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"Under Pressure" is a 1981 song recorded by Queen and David Bowie. It marked Bowie's first released collaboration with another recording artist as a performer, and is featured on Queen's 1982 album Hot Space. The song reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart. It was also number 31 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '80s.


Bowie had originally come to the studios in order to sing backing vocals on another Queen song, "Cool Cat," which would end up being edited out since he wasn't satisfied with them. Once he got there, they worked together for a while and wrote the song.


Queen had been working on the song under the title "Feel Like" but were not yet satisfied with the result. The final version that became "Under Pressure" evolved from a jam session the band had with Bowie at his studio in Montreuxmarker, Switzerlandmarker, therefore it was credited as co-written by the five musicians. According to Queen bassist John Deacon (as quoted in a French magazine in 1984), however, the song's primary musical songwriter was Freddie Mercury — though all contributed to the arrangement. The earlier, embryonic version of the song without Bowie "Feel Like" is widely available in bootleg form.

There has been some confusion about who created the song's famous bassline. John Deacon said (in Japanese magazine Musiclife in 1982, and in the previously mentioned French magazine) that David Bowie had created it. In more recent interviews, Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have credited the bass riff to Deacon; Bowie also said on his website that the bassline was already written before he became involved. The September 2005 edition of online music magazine Stylus singled out the bassline as the best in popular music history.

Taylor's involvement

Roger Taylor was frequently rumoured to be the song's chief writer. However, it appears that he served more as an intermediary for Mercury and Bowie (two of rock music's biggest stars at the time), being friends with both men. Taylor was involved in the production of the track and did some preliminary mixes with Bowie in New Yorkmarker, but Bowie was unsatisfied with these results and wanted to re-record everything (as claimed by May on a November 1982 interview for IM&RW magazine). In the end, the final mix was done with the involvement of Mercury and recording engineer Mack, "under pressure" from Bowie and Taylor (according to Brian May in the same 1982 interview).

Track listing

1981 single
  1. "Under Pressure" (Mercury, Taylor, Deacon, May, Bowie) – 4:02
  2. "Soul Brother" (Mercury, Taylor, Deacon, May) – 3:38

EMI released a 3-inch CD version of the single in 1988 with "Body Language" as an additional B-side.

Production credits

Live performances

Although very much a joint project, only Queen incorporated the song into their live shows at the time. Bowie chose not to perform the song before an audience until the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, when he and Annie Lennox sang it as a duet (backed by the surviving Queen members). However, since Mercury's death and the Outside tour in 1995, Bowie has performed the song at virtually every one of his live shows, with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey taking Mercury's vocal part. The song also appeared in setlists from A Reality Tour mounted by Bowie in 2004, when he frequently would dedicate it to Freddie Mercury. Queen + Paul Rodgers have recently performed the song as well. While Bowie was never present for a live performance of the song with Mercury, Roger Taylor instead filled for back-up vocals usually in unison with Mercury as Mercury would take over most of Bowie's parts.

Live recordings

  • Queen first recorded a live version of the song at The Montreal Forummarker in Canadamarker on November 24, 1981. This was included in the concert film We Will Rock You. Incidentally it is one of the few times in concert where Mercury used falsetto in the song on the line "these are the days it never rains but it pours".
  • A second live version of the song was recorded at Milton Keynesmarker, Englandmarker, in 1982. This was released in 2004 on the live album/DVD Queen on Fire - Live at the Bowl. Prior to the concert, rumours circulated that Bowie would appear with Queen to sing his parts onstage, but it is probable that he did not even attend the concert.
  • Later, Queen recorded a third live version of the song at Wembley Stadiummarker, Londonmarker, in 1986. This was released on the live album/DVD Live at Wembley Stadium. Another rendition from this same tour (from Queen's concert in Budapest) appeared in edited form on the album Live Magic in 1986.
  • A version recorded by David Bowie's live band in 1995 was released on the bonus disc included with some versions of Outside - Version 2. This live version was also released on the single "Hallo Spaceboy" in 1996.
  • David Bowie's DVD A Reality Tour (2003) includes a live version with Bowie's bassist Gail Ann Dorsey singing Mercury's parts.

Other releases

Rah Mix

A remixed version (called "Rah Mix") was issued in December 1999 to promote Queen's Greatest Hits III compilation, reaching #14 in the UK singles chart. Includes fresh recording work by Brian May and Roger Taylor.

Track listing

Two CD singles (one multimedia enhanced) released 6th December, 1999 and 7" picture disk released 13th December, 1999. As Bohemian Rhapsody wins The Song of The Millennium award, this released as b-side under the title "The Song of The Millenium/Bohemian Rhapsody"
CDS #1
  1. Under Pressure (Rah Mix)
  2. The Song Of The Millenium / Bohemian Rhapsody
  3. Thanks God It's Christmas

CDS #2
  1. Under Pressure (Rah Mix - Radio Edit)
  2. Under Pressure (Mike Spencer Mix)
  3. Under Pressure (Knebworth Mix)
  4. Enhanced section

  • Was initially released in US on the Elektra Records US and Canadian versions of Queen's Greatest Hits as a new track.
  • The song was released as a bonus track on the Virgin Records reissue of Bowie's Let's Dance in 1995.
  • Hollywood Records remixed the song for their 1992 release, Classic Queen. This version features improved sound quality, but removes Mercury's interjection "that's okay!" at about 0:53.
  • It also appeared on some Bowie compilations, most of which used the Hollywood Records remix:
  • The original single version appears on disc three of Bowie's The Platinum Collection (2005), marking the first appearance of this version on a Bowie compilation.. This disc was later released separately as The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987 (2007).
  • An instrumental version appears in the DVD menu for the Hot Space section of Greatest Video Hits 2, and on the Greatest Karaoke Hits release.
  • Was released in UK on Queen's Greatest Hits II (which would later be included in The Platinum Collection (2003)) removing the second time David Bowie sings, "This is our last dance."
  • Has also been performed, but without the lyrics, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Chart positions

Under Pressure (1981):
Country Peak position Certification
Argentinamarker 1
Netherlandsmarker 1
UKmarker 1 Silver
Irelandmarker 2
Canadamarker 3
South Africa 4
Norwaymarker 5
New Zealandmarker 6
Australia 8
Austriamarker 10
Swedenmarker 10
Switzerlandmarker 10
Germanymarker 21
U.S.marker 29
Japanmarker 88

Under Pressure – Rah Mix (1999):
Country Peak position Certification
UKmarker 14

In popular culture

"Under Pressure" has often been licensed for use in films, television, and advertisements.

It was featured in several feature films, including Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), Stepmom (1998), The Players Club (1998), The Girl Next Door (2004), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), The Heartbreak Kid (2007), and World's Greatest Dad (2009).

The song has also been frequently featured in television programs, including Ally McBeal, Clueless , CSI: Las Vegas, Scrubs, Cold Case, Dirty Sexy Money, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, promo commercials for the fourth season of Dexter and in the premier episodes of Judging Amy, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and In Case of Emergency.

The song was included in several videogames including Guitar Hero 5, Karaoke Revolution Volume 3 and SingStar: Queen. It was also included as downloadable content for Rock Band 2.

Cover versions


  • On the episode of Saturday Night Live which starred Vanilla Ice as the musical guest, Dennis Miller – in a direct reference to the notion of Vanilla Ice sampling the bassline – played the first verse of the 'real' "Under Pressure" as the intro to "Weekend Update" for that episode; his first lines in that sketch were "God, I love Bowie." The move was met with huge cheers from the audience.


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