The story behind Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure' collab song

News 06/08/2019

Brian May recalled the difficulties Queen had to face in 1981 when collaborating with pop-rock icon David Bowie to create the song' Under Pressure'.

May said that there was a struggle for overall control which Bowie eventually won. Queen bandmates and Bowie had gathered without any demos or ideas to what their efforts would achieve. However, each member also had powerful feelings about where the piece they were creating should go.

"We went in there with a clear canvas, David and the four of us, and kicked around a few riffs and things, and that was one of the the things we came up with," May told UCR Nights show host, confirming that the song had been titled "People on the Streets" for "a day and a half, probably." 

After John Deacon had come up with the signature bass riff, May recalled, "I remember David Bowie reaching over to John and saying, 'No, don't do it like that,' and John going, 'Excuse me? I'm the bass player, right? This is how I do it!'"

Freddie Mercury and the rest of Queen followed Bowie' lead when it came to the lyrics and melody. "[T]he vocal was constructed in a very novel way, which came through David, because he had experience of this avant-garde method of constructing the vocals," May explained. "He said, 'Everybody just goes in there with no ideas, no notes, and sings the first thing that comes into their head over the backing track.' So we all did, and then we compiled all the bits and pieces – and that's what 'Under Pressure' was based on; all those random thoughts."

May also pointed out that somebody had to "take the helm" and make the decisions. "And really, to be honest, that person was David, because he just went, 'I'm doing it, I'm doing it,' being David Bowie. And we went, 'Ooh, okay…'"

May eventually stepped back over the discussions on how to mix the song because everybody had "different ideas". May said, "I'm giving away secrets here – the guy we were working with didn't really understand the [mixing] desk!" He continued: "I would have mixed it very differently, but I think what's going on in 'Under Pressure' is great. It's David who nailed the title and ultimately what the song was about.