Considered one of Queen’s most famous songs, also by virtue of the prestigious collaboration with David Bowie, the song “Under pressure” from the tenth studio album of the band once led by Freddie Mercury, “Hot Space” in 1982, was the result of disputes not even too low tension between the frontman of the group of “We Will Rock You” and the artist of “Let’s dance”.
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The creation of the piece was recently remembered by Brian May, who returned to tell the background of “Under pressure” and its mixing, underlining that he “never liked the final mix”. On the sidelines of a recent “Total Guitar” interview, picked up by “Guitar World,” May revealed that the original version of the song “sounded very chord-driven,” but that much of its “heavy guitar” contributions went lost following Bowie’s contribution to the final mix.
Recalling the creation of “Under Pressure”, the 76-year-old British guitarist explained that the song was the result of nights spent in the studio, with the initial version featuring a “pretty heavy backing track”.
May explained that he was “glowing” at first, at the heavier guitar sound which reminded him of The Who, but when he pointed out the comparison to Bowie, he said Bowie told him: “It won’t sound like The Who anymore when will be over”. “Bowie didn’t want it to be like this”, underlined Brian May during the chat, during which he explained that the changes to the song were made because “we all had different ideas about how ‘Under pressure’ should have been mixed”, particularly highlighting the tensions between Bowie and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
He added: “Basically, it was Freddie and David arguing in the studio about the mix. And what happened in the mix was that most of that heavy guitar got lost.” Revealing that he originally played the main riff of “Under pressure” on an electric guitar, before it was replaced by “acoustic bits that were done first as a sort of demo”, Brian May admitted that, regarding the final mix that was eventually released, “I never liked it, to be honest.” He continued: “I recognize that it works. It’s a point of view and it’s done very well. People love it.”
On the sidelines of the recent chat about “Under pressure”, the guitarist then made it known that in live performances he now plays the song “a little differently” compared to the published version, referring to the original version with heavier guitar parts. “It’s a lot heavier and I think he benefits from it,” May said.
Looking back on that process, May further explained, “It was probably the only time in my career that I stepped aside, because I knew it was going to be a struggle. David was an extraordinary creative force, but you can’t have too many extraordinary creative forces in the same room. He starts to get very difficult ”.