QUEEN AND DAVID BOWIE "UNDER PRESSURE"
by Mark Nobes, chief editor
Released on 26th Oct 1981, "Under Pressure" became the Queen's second No.1 in the UK on 15th November 1981 - Bohemian Rhapsody had previously topped the charts during 1975. The classic collaboration was written and produced by the band with David Bowie. In the U.S., the single only reached #29.
The single entered the UK charts at No.8 on 8th Nov and was later included on the band's tenth studio album Hot Space which was released on 21st May 1982. Queen played the track live at every concert from 1981 to 1986.
The B-side featured the track "Soul Brother" which was penned by Freddie Mercury.
In 1988, a 3 inch CD (these were popular at the time) was released with an extra track "Body Language".
Bowie and Queen initially came together in Mountain Studios, Switzerland. Bowie was living in Switzerland at the time and visited the studios while Queen were recording. Bowie was invited to perform the backing vocals on the track "Cool Cat". However, he was dissatisfied with the results and the vocals were not used in the final recording.
Bowie then helped the band to finish another song "Feel Like" which the band were struggling to complete to their satisfaction. After a jamming session together, the final song was created and re-titled "Under Pressure". Bootleg versions of the demo can be found on Youtube, and although you can clearly here the "Under Pressure" melody here, the overall sound is pretty messy, as you would expect from a demo. This version was penned by the band's drummer Roger Taylor.
Brian May has revealed that extra tracks were recorded during the sessions, leaving fans drooling over the prospect that they may be released at some point in the near future.
Who created that iconic bassline?
Although some sources during the 80s suggested that it was David Bowie who came up with the bassline, more recent interviews with Brian May and Roger Taylor have revealed that it was John Deacon who created it, and he played it over and over during the demo sessions. Bowie also mentioned on his own website that the bassline had already been written when he worked on the song.
However, in an article published on the Mirror Online on 11th Jan 2016, Brian May stated that Bowie changed the riff. Apparently, after a long dinner break at a local restaurant in which a substantial amount of alcohol was consumed, on his return to the jamming session, John Deacon amusingly forgot how to play the bassline. Bowie stepped in to play his version of what he remembered the bassline to be, and this was the version used.
It's interesting that the scat style "De dah day" vocals which Freddie Mercury sang during the sessions were kept in the final mix. Usually, this type of off-the cuff vocal would be edited out of a song, but now you can't imagine the song without it.
Why was the video banned by the BBC?
The video is rather disappointing in that it features neither Bowie or Queen, as they were too busy touring. Therefore, it was left to director David Mallet to cobble together some stock footage of "pressure" scenes such as jam-packed, Japanese commuter trains, riots, explosions etc. The scene of explosions in Northern Ireland led to the BBC banning the video and it was not shown on Top Of The Pops.
Queen found themselves banned again by the BBC during the first Gulf war when they refused to play their 1974 single "Killer Queen". Amusingly, ABBA's "Waterloo" and Lulu's "Boom Bang A Bang" were also banned, would you believe!
On 6th Dec 1999, "Under Pressure Rah Mix" was released to promote the album Queen Greatest Hits III, reaching #14 in the UK singles chart. "Bohemian Rhapsody" had just won "The Song of the Millennium" award and this was also included as track 2 on the 7" and CD singles. The 1984 hit single "Thank God It's Christmas" was also included as the third track on the CD single.
7 inch vinyl single (UK)