Sometimes the best tunes come from the spark of an outside collaborator. David Bowie entered the studio to sing backing tracks for a new Queen song, but ended up working with the group on another song called “Still Life.” Eventually that morphed into “Under Pressure,” which was credited to Bowie and all four members of Queen, and released as a single in 1981.
There is still some discussion over the famous bass line and whether it was Queen bassist John Deacon or Bowie who wrote it, but there is no question that when appropriately named rapper Vanilla Ice sampled it in 1989′s “Ice Ice Baby,” he stole a vital part of the song’s soul. It is a testament to the endurance of “Under Pressure” that it has won the long haul and continues to be played on the radio and elsewhere, while Ice is nothing but annoying footnote in pop culture history. (Ever seen the Iceman talk about how his bass line is different from the one in “Under Pressure”? Hilarious!)
The intertwining vocal lines and starkly different delivery styles of Freddy Mercury and Bowie are a huge part of this song’s appeal. Mercury is scatting all over the place, providing color commentary as Bowie sings a lower register melody about life’s modern-day troubles: “It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about/
Watching some good friends screaming, ‘Let me out.’”