Song of the Day, October 1: Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie

QueenBowiePressureToday’s song is a superstar pairing that works. In 1981 Queen were coming off the massive success of The Game; David Bowie was rejuvenating his career, about to record his smash album Let’s Dance. Bowie had dropped in on the sessions for Queen’s Hot Space, recording some backing vocals that were not working out. The five musicians spent some time just jamming together, and the result was a highlight of both careers.

The loose, improvisational origin of the song is part of its success. Both Bowie and Queen are notorious for their laborious studio work. The scat-style vocals and loose-limbed instrumentation of Under Pressure show off another side to both acts that serves them well. It wound up credited to all five performers, a rare Queen track with writing split all four ways. The song is a perfect balance of performers’ prog/glam history, growing interest in dance music, and solid pop skills. Bowie and Freddie Mercury blend their voices together flawlessly while the rest of Queen provide an urgent, compelling backdrop.

The result was Queen’s second and Bowie’s third UK #1 and a great reintroduction of Bowie to US radio listeners. It remains one of the finest singles in both catalogs.

Enjoy this early 80s gem today.

BONUS VERSION: After Freddie Mercury’s untimely death, Queen held a tribute concert to raise money for AIDS research. Bowie — who had not sung the song live — joined the band for a rousing version of Under Pressure. Stepping in for Mercury was the incomparable Annie Lennox, whose fiery turn finds new energy in the song and clearly inspires the band and Bowie.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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