Saturday, November 21, 1981

Queen & David Bowie hit #1 in UK with “Under Pressure”

Under Pressure

Queen with David Bowie

Writer(s): Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, John Deacon, Brian May (see lyrics here)


Released: October 26, 1981


First Charted: November 7, 1981


Peak: 29 US, 22 CB, 26 HR, 23 RR, 2 CL, 7 AR, 1 CO, 12 UK, 3 CN, 6 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 1.2 UK, 3.41 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 487.0 video, 1001.01 streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Under Pressure” resulted from David Bowie popping into the studio one night where Queen was recording. KL It evolved from a song called “Feel Like” which Queen had been working on. WK David Bowie and all four members of Queen are credited as songwriters on the track, but bassist John Deacon said it was primarily written by singer Freddie Mercury. Guitarist Brian May said “David took over the song lyrically.” WK The lyrics focus on “how pressure can destroy lives, but love can be the answer.” SF

There is also some debate about who wrote the bassline, which would later be used on Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” the first #1 rap song on the Billboard Hot 100. Stylus magazine called the iconic bassline the best in popular music history. WK May and drummer Roger Taylor credit Deacon, but he says Bowie wrote it. Bowie himself says the bassline was already written before he was involved with the song. WK

This was released in the UK the same week that Queen’s Greatest Hits topped the album chart. However, “Under Pressure” was not on the UK version of the anthology. It was on the U.S. version and Queen’s 1982 Hot Space album. This was only the second time in the history of the UK charts that two acts who’d formerly topped the charts collaborated for another #1. The first time was with 1967’s “Something Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra. KL

All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine called the song “an utterly majestic, otherworldly duet.” WK A Rolling Stone poll named the song the second best collaboration of all time. WK Far Out Magazine’s Jack Whatley said it “is an incredibly powerful and poignant pop song that we will likely not see matched in our lifetimes.” WK Stylus music critic Anthony Miccio went so far as to declare it “the best song of all time.” WK


Resources:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Queen
  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for David Bowie
  • KL Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Pages 275-6.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia


Related Links:


First posted 8/4/2021; last updated 11/29/2021.

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