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"Under Pressure" is a great 1981 song originally recorded by Queen and David Bowie, featured on Queen's 1982 album Hot Space. The song reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. It was also number 31 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '80s.[1]

The song was played live at every Queen concert from 1981 until the end of Queen's touring career in 1986.[2][3][4] It is recorded on the live albums Queen Rock Montreal and Queen at Wembley.[5][6] The song was included on some editions of Queen's first Greatest Hits compilations, such as the original 1981 Elektra release in the US. It is included on the band's compilation albums Greatest Hits IIClassic Queen, and Absolute Greatest[7] as well as the compilation Best of Bowie.[8]

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Creation

Creation[edit]Edit

Queen had been working on the song under the title "Feel Like" but were not yet satisfied with the result.[9][10] David Bowie had originally come to Mountain Studios in order to sing backing vocals on another Queen song, "Cool Cat", which would end up being edited out since he was not satisfied with it. Once he got there, they worked together for a while and wrote the song.[11]The final version that became "Under Pressure" evolved from a jam session that Bowie had with the band at Queen's studio in Montreux, Switzerland; therefore it was credited as co-written by the five musicians. The scat singing that dominates much of the song is evidence of the jam-beginnings as improvisation. According to Queen bassist John Deacon (as quoted in a French magazine in 1984), however, 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."[12] 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 been some confusion about who created the song's bassline. John Deacon said (in Japanese magazine Musiclife in 1982, and in the previously mentioned French magazine) that David Bowie had created it. In more recent interviews, Brian May and Roger Taylor have credited the bass riff to Deacon. Bowie, on his website, said that the bassline was already written before he became involved.[13] Roger Taylor, in an interview for the BBC documentaryQueen: the Days of Our Lives, stated that Deacon had indeed created 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 had, amusingly, forgotten the riff, but fortunately Taylor was still able to remember it.[14]

Music video[edit]Edit

The video for the song features neither Queen nor David Bowie due to touring commitments.[15] Taking the theme of pressure, director David Mallet edited together stock footage of traffic jams, commuter trains packed with passengers, explosions, riots, cars being crushed and various pieces of footage from silent films of the 1920s, most notably Sergei Eisenstein's influential Soviet film Battleship Potemkin, the silent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring John Barrymore, and F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, a master work of the German Expressionist movement.[15][16] The video celebrates the pressure-cooker mentality of a culture willing to wage war against political machines, and at the same time love and have fun (there is also footage of crowds enjoying concerts, and lots of black and white kissing scenes).[16]

Track listing[edit]Edit

1981 single

  1. "Under Pressure" (Mercury, Taylor, Deacon, May, Bowie) – 4:02
  2. "Soul Brother" (Mercury, Taylor, Deacon, May) – 3:38

EMI released a 3-inch CD version of the single in 1988 with "Body Language" as an additional B-side.

Original production credits[edit]Edit

Reception[edit]Edit

The September 2005 edition of online music magazine Stylus singled out the bassline as the best in popular music history.[17] In November 2004, Stylus music critic Anthony Miccio commented that "Under Pressure" "is the best song of all time" and described it as Queen's "opus".[18] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed "Under Pressure" as the 21st best single of the 1980s.[19]

Live performances[edit]Edit

Although very much a joint project, only Queen incorporated the song into their live shows at the time. Bowie chose not to perform the song before an audience until the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, when he and Annie Lennoxsang it as a duet (backed by the surviving Queen members).[20] However, since Mercury's death and the Outside tour in 1995, Bowie has performed the song at virtually every one of his live shows, with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey taking Mercury's vocal part. The song also appeared in setlists from A Reality Tour mounted by Bowie in 2004, when he frequently would dedicate it to Freddie Mercury. Queen + Paul Rodgers have recently performed the song; and in summer of 2012, Queen + Adam Lambert toured, including a performance of the song by Lambert and Roger Taylor in each show.[21] While David Bowie was never present for a live performance of the song with Mercury, Taylor instead filled for backing vocals usually in unison with Mercury, as Mercury took over all of Bowie's parts.

Live recordings[edit]Edit

Other releases[edit]Edit

"Under Pressure (Rah Mix)"
[1]
Single by Queen and David Bowie
from the album Greatest Hits III
B-side
Released 6 December 1999
Format CD single, digital download
Genre Rock
Length Album Version and Single Version 4:08, video version 4:27
Label EMIParlophone
Writer(s) Queen and David Bowie
Producer(s) Queen and David Bowie
Queen singles chronology
"Another One Bites The Dust (Small Soldiers Remix)"

(1998)

"Under Pressure (Rah Mix)"

(1999)

"We Will Rock You"

(2000)

David Bowie singles chronology
"The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell"

(1999)

"Under Pressure (Rah Mix)"

(1999)

"Survive"

(2000)

Rah Mix[edit]Edit

A remixed version (called "Rah Mix") was issued in December 1999 to promote Queen's Greatest Hits III compilation, reaching No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart. The video for Under Pressure "Rah Mix" was directed by DoRo and features footage of Freddie Mercury from the Wembley concert on 12 July 1986 and David Bowie at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert also at Wembley on 20 April 1992 spliced together due to digital technology (and with Annie Lennox carefully edited out) and features on Greatest Flix III VHS, Under Pressure "Rah Mix" cd single CD1 and Queen Hot Space 2011 iTunes edition.

Track listing[edit]Edit

Two CD singles (one multimedia enhanced) released 6 December 1999 and 7" picture disc released 13 December 1999. As Bohemian Rhapsody wins The Song of The Millennium award, this released as b-side under the title "The Song of The Millenium – Bohemian Rhapsody"[24]

CDS No. 1
  1. Under Pressure (Rah Mix)
  2. The Song of the Millennium – Bohemian Rhapsody
  3. Thank God It's Christmas
CDS No. 2
  1. Under Pressure (Rah Mix – Radio Edit)
  2. Under Pressure (Mike Spencer Mix)
  3. Under Pressure (Knebworth Mix)
  4. Enhanced section
7"
  1. Under Pressure (Rah Mix)
  2. The Song of the Millennium – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Was initially released in US on the Elektra Records US and Canadian versions of Queen's Greatest Hits as a new track.
  • Was released in UK on Queen's (1991) Greatest Hits II (which would later be included in The Platinum Collection (2000 and 2002)) removing the second time David Bowie sings, "This is our last dance."
  • The song was released as a bonus track on the Virgin Records reissue of Bowie's Let's Dance in 1995.
  • Hollywood Records remixed the song for their 1992 release, Classic Queen. This version features improved sound quality, but removes Mercury's interjection "that's okay!" at about 0:53.
  • It also appeared on some Bowie compilations, most of which used the Hollywood Records remix:
  • The original single version appears on disc three of Bowie's The Platinum Collection (2005), marking the first appearance of this version on a Bowie compilation.[25] This disc was later released separately as The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987 (2007).
  • An instrumental version appears in the DVD menu for the Hot Space section of Greatest Video Hits 2.
  • Has also been performed, but without the lyrics, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.[26][27]
  • Was featured nearly in its entirety in the 2010 film It's Kind of a Funny Story, initially as a 'cover' by the patients in a music therapy class at a New York City psychiatric ward, which the film transformed into the authentic song 'performed' by the patients, dressed in glam, in a near music-video style imaginary sequence (with David Bowie and Queen's original vocals and instrumentation).

Chart positions[edit]Edit

Under Pressure (1981):

Country Peak position Certification
Argentina 1
Netherlands 1
UK 1 Silver
Ireland 2
Canada 3
South Africa 4
Norway 5
New Zealand 6
Australia 8
Austria 10
Sweden 10
Switzerland 10
Germany 21
U.S. 29
Japan 88

Under Pressure – Rah Mix (1999):

Country Peak position Certification
UK 14
Netherlands 19

Cover versions[edit]Edit

My Chemical Romance and The Used version[edit]Edit

"Under Pressure"
[2]
Single by My Chemical Romance and The Used
from the album In Love and Death
Released 12 April 2005
Format Digital download
Recorded 2005
Genre Alternative rock[28]
Length 3:32
Label Reprise
Writer(s) David BowieJohn DeaconBrian MayFreddie MercuryRoger Taylor
Producer(s) Howard Benson
My Chemical Romance singles chronology
"Helena"

(2005)

"Under Pressure"

(2005)

"The Ghost of You"

(2005)

The Used chronology
"I Caught Fire"

(2005)

"Under Pressure"

(2005)

"The Bird and the Worm"

(2007)

The song was covered in 2005 by American Alternative rock bands The Used and My Chemical Romance for tsunami relief. The cover was originally released as an Internet download trackbut has subsequently been featured as a bonus track on the 2005 re-release of The Used's second studio album In Love and Death, and received wide airplay in 2005.

On the Billboard charts, the single reached number 28 on Modern Rock and Pop 100 charts and number 41 on the Hot 100.[29]

Chart (2005) Country Chart Peak
Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks United States 28
Billboard Pop 100 United States 28
Billboard Hot 100 United States 41

Other cover versions[edit]Edit

1980s
1990s
  • In 1994, London Symphony Orchestra recorded an album Plays the Music of Queen, which contains classical covers of the Queen's hit singles, including "Under Pressure" and "The Show Must Go On".[31]
  • In 1996, Culture Beat, a German Eurodance project, covered "Under Pressure" for a compilation album, Queen Dance Traxx I.[32]
  • In 1997, Fobia, a Mexican rock band, covered "Under Pressure" for a compilation album, Tributo a Queen: los grandes del rock en español.[33]
2000s
2010s

Live cover performances[edit]Edit

1990s
2000s
2010s

Remixes/sampling[edit]Edit

  • In 1990, Florida-based rapper Vanilla Ice sampled the song's bass line and signature piano chords for his hit "Ice Ice Baby". The opening riffs of the two songs are virtually identical.[46]
  • In 1999, rapper Charli Baltimore recorded a song called "Ice" (featuring rapper Mase) for her album Cold As Ice, which uses samples from "Under Pressure".[47] However, it wasn't included as sample clearance could not be secured.
  • Scottish group Tigerstyle released a mash-up, called "Nachna Onda Nei", of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and "Under Pressure".
    • In May 2008, dance act Signature used Tigerstyle's version in Britain's Got Talent in their audition and again in their performance in the final.

Other uses[edit]Edit

Controversy[edit]Edit

Controversy arose when Vanilla Ice sampled the bassline for his 1990 single "Ice Ice Baby". Initially he denied the accusation, and then said he had modified it,[49] and did not originally pay songwriting credit or royalties to Queen and Bowie.[50][51] A lawsuit resulted in Bowie and all the members of Queen being given songwriting credit for the sample. Vanilla Ice later claimed to have purchased the publishing rights to "Under Pressure".[52][53] Vanilla Ice said buying the song made more financial sense than paying out royalties.[52]

Rock Band music gaming platform[edit]Edit

The song was made available to download on 7 December 2010 for use in the Rock Band 3 music gaming platform in both Basic rhythm, and PRO mode which allows use of a real guitar / bass guitar, and MIDI compatible electronic drum kits / keyboards in addition to up to three-part harmony or backup vocals.