Queen Corner is a blog dedicated to the Music of Queen
Friday, June 15, 2018
Queen - Under Pressure - Song Facts
"Under Pressure" is a 1981 song by the British rock band Queen and the British singer David Bowie. It was included on Queen's 1982 album Hot Space. The song reached number one on the UK Singles Chart, becoming Queen's second number-one hit in their home country (after 1975's "Bohemian Rhapsody", which topped the chart for nine weeks) and Bowie's third (after 1980's "Ashes to Ashes" and the 1975 reissue of "Space Oddity"). The song only peaked at No. 29 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in January 1982, and would re-chart for one week at No. 45 in the US following Bowie's death in January 2016. It was also number 31 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '80s. It has been voted the second best collaboration of all time in a poll by the Rolling Stone magazine.
Queen had been working on a song called "Feel Like", but was not satisfied with the result. David Bowie had originally come to Mountain Studios to sing back up vocals on another Queen song, "Cool Cat", but his vocals were removed from the final song because he was not satisfied with his performance. Once he got there, they worked together for a while and wrote the song. The final version, which became "Under Pressure", evolved from a jam session that Bowie had with the band at Queen's studio in Montreux, Switzerland. It was credited as being co-written by the five musicians. The scat singing that dominates much of the song is evidence of the jam-beginnings as improvisation. However, according to Queen bassist John Deacon (as quoted in a French magazine in 1984), the song's primary musical songwriter was Freddie Mercury – though all contributed to the arrangement. Brian May recalled to Mojo magazine, in October 2008, that, "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. It's a significant song because of David and its lyrical content." The earlier, embryonic version of the song without Bowie, "Feel Like", is widely available in bootleg form, and was written by Queen drummer Roger Taylor.
There has also been some confusion about who had created the song's bassline. John Deacon said (in Japanese magazine Music life in 1982) that David Bowie created it. In more recent interviews, Brian May and Roger Taylor credited the bass riff to Deacon. Bowie, on his website, said that the bassline was already written before he became involved. Roger Taylor, in an interview for the BBC documentary Queen: the Days of Our Lives, stated that Deacon did indeed create the bassline, stating that all through the sessions in the studio he had been playing the riff over and over. He also claims that when the band returned from dinner, Deacon, amusingly, forgot the riff, but fortunately Taylor was still able to remember it. Brian May clarified matters in a 2016 Mirror Onlinearticle, writing that it was actually Bowie, not Taylor, who had inadvertently changed the riff. The riff began as "Deacy began playing, 6 notes the same, then one note a fourth down". After the dinner break, Bowie corrected (actually changed) Deacon's memory of the riff to "Ding-Ding-Ding Diddle Ing-Ding".