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Queen & David Bowie - Under Pressure (1981)

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  • 80's Score80's Score 80's score: 2.32
  • Find this song on: Music Stack

“Under Pressure” is a song by the British rock band Queen and singer David Bowie. Originally released as a single ...

“Under Pressure” is a song by the British rock band Queen and singer David Bowie. Originally released as a single in October 1981, it was later included on Queen’s 1982 album Hot Space. The song reached number one on the UK Singles Chart, becoming Queen’s second number-one hit in their home country (after 1975’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which topped the chart for nine weeks) and Bowie’s third (after the 1975 reissue of “Space Oddity” and “Ashes to Ashes” in 1980). The song charted in the top 10 in more than ten countries around the world, and peaked at No. 29 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in January 1982.

The song has been described as a “monster rock track that stood out” on the Hot Space album, as well as “an incredibly powerful and poignant pop song”. It was listed at number 31 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s, and voted the second best collaboration of all time in a poll by Rolling Stone magazine. It was played live at every Queen concert from 1981 until the end of the band’s touring career in 1986. Live recordings appear on the Queen live albums Queen Rock Montreal and Live at Wembley ’86. The song was included on some editions of Queen’s first Greatest Hits compilations, such as the original 1981 Elektra release in the US. It is included on the band’s compilation albums Greatest Hits II, Classic Queen, and Absolute Greatest as well as Bowie compilations such as Best of Bowie (2002), The Platinum Collection (2005), Nothing Has Changed (2014), Legacy (2016), and Re:Call 3 (2017).

Reception

“Under Pressure” has received critical acclaim since its release, with multiple publications ranking it among Queen and Bowie’s best songs and among the greatest songs of all time. In a review of Hot Space, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic called “Under Pressure” as the album’s “undeniable saving grace” and “the only reason most listeners remember this album”. He described the song as “an utterly majestic, otherworldly duet … that recaptures the effortless grace of Queen’s mid-’70s peak, but is underscored with a truly affecting melancholy heart that gives it a genuine human warmth unheard in much of their music.” Similarly, Ned Raggett of AllMusic described the song as “anthemic, showy and warm-hearted, [and] a clear standout for both acts”.

Following Bowie’s death in 2016, Jack Hamilton of Slate called “Under Pressure” a “masterpiece” and is a reminder to the public that Bowie could be “wonderfully, powerfully human.” Jack Whatley wrote for Far Out Magazine “with all the animosity, wine, cocaine and vocal battles which helped come together to birth the song, what remains is an incredibly powerful and poignant pop song that we will likely not see matched in our lifetimes. The two juggernauts of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie collide here with perfect and enriching precision.”

The September 2005 edition of online music magazine Stylus singled out the bassline as the best in popular music history. In November 2004, Stylus music critic Anthony Miccio commented that “Under Pressure” “is the best song of all time” and described it as Queen’s “opus”. In 2012, Slant Magazine listed “Under Pressure” as the 21st best single of the 1980s.

Music video

The video for the song features neither Queen nor David Bowie due to touring commitments. Taking the theme of pressure, director David Mallet edited together stock footage of traffic jams, commuter trains packed with passengers, explosions, riots, cars being crushed and various pieces of footage from silent films of the 1920s, most notably Sergei Eisenstein’s influential Soviet film Battleship Potemkin, the silent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring John Barrymore, and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, a masterpiece of the German Expressionist movement. The video explores the pressure-cooker mentality of a culture willing to wage war against political machines, and at the same time love and have fun (there is also footage of crowds enjoying concerts, and many black and white kissing scenes). Top of the Pops refused to show the video in its original form due to it containing footage of explosions in Northern Ireland, so an edited version was instead shown. In 2003, Slant Magazine ranked “Under Pressure” number 27 among the 100 greatest music videos of all time.

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