Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's 'Under Pressure' a cappella will give you goosebumps

10 November 2020, 17:02

Listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's 'Under Pressure' a cappella
Listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's 'Under Pressure' a cappella. Picture: Getty

By Sian Moore

The isolated vocals of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's iconic collaboration are further proof that these two are some of music's greatest.

It was a song that soared straight to the top of the charts when it was initially released in 1981, becoming Queen's second number one hit in their home country, and David Bowie's third.

'Under Pressure' brought together one legendary band, and another incredible singer of the same calibre.

Surprisingly, the hit actually evolved from a "chance encounter", when Bowie spontaneously joined a jam session the rock group were having at their studio in Switzerland.

The unplanned collaboration led to the creation of one of their most iconic hits – and a song which is still celebrated decades later.

And though the catchy lyrics and iconic riff are parts of what make the track so great, it's the vocals of Mercury and Bowie which are truly unmatched...

Read more: Queen, David Bowie and Annie Lennox's powerful 'Under Pressure' performance in tribute to Freddie Mercury

Under Pressure (A-Capella) - Only Vocals

The track Queen were originally working on was called 'Feel Like', but the rock band weren't happy with the results.

Bowie had already planned to head to the group's studios as he was singing backing vocals on another Queen song, 'Cool Cat'.

It was during this trip that Bowie ended up sitting down with the band and working on 'Under Pressure'.

Read more: Queen: Freddie Mercury and Brian May's private hotel jam session from 1986 is magnificent

The 'Space Oddity' singer joined the group for a jam session, which eventually led to the final song we know today.

"David came in one night and we were playing other people’s songs for fun, just jamming," Roger Taylor recalled in the book Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury and Queen.

"In the end, David said, 'This is stupid, why don't we just write one?'"

Read more: The Voice Kids: Girl, 12, channels Freddie Mercury with spine-tingling rendition of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

David Bowie, Roger Taylor and Brian May chatting during the Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium
David Bowie, Roger Taylor and Brian May chatting during the Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium. Picture: Getty

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Guitarist Brian May explained some of the decisions behind the song to Ultimate Classic Rock: "The vocal was constructed in a very novel way, which came through David, because he had experience of this avant-garde method of constructing the vocals.

"Everybody just goes in there with no ideas, no notes, and sings the first thing that comes into their head over the backing track. So we all did, and then we compiled all the bits and pieces – and that's what 'Under Pressure' was based on; all those random thoughts."

Read more: Queen: Freddie Mercury sings to 'soulmate' Mary Austin in touching footage from 1986

May continued: "But somebody has to take the helm. Somebody has to decide what you actually use.

"And really, to be honest, that person was David, because he just went, 'I'm doing it, I'm doing it,' being David Bowie. And we went, 'Ooh, okay…'"

Read more: Forgotten duets: Watch when David Bowie sang with Tina Turner

Queen in 1981
Queen in 1981. Picture: Getty

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Unsurprisingly, the hit was voted the second best collaboration of all time in a poll by Rolling Stone (just losing out to Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey’s 'One Sweet Day').

Bowie had never sang the song before an audience until he performed it alongside Annie Lennox and the surviving Queen members at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

The tribute concert took place on April 20, 1992, at Wembley Stadium. The legendary music star had passed away in November the year before aged 45 due to complications from AIDS.