"Under Pressure" is a 1981 song 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.
The song was played live at every Queen concert from 1982 until the end of Queen's touring career in 1986. It is recorded on the live albums Queen Rock Montreal and Queen at Wembley. 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 II, Classic Queen, and Absolute Greatest as well as the compilation Best of Bowie.
Queen had been working on the song under the title "Feel Like" but were not yet satisfied with the result. 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. The final version that became "Under Pressure" evolved from a jam session the band had with Bowie at his 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." 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, Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have credited the bass riff to Deacon. Bowie, on his website, said that the bassline was already written before he became involved. Roger Taylor, in an interview for the BBC documentary Queen: 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.
It would later be sampled by Vanilla Ice in his 1990 single "Ice Ice Baby". Queen and Bowie did not originally receive songwriting credit or royalties, but a lawsuit between Vanilla Ice and Queen changed this. Vanilla Ice paid $4 million, which resulted in songwriting credit being given to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie and the transfer of song ownership to Vanilla Ice. Vanilla Ice said buying the song made more financial sense than paying out royalties.
Music video 
The video for the song features neither Queen nor David Bowie due to touring commitments. 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 chilling Nosferatu, a master work of the German Expressionist movement. 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).
Track listing 
- "Under Pressure" (Mercury, Taylor, Deacon, May, Bowie) – 4:02
- "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.
Production credits 
The September 2005 edition of online music magazine Stylus singled out the bassline as the best in popular music history. 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". In 2012, Slant Magazine listed "Under Pressure" as the 21st best single of the 1980s.
Live performances 
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 Lennox sang it as a duet (backed by the surviving Queen members). 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. While Bowie was never present for a live performance of the song with Mercury, Roger Taylor instead filled for back-up vocals usually in unison with Mercury, as Mercury would take over most of Bowie's parts.
Live recordings 
- Queen first recorded a live version of the song at The Montreal Forum in Canada on 24 November 1981. This was included in the concert films We Will Rock You and Queen Rock Montreal. Incidentally it is one of the few times in concert where Mercury used falsetto in the song on the line "these are the days it never rains but it pours".
- A second live version of the song was recorded at Milton Keynes, England, in 1982. This was released in 2004 on the live album/DVD Queen on Fire - Live at the Bowl. Prior to the concert, rumours circulated that Bowie would appear with Queen to sing his parts onstage, but it is probable that he did not even attend the concert.
- Later, Queen recorded a third live version of the song at Wembley Stadium, London, in 1986. This was released on the live album/DVD Live at Wembley Stadium. Another rendition from this same tour (from Queen's concert in Budapest) appeared in edited form on the album Live Magic in 1986. A recording taken from Queen's last gig in Knebworth Park in 1986, appears, albeit in remixed form, as a B-side from second CD single of "Rah Mix" version of this song, released in 1999. (See below)
- During the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, the surviving members of Queen along with Bowie and Annie Lennox (filling in for Mercury) performed the song. The concert was later released on DVD in 2002 for the 10th anniversary.
- A version recorded by David Bowie's live band in 1995 was released on the bonus disc included with some versions of Outside – Version 2. This live version was also released on the single "Hallo Spaceboy" in 1996.
- David Bowie's DVD A Reality Tour (2003) includes a live version with Bowie's bassist Gail Ann Dorsey singing Mercury's parts.
- The 2006 VH1 Rock Honors at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, featured Queen + Paul Rodgers performing "Under Pressure" along with "The Show Must Go On", "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions" as a live broadcast.
Other releases 
Rah Mix 
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 12 July 1986 Wembley concert 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 
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"
- CDS No. 1
- Under Pressure (Rah Mix)
- The Song of the Millennium – Bohemian Rhapsody
- Thank God It's Christmas
- CDS No. 2
- Under Pressure (Rah Mix – Radio Edit)
- Under Pressure (Mike Spencer Mix)
- Under Pressure (Knebworth Mix)
- Enhanced section
- Under Pressure (Rah Mix)
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- Was released in UK on Queen's 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."
- Has also been performed, but without the lyrics, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
- 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 
Under Pressure (1981):
Under Pressure – Rah Mix (1999):
Cover versions 
My Chemical Romance and The Used version 
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 track but 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.
Other cover versions 
- 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".
- In 1996, Culture Beat, a German Eurodance project, covered "Under Pressure" for a compilation album, Queen Dance Traxx I.
- In 1997, Fobia, a Mexican rock band, covered "Under Pressure" for a compilation album, Tributo a Queen: los grandes del rock en español.
- The American bands Small Brown Bike (from Marshall, Michigan) and The Casket Lottery (from Kansas City, Missouri) recorded a cover for a split EP.
- In 2005, English soul singer-songwriter Joss Stone sang the song on the tribute album Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen.
- In 2007, English band Keane released their "Under Pressure" version for the Radio 1. Established 1967 compilation. In Mexico, it was released as an A-side from "The Night Sky".
- In 2007, Chicago-based band Kill Hannah covered the song for the movie soundtrack of The Invisible.
- In 2008, Finnish ensemble Rajaton and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra performed an a cappella version of "Under Pressure" on Rajaton sings Queen with Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
- Group Xiu Xiu covered the song, featuring Michael Gira, for their album Women as Lovers (2008).
- In 2009, Ben Harper played the song as his Like A Version cover for Australian radio station triple j.
Live cover performances 
Other uses 
Rock Band music gaming platform 
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.
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External links