Song 160: Queen & David Bowie, “Under Pressure” (1981)

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I always forget how much I like Queen. I was pretty into them in junior high, and I abandoned them in high school because… why? It probably had something to do with not thinking they were cool, but I lost that bet. Queen is, of course, awesome.

I’m reminded of this fact every once in a while, like the other day, when the isolated vocals from “Under Pressure” started making the Internet rounds. Even without the crackerjack rhythm section and Brian May’s fiery guitars, this song is fully realized. Much of the song was apparently written through improvisation, which explains all the scatting that Freddie Mercury does. I also love Bowie’s little harmony at 0:16. It’s very subtle, but it’s typical of Bowie’s attention to detail.

There are other great stories about this song (among them, that Bowie insisted he and Mercury not hear what each other had recorded, so their verses would sound different from each other), but the most interesting to me is that bassist John Deacon had forgotten the bassline after the band returned from dinner one night. Drummer Roger Taylor was able to remember it, but what if he hadn’t? This amazing song may not have seen the light of day. (Then again, “Ice Ice Baby” may not have, either.)

So why do I love this song? The seamless meshing of those verses and vocals? The immortal bassline? The burning-fuse escalation of the whole thing? I think it’s all of the above (and, probably, the song’s use in this scene), but fundamentally, it’s the Queen-ness of it all.

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