A friend of mine has this theory about the Velvet Underground: what type of songs you like by them, determine what types of music snob you are. If you like the noisy songs like “Sister Ray” for example, you probably list Joy Division as one of your favorite bands. If you like the softer songs such as “Femme Fatale” or Stephanie Says” you probably worship the old R.E.M. records. I list “Sweet Jane” among mine for what it’s worth.
The Velvet Underground might be the ultimate music snob group. But I also have this theory that in order to get to be a music snob, you have to like David Bowie. He’s the gate-keeper to all things weird in music. Bowie is poppy and melodic enough to attract a mass audience, yet extremely eccentric. Without David Bowie, I probably would not like The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Roxy Music, etc. Brian Eno’s music makes a lot more sense after you listen to Bowie’s Low.
This week’s posts are going to be devoted to Bowie’s collaborations with other artists. Some times this might include him appearing on other records, or other appearing on his records. Either way, Bowie’s presence lights up a song.
Queen & David Bowie: “Under Pressure”
For me, this song should not work. (I rank Queen among the Eagles as one of the worst bands ever.) There’s also the fact that both Freddie Mercury and Bowie, are two of the most excessive figures in rock. For both of these guys, every single thing they did was bold, and over the top. Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, and as “Bohemian Rhapsody” was an entire opera put into a 6 minute song. Every single move they made was an event.
Until recently, I didn’t know that “Under Pressure” was recorded in 1981. I just assumed that it was made in 1976 when Bowie was all coked up – why else would he make a song with Queen? “Under Pressure” is perhaps remembered most for its famous bass-line, which Vanilla Ice may or may not have taken liberally for “Ice Ice Baby”. Ice famously suggested that there was a half-note difference between the two bass-lines.
What amazes me about “Under Pressure” is how it’s become a de facto party anthem. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the familiarity of Ice’s song, “Under Pressure” has become a song that gets people up. Everybody knows it, and everybody enjoys it. Even me, the music snob, who hates Queen.
Two Kermits Singing “Under Pressure”