Write Here, Write Now: 14 – Under Pressure

Queen & David Bowie: Under Pressure. This came up on random play today, and I thought I would give it a few focused listens, as a possible subject for tonight’s blog.

It’s quite a ubiquitous song, made possibly more significant now that both singers are dead – something from their heydays. It’s a song I’ve enjoyed having on, without really listening to it – beyond the famous bassline.

What stands out to me on listening today is the two notes from a synth that interrupts the dialogue between David and Freddy (can you spot it?). Maybe it’s an insignificant thing to notice in among all the versatile vocal showboating, but that just shows me how the rest of the song has become so familiar. I do like the bit after ‘slashed and torn’ – when it all goes a bit crazy, before fading out with ‘give love, give love, give love”). And the whole section towards the end where Bowie sings almost without drawing breath in a curious runalong sentence.

The two singers have such distinctive voices, here in full pelt. In line with my love of comparing and contrasting, it’s an interesting exercise to see when they sound most similar and when most uniquely themselves- how they twist and tear the song and pull it in the direction of something typically Queen song or typically Bowie song, and when it seems a hybrid between the two. Like in all conversations, did they end up somewhat mimicking each other?

Strengths – Freddy really does the scat singing, falsetto and breathy notes so well. Bowie emotes and offers vocal strength – which may seem damning with faint praise by contrast, but I mean that he gives the song sound (haha) foundation – full-voiced counter balance to Freddy – no mean feat.

For such a souffle of a song, it confronts hard facts of life in the lyrical content – desperately and brazenly confronting stress, madness and mortality. And it’s Bowie who sings the doubts and worries, while Freddy reflects that a bit, but also tries (desperate) remedies.

But that’s all just words, words, words. It’s a song to throw yourself around to – ignore the frailties of life (just for one day), and escape, gibbering, from tedious mundane pressures. A bit like Joy Division, really, which may be where that two note synth interlude fits in.

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