David Bowie and Freddie Mercury Sound Even More Incredible Without Music
Isolated vocal track from "Under Pressure" amazes
Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 collaborative single “Under Pressure” is a helluva listen — a perennial classic so fantastic that its good name remains intact long after Vanilla Ice sampled the thing for his lamentable breakout, “Ice Ice Baby.” Yes, that bouncy little bass line and those chiming keys had much to do with the song’s success, but at its heart are two incredible voices intertwined: Bowie and Freddie Mercury, locked in an acrobatic pirouette of glorious opposites for all of eternity. So as powerful as the actual song is, there’s something extra magical about pulling back all of the instrumentation to reveal its glowing core.
Below, you’ll find the isolated vocals from “Under Pressure,” uploaded to YouTube in 2011 but recently rediscovered by Open Culture. After explaining that the song was written in an alleged 24-hour session fueled by cocaine and wine, the educational site quotes a passage from Queen biography Is This the Real Life?, which sheds more light on the process:
“We felt our way through a backing track all together as an ensemble,” recalled Brian May. “When the backing track was done, David said, ‘Okay, let’s each of us go in the vocal booth and sing how we think the melody should go — just off the top of our heads — and we’ll compile a vocal out of that.’ And that’s what we did.” Some of these improvisations, including Mercury’s memorable introductory scatting vocal, would endure on the finished track. Bowie also insisted that he and Mercury shouldn’t hear what the other had sung, swapping verses blind, which helped give the song its cut-and-paste feel.
Experience the kinda-sorta “a cappella” and the original below.