Back in 1981 Queen and David Bowie came together to collaborate on the track ‘under pressure’. Brian May recalled the time spent in the studio and said it was a challenge for Queen.
That’s because working with Bowie was difficult because he wanted overall control of the collaboration, which he gained in the end.
The five musicians had no clear set of ideas about how or what their combined efforts would achieve.
However, they each had their own strong feelings about how the music they were making together would turn out.
May was speaking to Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show. He explained how they approached the collaboration:
“We went in there with a clear canvas, David and the four of us, kicked around a few riffs and things, and that was one of the things we came up with.”
May revealed that the song had been originally titled, “People on the Streets” for “a day and a half, probably.”
The axeman recounted that soon after John Deacon created the iconic bass riff, David Bowie leant over to John saying, ‘No, don’t do it like that,’ and John retorting, ‘Excuse me? I’m the bass player, right? This is how I do it!’”
According to UCR, the rest of Queen including frontman Freddie Mercury just towed the line to Bowie’s lead when it came to the lyrics and melody. May revealed:
“The vocal was constructed in a very novel way, which came from David, because he had experience of this avant-garde method of constructing the vocals.”
“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 bobs and that’s what ‘Under Pressure’ was based on; all those random thoughts.
May contested at the time someone really needed to make the ultimate decision as to how the song was going to go, and in the end it was Bowie who took the reins saying: ‘I’m doing it, I’m doing it, And we went, ‘Ooh, okay…’”
In the end, May declined to have a discussion about how the song should be mixed saying “we all had different ideas.”
A mix was created by Bowie and Mercury in a New York studio, but the engineer working on the mix was unsure of how the desk worked.
May concluded: “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.”
Transcript: Ultimate Classic Rock
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