Listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie on the Isolated Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pressure,’ 1981

In the sum­mer of 1981, the British band Queen was record­ing tracks for their tenth stu­dio album, Hot Space, at Moun­tain Stu­dios in Mon­treux, Switzer­land. As it hap­pened, David Bowie had sched­uled time at the same stu­dio to record the title song for the movie Cat Peo­ple. Before long, Bowie stopped by the Queen ses­sions and joined in. The orig­i­nal idea was that he would add back­up vocals on the song “Cool Cat.” “David came in one night and we were play­ing oth­er peo­ple’s songs for fun, just jam­ming,” says Queen drum­mer Roger Tay­lor in Mark Blake’s 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?’ ”

And so began a marathon ses­sion of near­ly 24-hours–fueled, accord­ing to Blake, by wine and cocaine. Built around John Dea­con’s dis­tinc­tive bass line, the song was most­ly writ­ten by Mer­cury and Bowie. Blake describes the scene, begin­ning with the rec­ol­lec­tions of Queen’s gui­tarist:

‘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.

“It was very hard,” said May in 2008, “because you already had four pre­co­cious boys and David, who was pre­co­cious enough for all of us. Pas­sions ran very high. I found it very hard because I got so lit­tle of my own way. But David had a real vision and he took over the song lyri­cal­ly.” The song was orig­i­nal­ly titled “Peo­ple on Streets,” but Bowie want­ed it changed to “Under Pres­sure.” When the time came to mix the song at Pow­er Sta­tion stu­dios in New York, Bowie insist­ed on being there. “It did­n’t go too well,” Blake quotes Queen’s engi­neer Rein­hold Mack as say­ing. “We spent all day and Bowie was like, ‘Do this, do that.’ In the end, I called Fred­die and said, ‘I need help here,’ so Fred came in as a medi­a­tor.” Mer­cury and Bowie argued fierce­ly over the final mix.

At one point Bowie threat­ened to block the release of the song, but it was issued to the pub­lic on Octo­ber 26, 1981 and even­tu­al­ly rose to num­ber one on the British charts. It was lat­er named the num­ber 31 song on VH1’s list of the 100 great­est songs of the 1980s. “ ‘Under Pres­sure’ is a sig­nif­i­cant song for us,” May said in 2008, “and that is because of David and its lyri­cal con­tent. I would have found that hard to admit in the old days, but I can admit it now.… But one day, I would love to sit down qui­et­ly on my own and re-mix it.”

After lis­ten­ing to the iso­lat­ed vocal track above, you can hear the offi­cial­ly released 1981 mix below:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Queen Doc­u­men­tary, Days of Our Lives, Pays Trib­ute to the Rock Band That Con­quered the World

David Bowie Releas­es Vin­tage Videos of His Great­est Hits from the 1970s and 1980s

Fred­die Mer­cury Steals the Show at Live Aid (1985)

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Comments (92)
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  • Christina says:

    Fred­die Mer­cury’s voice was out of this world. Amaz­ing.

  • Emmy says:

    This moved me to tears. Time­less. Price­less. Nev­er for­get. Thank you.

  • gomez de riquet says:

    par­al­lel fifths

  • Joseph Hunt says:

    There are actu­al­ly 3 vocals here, Roger Tay­lor sings back­ing @2.53 ;)

  • Joseph Hunt says:

    But still amaz­ing :) Mer­cury and Bowie had at least 4 octaves in their vocal range.

  • Kathy says:


  • Clete says:

    I like the Vanil­la Ice ver­sion bet­ter.

  • Chucky says:

    Ice Ice Baby … Ice Ice Baby …

  • cee_major says:

    Don’t wor­ry, Chucky. You’ll grown out of your “shit­ty music is da bomb” phase. We all do even­tu­al­ly.

  • Joel says:

    Amaz­ing. Utter­ly amaz­ing. Thank you for this!

  • Susan Hauk says:

    2 amaz­ing artists in this land!!!! Absolute­ly art­ful!
    Thank You for shar­ing

  • Jana says:

    I love David Bowie but Fred­die Mer­cury is absolute­ly amaz­ing.

  • Harris says:

    gomez de riquet, most mod­ern music uses par­al­lel fifths to great effect. music the­o­ry is just that — the­o­ry.

  • Tyrone Vaux says:

    Hear­ing this is fan­tas­tic! I was a kid when this came out but it’s a sem­i­nal track in music his­to­ry. Well done!

  • CL Jahn says:

    I’d real­ly love to hear Bri­an May’s mix. Bri­an — DO IT!

  • Charity Froggenhall says:

    Ooh, chills!

  • Arthur Dent says:

    What a song!


  • Roberta Hilliger says:

    Pic­ture I clicked on for this was of Bowie and Annie Lennox I believe.

  • serge says:

    Bri­an May’s final com­ment got me think­ing about how many pos­si­ble ver­sions of such icon­ic songs could have exist­ed.

  • Liz says:


  • F.M. Hopkins, Author says:

    Unabashed goose­bump­ing tal­ent

  • Ben says:

    @gomez: if we’re gonna be music the­o­ry geeks it’s actu­al­ly par­al­lel fourths ;)

  • Susannah Fairbanks says:

    I was there live aid July 5th wem­b­ley 1985 epic day, queens per­for­mance Brel em all away!

  • Sabby says:

    I heart Emmy.

  • Bernie says:

    Dry­ing my eyes (Emma) and so amazed at Fred­die’s voice. I miss his unmade con­tri­bu­tions to our world even more after lis­ten­ing to this.

  • Dan Castady says:

    haha, I love that he STILL wants to remix it. I read the fol­low­ing over Joe Gast­wirt’s mas­ter­ing rig: “A mix is nev­er fin­ished, only aban­doned.”

    • peepeegirl says:

      As an artist (semi well known…) it’s kind of true re: mix­es. I feel the best I can do on a mix is about a 95 out of 100%. I feel I nev­er can get to a 100% groovy mix in my mind.

  • Love this-learn­ing the back sto­ry and hear­ing the vocal-only track makes it way bet­ter. It was nev­er my favorite song of either artist. The video also real­ly adds a lot and I now appre­ci­ate this entire col­lab­o­ra­tion much more.

  • Billy Whitehorn says:

    Yea …a cer­tain per­son got sued for steal­ing anoth­er’s work did­n’t they chucky?

  • Herman the cat says:

    Amaz­ing. Some­how bet­ter with­out the instru­men­tal. You can real­ly hear what tal­ent­ed vocal­ists they were/are.

  • Matthew Parrish says:

    I’ve always felt that this song was mixed poor­ly. The ele­ments are amaz­ing. It has more incred­i­ble parts than 3 great songs. But some­thing is real­ly off about the mix and I would love to hear May’s ver­sion.

  • Adam Heilman says:

    As a vocal­ist, both Bowie and Mer­cury were my main vocal men­tors, and, both will always remain two of the pre­mier vocal­ists of our time.

    Under Pres­sure is a time­less song that is what it is. Muck­ing about with the mix­down isn’t far off from Vanil­la Ice rip­ping tracks from it.

    Fan­tas­tic songs come about due to all of the events that led to their cre­ation.

    It’s sim­ply a FANTASTIC song!!!

  • Jan says:

    Bowie has always been no 1 for me but Fred­die is a close sec­ound.
    I loved lis­ten­ing to their amaz­ing vocals like this it made me real­ize just how amaz­ing they both are once again.
    I love the song as it is but would still love to hear Bri­an’s ver­sion.

  • jeff G says:

    I lis­tened to this and sat motion­less for a time, I don’t know how long. Then I read the many mes­sages here after­wards, at times hav­ing to stop because I could­n’t see. Real­iz­ing with a start that every­thing had moved me to tears. Oh what a sad­der world we live in with­out one half of this duo. Imag­ine what could have come from this col­lab­o­ra­tion if time had per­mit­ted it.

  • Jdkatz says:

    Tru­ly sub­lime. I’d raise its rank­ing in the top 100. More like top 10

  • David says:

    Can we even begin to imag­ine what the world lost when Fred­die Mer­cury died. Add to that John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Shan­non Hoon, and lit­er­al­ly thou­sands of oth­er artists who left this world far too ear­ly.

  • yvonnemax says:

    so pure. just a joy to lis­ten to.

  • Marcia says:

    Wow. Have always been one day old­er than Fred­die we were teenagers together?What tallent.…what a great loss.

  • mike flynn says:

    This is com­ing from a metal/punk fan.…this song is top 5 song ever writ­ten by man.

  • Resoundsound says:

    Queen was a phe­nom­e­nal boy band!!!

  • Zoe Delay says:

    gema don’t allows it to hear in ger­many

  • Chay Min says:

    Wow, it is amaz­ing to hear this as just vocals. I have always loved this song!

  • toby says:

    I get the feel­ing there was argu­ment as the Queen boys want­ed to turn it into a Queen sound­ing song. Thanks god they did­n’t. And Bri­an May — how could it ever be remixed? just how? what would you do to it? it’s absolute­ly time­less, per­fect, well done Bowie!

  • Wiv says:

    Cake music post­ed about this on fb.

  • Cat says:

    These guys! Wiv already said it. but here’s a link to them!

  • zach says:

    Uh, yes Fred­die and Bowie are great on this, but I think the genius award for this song must go to John Dea­con, talk about icon­ic and mem­o­rable. And it’s not his only icon­ic bass line

  • spurv says:

    “Peo­ple on streets”? Are you kid­ding me? Good thing Bowie stepped in. “Under pres­sure” is a much more fit­ting and inter­est­ing title.
    I don’t under­stand why Fred­die always gets more acco­lades than Bowie for his singing chops. He just screams more. Bowie rates amongst the top 3 singers of all time in my book (if not the best).
    And for­get about remix­ing this song. Have you heard any of Bri­an Mays solo mate­r­i­al? It would be a Titian­ic ver­sion, all strings and sob­bi­ness. I real­ly like the balls this song has. I believe this song is a prod­uct of its time. It could­nt have been made today. And, as much as I hate drug addic­tion, it must have con­tributed in some way.

    • nosnafus says:

      I hear what you’re say­ing about Bowie’s chops, butu2026nnThere’s a Pro Tools ses­sion of all the vocal stems from Bohemi­an Rhap­sody that pops up around the web from time to time. Find it and it’ll answer your ques­tion pret­ty clear­ly. Should you find it, keep it mind it was a world with­out auto tune.

    • Constantinos says:

      “He just screams more”?? “He just screams more” ?!?!?!??????nOk, now we learned a new thing. Fred­die Mer­cury screamed. A lot.

  • yellowbird500 says:

    One of my all time favorites.

  • fortune says:

    I give the most props to Queen’s sound engi­neer. If I had a coked up Bowie bark­ing orders at me I’d stran­gle myself with the 2 inch reels.nMuch respect

  • Manuella GLA says:

    Pre­cious things do get even more pre­cious with less

  • teamgloria says:

    l o v e.

  • JasonB says:

    Record­ing com­pa­nies seems to have too much con­trol over the artists for this type of thing to hap­pen any­more. Shame that in so many cre­ative fields now, it seems to be a choice of art over ‘suc­cess’.

  • holly says:

    Bowie 4/life!

  • JC says:

    There’s is no one today that can sing like them!

  • Andromeda says:

    Haunt­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, made me sit peace­ful and still for a long time ‑thank you! I appre­ci­at­ed the vocals so much more hear­ing it this way

  • James says:

    Dam There is no lim­its to Fred­dies range. That ascend­ing por­ta­men­to to a high A is just incredible…And how long did he hold it for…

    • Cole Gentles says:

      That’s not Fred­die… it’s the drum­mer, Roger Tay­lor.

      • evsxrk says:

        No, that’s Fred­die. Roger Tay­lor did do the high notes on many Queen songs (like the high “Galileos” and the drawn out “for me” on “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody”), but on this one it’s clear­ly Fred­die.

        • IndyCar Serious says:

          Very manip­u­lat­ed in stu­dio! Fred­dy could nev­er hit that note on the best of days, and espe­cial­ly live! falset­to, and major auto tun­ing, or what­ev­er they called it back then.

          • Eido INOUE says:

            Auto-Tune was­n’t invent­ed until 1997, and the first to use it com­mer­cial­ly was in 1998. There were ways to manip­u­late pitch mechan­i­cal­ly in the 80s, but not in a way that sound­ed nat­ur­al for extend­ed peri­ods to most peo­ple’s ears.

          • IndyCar Serious says:

            My friend owns a stu­dio, and he said they were able to do all kinds of things back then to voic­es.

          • hansolavbakken says:

            Oh, he could — he just chosed not to. Lis­ten to the Live ver­sion of this song realas on the Queen Rock Mon­tre­al — he dos­n’t do the glis­san­do, but he actaully do sing the “It nev­er rains but it pours” in the orig­i­nal falset­to range form the stu­dio track — and he nails it!

            So he could hit the nots live, he just chosed not to!

  • tensacross says:

    Vanil­la Ice does­nt get enough cred­it for writ­ing this song.

  • aintgonatellya says:

    Just joined stum­blupon set­up likes and first thing I clicked on is this only to tell me not avail­able in your coun­try WHAT!
    This is USA BAYBE Not impressed so far !

  • simion code says:

    best song of the 80’s

  • Yootha says:

    I always thought this song sound­ed cob­bled togeth­er. And I was right.

  • DottiR says:

    Love the vocal ver­sion it empha­sis­es their com­plete tal­ent and that high note that Fred­die hits?!!!!!!! WOW!!

  • Gina says:

    Still one of my favorite songs.. Every chance I have to hear it on a juke box .. It’s on! Two of my favorite artist ! Fred­dy Mer­cury .. True leg­end ! No one will ever be a front man like him! RIP

  • Jacko says:

    David Bowie was excel­lent in the late 60’s and ear­ly 70’s, but his lat­er style was to ego dri­ven. As good as Bowie is, I think that this song would have been much bet­ter with only Fred­die’s vocals. Fred­die Mer­cury grew over the years as a vocal­ist, but David Bowie peaked in the the ear­ly 70’s. Bowie still had a great voice, but it just did­n’t have the same artis­tic qual­i­ty, it was too ster­ile and did­n’t mix with the art­sy qual­i­ty of Fred­dies voice in my opin­ion. It made for a big hit, but not as much of a clas­sic as it would have been oth­er­wise.

  • Zeke says:

    …and Janis Joplin, Jimi Hen­drix, and Jim Mor­ri­son. All great and unique tal­ents gone too soon.

  • dee says:

    so beau­ti­ful. it took me a few min­utes to catch my breath. love, love, love it!

  • jash says:

    this video is chill­ing…

  • Lida Beckman says:

    2 of the best singers of our time. It’s very unfor­tu­nate that we lost Fred­die Mer­cury. He had so much more to give.

  • vertigokid says:

    Blas­phe­my! Bowie’s voice brings a soft haunt­ing qual­i­ty that com­pli­ments Mer­cury’s pierc­ing clar­i­on notes per­fect­ly. This song would be great­ly dimin­ished if either were miss­ing.

  • Sofie says:

    LOL Best response, ever!

  • raymonde piquet says:

    Fred­die mer­cury is irreplaceable.I miss him and he died too young.not fin­ish­ing his work with great bowie too

  • Ken gionette says:


  • Yootha says:

    It sounds like a coke-fueled jam if I’m hon­est. Always sound­ed like a half-writ­ten song. Not one of my favourites.

  • Bob says:

    Nice. Pret­ty sure its Roger Tay­lor with the high back­ing bit in “This is our last dance” at the end.

  • Frances Spencer says:

    I see what you did there. LOL ;)

  • Apul_madeeqaoud says:

    Kanye West need­ed to redo this one and show us how it should have been done. Prefer­ably point­ing at the sky in big untied sneak­ers.

  • Mark E H says:

    Voice type: Bari­tone
    Sung range: G1‑B♭5

    Voice Type: “Mer­cury” Tenor (See expla­na­tion below)
    Vocal Range: F2-F6

  • Darilee says:

    WOW! Two of my faves! Iso­lat­ed vocals are amaz­ing!

  • Lovedoris says:

    RIP David Bowie. Now both leg­ends can remix this as much as they want in heav­en :-(

  • Irony101 says:

    Do you know they both believed in God?

    “No one bleeds for the dancer…”

  • Irony101 says:

    4 @love Doris

  • Jan Bee says:

    I like Adam Lam­bert bet­ter.

  • Adela says:

    Absolute­ly time­less…
    Thank you!

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