Why the Riff from Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ Was Almost Lost Forever

Queen and David Bowie teamed up for the classic rock song “Under Pressure.” During an interview, Queen’s Roger Taylor revealed the famous riff from the song was almost lost forever. Fortunately, Taylor saved the day.

Queen's Freddie Mercury holding a flag
Queen’s Freddie Mercury | FG/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

Why Queen and David Bowie made ‘Under Pressure’

In a video uploaded to Queen’s YouTube channel in 2021, multiple members of the band recalled the origin of “Under Pressure.” Taylor recalled working with Bowie. “Well, I think the process was we were all drunk, and in the studio and we were just for fun we were playing all sorts of old songs,” he said. “I remember a couple of old Cream songs and whatever came into our heads and I think David said ‘Look, hang on a minute, why don’t we write one of our own?'”

John Deacon came up with a distinct guitar riff for “Under Pressure.” He played it repeatedly in the studio. “And then we went for a pizza and then he forgot it,” Taylor said. “It completely escaped his mind. We got back and I remembered it.” In a 2016 article he wrote for The Mirror Online, May said Bowie remembered the riff after Deacon forgot it.

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How David Bowie took over ‘Under Pressure’

In the YouTube video mentioned above, Queen’s Brian May said creating “Under Pressure” with Bowie felt novel for the band. “And of course, we’re used to playing together,” May recalled. “And now we have this other guy there, who’s also inputting, inputting, inputting.” Taylor said Bowie decided to put finger snaps in the song. May said Bowie had a specific vision for the tune and May “backed off” to allow Bowie to realize his vision. May said it was rare for him to bend to another musician’s will.

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The way the world reacted to the song

“Under Pressure” became a minor hit in the United States. The song reached No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 16 weeks. Queen released “Under Pressure” on the album Hot Space. Hot Space peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200 and lasted on the chart for 21 weeks.

“Under Pressure” was more popular in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company, “Under Pressure” hit No. 1 for two weeks in the U.K in the 1980s. It lasted 11 weeks on the chart. In 1999, “Under Pressure” charted again, reaching No. 14 and remaining on the chart for 11 weeks. Meanwhile, Hot Space charted at No. 4 and stayed on the chart for 19 weeks.

“Under Pressure” further impacted pop culture when Bowie and Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics performed it at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Vanilla Ice used the riff from it in “Ice Ice Baby.” Subsequently, Jedward released a mashup of “Under Pressure” and “Ice Ice Baby” as a single.

If Taylor hadn’t remembered the riff, Queen and Bowie might have never released one of their most iconic hits.

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