David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s duelling isolated vocals from hit ‘Under Pressure’
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you one of our favourite songs of all time. What’s more, is we’re bringing it to you in a way you’ve never heard it before as we listen to the isolated vocals of David Bowie and Queen’s hit ‘Under Pressure.’
The song may well be known as a Queen masterclass but it was co-written by David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. ‘Under Pressure’ was, in fact, penned while Queen were in the midst of recording their tenth studio album Hot Space.
It was quite that simple though. As Queen were recording their tenth album, the great man himself, David Bowie popped over to their sessions and after a 24-hour drug-fuelled session, a golden nugget of a song appeared. The song’s construction came, somewhat, by coincidence. Bowie was in the same studios recording the title track for movie Cat People.
There are many tales of what went on in the studio that night, the story of how the song, ‘Under Pressure’, was created is one that most people would have dreamed of being a part of. From Bowie stepping into the studio to contribute backup vocals on the song ‘Cool Cat’, playing other people’s songs to him finally suggesting: “This is stupid, why don’t we just write one?”.
‘Under Pressure’ started out as a bit of fun in the studio but ended up reaching number one in the UK charts giving Queen their second number-one hit after ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The track also gave Bowie his third, ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ being his previous chart-toppers. It was proving to be a lucrative moment in both their careers.
It’s not at all surprising that when two unique voices get into a vocal booth that the competitive nature gets the better of them. These isolated vocals present the listener with a battling recording of Mercury v Bowie—a fight to the death. Freddie’s vocal range rigorously presents itself when he launches into high notes that could shatter glass, while Bowie’s slick vocals layering the song with the Thin White Duke’s classic ‘Bowie’ sound.
On the isolated vocal track, which you can hear below, Mercury’s power and Bowie’s effortless style naturally shine through. The real joy though is in their determination to best one another and therefore borrow a little from each other. As Mercury delivers a more stylised lick, Bowie adds a deeper bulge of power to his performance.
Guitarist Brian May told Ultimate Classic Rock about how the vocals were created in a novel fashion: “David, because he had experience of this avant-garde method of constructing the vocals,” May recalled, clearly a little baffled by the Starman’s seemingly reckless way of recording.
“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 pieces—and that’s what ‘Under Pressure’ was based on; all those random thoughts.” It clearly made an impact as the song remains one of the most important vocal duels of all time.
Listen to the isolated vocal track here as well as the original to enjoy how the unique masterpiece was created.