One of the most successful collaborations in music history almost didn’t happen, according to David Bowie.
He recalled the story behind ‘Under Pressure’, the iconic duet by Bowie and Queen in the latest episode of Queen’s YouTube docu-series, Queen the Greatest.
Bowie said the band was in Montreux recording what became 1982’s Hot Space.
When engineer Dave Richards learned that Bowie was in town, he invited him to come hear what they were doing.
“So I went down and these things happen, you know, suddenly you’re writing something together and it was totally spontaneous, it certainly wasn’t planned,” Bowie recalled. “It was peculiar!”
Drummer Roger Taylor noted that the band was in particularly good spirits when Bowie arrived. His presence alone invigorated the band creatively. They started jamming together.
“Well, I think the process was we were all drunk, and in the studio, and we were just for fun playing all sorts of old songs,” Taylor said. “I remember a couple of old Cream songs, and whatever came into our heads and I think David said, ‘Look, hang on a minute, why don’t we write one of our own?’”
The spark came from bassist John Deacon, who had authored Queen’s biggest commercial hit, “Another One Bites the Dust,” just two years earlier.
“Ding, ding, ding, de de, ding ding.”
“He kept playing that over and over and over again,” recalled producer Reinhold Mack, of the iconic bassline.
“And then we went for a pizza and he forgot it!” Taylor added with a laugh. “Completely escaped his mind. We got back and I remembered it.”
With the bassline recaptured, the band began to explore it. But writing sessions in Queen could famously get contentious and Bowie’s presence complicated matters, since everyone wanted to be on their best behaviour.
Brian May remembers watching Bowie appear to put the song together in his mind. He realized it was best for him to “back off” and let Ziggy Stardust and the others hammer it out, which they did over the course of the next several hours.
After a long night, Queen and Bowie had a single, “Under Pressure.” It was the band’s second No. 1 hit single in the UK and went down as one of the greatest musical collaborations of all time.