Rock Flashback: Queen and David Bowie and “Under Pressure”

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The ever-stylish David Bowie poses, 1983 (Getty Images/Ralph Gatti/AFP)

The ever-stylish David Bowie poses, 1983 (Getty Images/Ralph Gatti/AFP)

Thirty years ago this week, “Under Pressure” by [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Queen[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]David Bowie[/lastfm] topped the British singles charts. Like many of rock’s most famous songs, its creation owed a great deal to accident and luck.

Queen had been working on a song called “Feel Like” for a while. During a jam session with Bowie, the song evolved into “Under Pressure.” The man frequently credited with devising the song’s famous bass line won’t take the credit. Queen bassist [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]John Deacon[/lastfm] has said it was Bowie’s idea, although Bowie says Queen had it before they started working together. [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Brian May[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Roger Taylor[/lastfm] of Queen say Deacon came up with it.

Although “Under Pressure” was a major hit in the UK, it reached only #29 on the Billboard chart in the States in January 1982. Its bass line would become famous when it was sampled a few years later by [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Vanilla Ice[/lastfm] for “Ice Ice Baby.”

“Under Pressure” hit as the video age was just beginning. Neither Bowie nor any of the members of Queen were available for a shoot, so longtime Queen and Bowie collaborator David Mallet improvised, creating a collage of stock footage and public-domain movie clips that’s anything but random.

Experience more Rock Flashbacks.

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