Brian May ’Never Liked’ How Queen and David Bowie Collab Turned Out, Says It Was Supposed to Have ’Heavy Guitar’ Parts

As Brian May recalled, the Queen classic “Under Pressure,” featuring David Bowie as a guest, was supposed to have some heavier guitar parts in there.

Originally released in 1981, the song was later included in Queen’s 1982 album “Hot Space.” Apart from having one of the most memorable bass lines, performed by John Deacon, the song turned out to be an incredibly catchy piece overall, with Freddie Mercury and David Bowie exchanging their vocal parts.

But as May told Total Guitar in a recently published interview, “Under Pressure” initially had a somewhat different vibe to it.

Queen - Under Pressure (Official Video)

“It was all done spontaneously in the studio very late at night after we had a meal and a lot of drinks,” the guitar legend recalled. “And it was a pretty heavy backing track. When it gets to ‘Why can’t we give love,’ we were all working on it together, and it sounded like The Who. It sounded massively chord-driven.”

Although The Who is an incredible band in its own right, May recalls that Bowie wasn’t exactly into this idea of having Pete Townshend-like guitar parts in it.

“And I was beaming because I liked The Who,” Brian added. “I remember saying to David, ‘Oh, it sounds like The Who, doesn’t it?’ He says, ‘Yeah, well it’s not going to sound like The Who by the time I’ve finished with it!’ You know, in a joking kind of way. But he didn’t want it to be that way.”

Knowing what kind of an artist David Bowie was, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Needless to say, the song ended up being a huge success and it’s still making rounds to this day. But making this evergreen piece was an massive challenge for one reason — all five musicians involved in it had their vision of it.

“It was very difficult,” Brian recalled. “Because we all had different ideas of how it should be mixed.”

While it’s safe to say that he’s also one of those musicians who’s all about putting his vision into life, in the case of “Under Pressure,” Brian May decided to stay out of this one. Instead, you had two other great artistic minds dealing with what would eventually become one of the biggest songs of all time. He explained:

“I think it’s probably the only time in my career I bowed out, because I knew it was going to be a fight. So basically, it was Freddie and David fighting it out in the studio with the mix. And what happened in the mix was that most of that heavy guitar was lost.”

Queen - Under Pressure (Live In Budapest 1986) 4K

Sure, it may be a bummer that these guitar parts never made it to the final mix. But to this day, during live shows, Brian still plays it the way he intended.

“And even the main riff, I played that electric, pretty much in the sort of arpeggiated style which I do live now,” he added. “But that never made it into the mix. What they used was the acoustic bits, which were done first as a sort of demo.”

Being one of Queen’s biggest singles, there’s no doubt that the song added to his bank accounts. However, he’s far from satisfied with what it sounds like. On the other hand, he understands it. Brian explained:

“I never liked it, to be honest, the way it was mixed. But I do recognize that it works. It’s a point of view, and it’s done very well. And people love it. So we play it quite a bit different live, as you probably noticed, it is a lot heavier, and I think it benefits from it.”

Queen + Adam Lambert - Under Pressure (New York, USA, 2019) - Live Around The World (2020)

“I mean, David was an awesome creative force. But you can’t have too many awesome creative forces in the same room. It starts to get very difficult! Something has to give.”

Apart from his writing input and vocals, David Bowie also added some synths to the song. Apart from Queen and Bowie, the song also features David Richards on the piano. Richards also became well-known as Queen’s co-producer and collaborator.

Of course, the song once again got into the spotlight when rapper Vanilla Ice used pretty much identical bass riff for his song “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990. Although he ended up having to pay up, Brian admitted that he didn’t care much about it when he found out about Mr. Ice’s version.

“I think it was just on the radio when we heard it,” the guitarist recalled in an interview last year. “And I remember reading an interview with Vanilla Ice himself [who was asked], ‘Didn’t you steal this from Queen?’ And he said, ‘No, theirs is completely different; mine is [mimics virtually the same melody twice].’ I mean, we didn’t go to war for it, but the publishers did.”

Brian May on AI, Mental Health, Fame, Plagiarism and the Internet - FRET NOT EP.2

But despite not caring about it as much at the time, to this day, Brian still gets the songwriting royalties. He added:

“So, they came to a settlement, which was that he pays us most of the money he’s ever generated with that song. We’re alright with that,” Brian admitted with a laugh. “We became a part of the writing team, if you like.”

Photos: Raph_PH (Queen And Adam Lambert – The O2 – Tuesday 12th December 2017 QueenO2121217-26 (39066621655)), Public domain (Bowie 1983 serious moonlight)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.