The Booze, Drugs And Late Nights That Created Under Pressure
It's considered by music fans and critics alike to be one of, if not THE greatest rock duet of all time.
And now, new details have emerged about how the David Bowie collaboration with Queen 'Under Pressure' came into being.
In 1981, the members of Queen were recording at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, which they had bought three years earlier.
Bowie, meanwhile, was staying in nearby Vevey, recovering from his recent divorce from his first wife Angie Barnett (also the inspiration behind the Rolling Stones song 'Angie') and a recent world tour where he had relied heavily on drugs, especially cocaine, to keep up with the hectic pace.
Queen + David Bowie 'Under Pressure'
When Bowie decided to drop by Mountain Studios, the musicians thought the best way to break the ice would be to jam together.
Firstly bass player John Deacon came up with the now famous six-note riff that became the signature of “Under Pressure”
After taking a at a local restaurant, where they knocked back a large number of bottles of the local wine, they returned to the studio, where Brian May then added a guitar riff.
“It really rocked,” May later wrote.
“Born completely spontaneously, it was fresh as a daisy.”
As it was getting late, several members of the band wanted to finish up, but Bowie insisted that they work through the night and record the vocal tracks.
Mark Blake writes in his book In Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen, that a producer at Mountain Studios claims the 24-hour session was fueled by “so much blow [cocaine].”
Freddie and Bowie took turns in the vocal booth recording whatever came into their heads, without hearing what the other had sung.
Listen To Mercury And Bowie's Amazing Vocals A-Capella
While Mercury and Bowie were friendly they also proved to be very competitive.
Brian May said in 2017 that, “Freddie and David locked horns, without a doubt,”
“But that’s when the sparks fly, and that’s why it turned out great.”
In another interview, May said Bowie was “difficult” with his constant “inputting, inputting, inputting.”
The song was originally called “People on Streets,” but it was changed the next day when they returned to the studio and Bowie had remixed the song, which caused a huge fight with Mercury.
Rock author Neil Cossar believes there may be outtakes of Bowie and Mercury singing together, though if they exist, sadly they are yet to see the light of day.
Queen eventually included “Under Pressure” on their 1982 album Hot Space and the song reached No. 1 on the U.K. Singles chart, and the band included it in their live shows.
Queen 'Under Pressure' (Live Aid 1985)
However, Bowie didn't perform “Under Pressure” in public until the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, where he sang it with Eurythmics star Annie Lennox.
Queen + David Bowie + Annie Lennox 'Under Pressure' (Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert 1992)
Bowie then continued singing it at almost all of his live shows up until he stopped touring in 2004.
With both Mercury and Bowie no longer with us, it now feels like the lyrics of the song have taken on an even greater meaning.
“This is our last dance. This is our last dance.”