29 in the Billboard 100, #1 in the UK, #3 in Canada, and #6 in NewZealand in 1982.

Brian May: “It was hard because you had four very precocious boys and David, who was precocious enough for all of us. David took over the song lyrically. Looking back, it’s a great song but it should have been mixed differently. Freddie and David had a fierce battle over that.”

\From Songfacts

A collaboration with David Bowie, this is credited to “Queen with David Bowie” because the B-side of the single is Queen’s “Soul Brother.” It was recorded at an impromptu session in Montreaux, Switzerland in the summer of 1981.

According to Queen bass player John Deacon, Freddie Mercury did most of the songwriting on this, although everyone contributed. The lyrics deal with how pressure can destroy lives, but love can be the answer. The lyrics are characteristic of Mercury’s songwriting.

May adds to this feeling of the sessions being fairly strained in a further interview for the Days of our Lives documentary, where he notes that “suddenly you’ve got this other person inputting, inputting, inputting… he (David) had a vision in his head, and it’s quite a difficult process and someone has to back off… and eventually I did back off, which is unusual for me.”

In the US, this was on Queen’s Greatest Hits album and released as a single at the same time. It was not released on a UK album until six months later, when it was included on Hot Space.

This was only the second UK #1 hit for Queen. They hit #2 with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “We Are The Champions,” “Somebody To Love,” and “Killer Queen,” but their only previous #1 in England was “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

In the early ’80s, it was popular for two superstars to get together to release a hit single. Other notable combinations include Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder on “Ebony And Ivory,” Diana Ross and Lionel Richie on “Endless Love,” and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton on “Islands in the Stream.” “Under Pressure” marked the first time Queen collaborated with another artist.

David Bowie performed this with Annie Lennox at the 1992 “Concert For Life” in Wembley Stadium, London. The show was a tribute to Freddie Mercury, with proceeds going to AIDS causes.

This song has been used in a number of movies, including 2002’s 40 Days And 40 Nights and 2004’s The Girl Next Door. It is also included in the hugely successful Queen tribute show We Will Rock You. >>

During the Taste Of Chaos tour, the singers from My Chemical Romance and The Used would come out and perform this song at the end of the show. >>

Joss Stone covered this for the 2005 Queen tribute album Killer Queen. >>

Reinhold Mack, who did production work on the Hot Space album, told an amusing story about the vocal recording for “Under Pressure,” where one of the two singers would record their improvised vocals with the other being locked out so they couldn’t hear what the other was doing.

Said Mack: “Freddie is doing all his bits and pieces and I see out of the corner of my eye David sticking his head in and listening. Then Fred came down and David went up, and Fred was quite impressed how David was counterpointing to what he (Freddie) had done before. Fred said ‘what do you make of this?’ and I said ‘Well, it’s kinda easy if you stand in the doorway and listen!'”

At which point Freddie apparently had some choice words for David!

According to a 2017 Mojo interview with Brian May, Freddie and David “locked horns” in the studio. Asked to elaborate, the Queen guitarist replied: “In subtle ways, like who would arrive last at the studio. So it was sort of wonderful and terrible. But in my mind I remember the wonderful now, more than the terrible.”

The two singers first met a dozen years before they recorded the song. In 1969, Freddie Mercury fitted David Bowie for a pair of boots during his day job working on a boot stall in Kensington Market.

Under Pressure

Mmm num ba de
Dum bum ba be
Doo buh dum ba beh beh

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

Um ba ba be
Um ba ba be
De day da
Ee day da, that’s okay

It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
“Let me out!”
Pray tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people, people on streets

Day day de mm hm
Da da da ba ba
Okay
Chipping around, kick my brains around the floor
These are the days it never rains but it pours
Ee do ba be
Ee da ba ba ba
Um bo bo
Be lap
People on streets
Ee da de da de
People on streets
Ee da de da de da de da

It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
‘Let me out’
Pray tomorrow gets me higher, high
Pressure on people, people on streets

Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why, why, why?
Love, love, love, love, love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?

‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
Under pressure
Pressure

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

35 thoughts on “Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure”

  1. Interesting story about it (especially the chance encounter Bowie and Mercury had years earlier!). I like the song, but find it overplayed on radio, partly I’m sure because of the untimely demise of both singers. I always think of it in terms of being a Queen song with a guest backing vocalist rather than the other way around, and the text seems to suggest that… Queen came up with the tune and lyrics.
    That Vanilla Ice was something. It seems to me that the b-side of his Ice Ice Baby was “Play that Funky Music White boy” and he somehow failed to credit the songwriter (the Wild Cherry guy) at all until a judge “rapped” him across the knuckles!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. He really is…he didn’t write a bundle of songs but the ones he wrote were hits. Another One Bites The Dust and You’re My Best Friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this thing as soon as it came out. There is a re-vamped version out there that drives me nuts because all the little bits and pieces of duh, duh, duh and other stuff they come up with is different. But, I can still sing every duh and boom bah right along with them…burned into my memory.

    Whenever Ice Ice Baby came out, I would immediately change the station. That mess annoyed me as badly as Can’t Touch This did from Hammer, ripping off Rick James. I kept thinking to myself “can they not come up with their own original shit, anymore? they gotta rip off someone else?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t heard the revamped version yet.

      I can’t stand when they do that .Just come up with something original. I was so happy when Queen sued him.

      Like

      1. You know that could be the original mix. Brian May said he didn’t like the mix Queen did.

        Like

      2. IDK but, my 45 is like your video. That is the version that was all over the radio. The above video, that didn’t show up until, what, the 90s? Reminds me of when they did a remix of December, 1963, by The Four Seasons. A Dutch DJ did a remix in 1988 and Curb re-released it in 1993. THAT pissed me off. I’m not fond of remixes when I come to love originals. I’d rather have another artist sing the song slightly different and make it their own. Angel of the Morning is a good example. Juice Newton & Merilee Rush both had great versions. THAT, I don’t mind.

        Ever hear Jewel’s version of You Make Lovin’ Fun?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m the same way about remixed. There is only one remix that I like. That is Elvis A Little Less Conversation. I hated the fake sounding drums but I never knew the song until I heard the remix…that is probably the reason I liked it.

        I never heard Jewel’s version. I just looked for it and couldn’t find it.
        Something about that lady…when she came out…she was/is a looker….and yea she is a good song writer.

        Like

      4. That is strange…yea I didn’t know she had it.

        The Cranberries version was good…I just listened to it.

        Like

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