This song from Queen’s greatest catalogue did not perform well when the song was released in October 1981. However, you will be able to see how well the song was received just 4 years later in the live performance at Wembley shown below. “Under Pressure” still lives to-date as one of the best works by Queen and David Bowie. Yes, this amazing track had the touch of the late great “Starman” as well.
“Under Pressure” was included in Queen’s 1982 album ‘Hot Space’ and has been included in many ‘greatest hits’ releases since. The song has also been covered and sampled numerous times, most famously by Vanilla Ice in “Ice Ice Baby.” Vanilla Ice was sued for completely ripping off the lyrics from “Under Pressure” without credits. Queen and Bowie won the case and got their names included in credits for “Ice Ice Baby” along with compensation.
How “Under Pressure” Came to Be!
According to Queen’s guitarist Brian May, David Bowie lived near the studio of Queen and had frequented the place. This particular night they had gone out for some foods and drinks. However, this was severely understated as they were speaking about a 24-hour-long party session infused with drugs and booze. (Source: openculture)
Bowie had later commented that Queen and himself wrote the song in “one evening flat” and that’s “quite a feat” considering the massive impact the song had on Pop/Rock culture.
Queen and David Bowie Performing “Under Pressure”
On top of the amazing lyrics, you also get a bonus vocal improvisations on the song. Freddie Mercury moved masses of crowds with this.
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Under Pressure”
“Under Pressure” has been interpreted in several ways throughout the years.
Most commonly, the song is said to be speaking about the stresses of life itself. You have to study some subjects that you don’t even like for over 10 years and then work at some menial office for the rest of your life. In the midst of this, you have to manage your family, put kids through school, take care of your parents/grandparents, socialize, spiritualize and self-actualize your own personal needs. This can be a lot of pressure on any person.
Another interpretation of the song is that Queen and David Bowie are writing about the pressures of love. There is enormous responsibility and sacrifice in love that can cause a lot of stress on a person. Some lyrics in the song in later verses support this argument too.
Some others believe “Under Pressure” could have something to do with Freddie Mercury’s sexuality which was a massive topic back in the day. Freddie was bisexual and any type of sexual orientation besides ‘straight’ was frowned upon and hated during the era of this song’s release. So the artists could be talking about how a member of the LGBT community would feel pressure in revealing his/her true sexual orientation.
Hence, we will not limit our interpretation of the lyrics to any one avenue. We want you to keep an open mind and come at your own analysis of the song.
Intro & Bridge
Vocal improvisations are embedded in the lyrics of the song. Freddie Mercury these and other nonsensical syllables on stage to do his vocal warm-ups and engaged the crowds in them as well. You can listen to over 2 minutes of vocal improvisations by Freddie engaging over 90,000 fans live at Wembley Stadium in 1985.
Watch Freddie Mercury Perform “Under Pressure” Live at Wembley Stadium in 1985
Freddie Mercury and David Bowie are singing about the pressure, whatever nature or cause may be, that beats down on people. It’s not an easy thing to handle, especially if you are weak willed and weak minded. One who maintains themselves well can usually handle pressure well. Although pressure comes from outside, stress is something you create within yourself. So, there is a choice for you to live stress-free. But the pressure will always be there.
“No man ask for” line in the first verse has supported claims on the song meaning being about love.
The songwriters go on explain the devastating results of pressure in the first verse. It can separate families, breakdown breadwinners, destroy childhoods, poverty, and even suicide.
The more and more pressure a person absorbs, the more likely of them to crack. That is why a person needs a break from time to time, a hobby or a spiritual adventure.
In these lyrics, Bowie and Mercury quite explicitly explain what they mean in this song. “It’s (pressure) the terror of knowing what this world is about…” In such sense, the song is about life in general and the stressors of everyday life. If we have to explain what the pressures and stressors of life are, you might be too young for this song.
The second line of the chorus of “Under Pressure” suggests that the song could be about love and marriage. This line says that they witness their good friends screaming ‘let them out.’ Let them out of their marriages? Or let them come out of the closets? The innuendo on homosexuality is also valid as Freddie Mercury had a lot of gay partners who could be referred to as ‘good friends.’
Freddie and Bowie can do little more than pray for a better day tomorrow. This, however, does not mean that they are praying for a stress-free day tomorrow. It’s more of a holistic hope of a better society, better humans, better understanding and better systems.
Other Greatest Hits by Queen – “Love of My Life,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “We Are the Champions,” “I Want to Break Free.”
“Chipping around” could mean lazing around. According to UrbanDictionary, it also can mean using heroin. Whichever the most likely meaning is, both can be termed as results of pressure. Some could become dysfunctional and others could resort to temporary escapes such as drugs. In either case, your EQ would be splattered on the ground.
‘Rain’ usually symbolizes dark and gloomy nature of life. The singers say that these days it never rains, but it pours, which a few times worse than rain. This signifies extreme pressures put on a person. Freddie and Bowie could be drawing inspiration out of their lives for this track or could be reflecting on the world around them. Whichever the case is, “Under Pressure” is more suited to the 21st Century than back then. Hence, the song lives on.
“Under Pressure” Studio Recording
The singers are saying that you could try to ignore these stressors like a ‘blind man.’ Out of the five senses gifted to man, sight gives us the most information. Hence, a blind man would be imperviable to most of the things happening around him. However, this is not a fail-safe plan. You can try to sit on a fence, on account of your blindness, but it will simply not work. Pressure is common to everybody but in different denominations.
Queen and David Bowie throw in ‘love’ as a possible solution to negate the effects of ‘pressure’ on people. But they also reveal that love can be so broken and twisted these days. Being a celebrity of Freddie Mercury of Bowie’s stature, they must have got ‘love’ thrown at them every hour of the day. But one must be careful to filter it out.
‘Insanity’ could be an outcome of pressure. We see many people on the streets with unsound minds which are results of pressures of unemployment, unsuccess, unloved etc.
‘Love’ here could most likely be interpreted as all kinds of love for each other, including all forms of bisexuality, homosexuality and even genderfluid individuals.
Both singers are pleading for true love reoccur in this world and wash off the pressures of life. This is a far cry, which has not realized even today!
The singers call ‘love’ an old-fashioned word. This means that true love does not exist anymore. This is consistent with their argument that ‘love’ will not be of any help in this era.
True love would be limitless and boundless. It would allow people to care for each other-even the ones on the streets, even the ones who don’t love you back, and even the ones who have different sexual orientations than ‘straight.’ True love is the answer, but alas, it is there no more. So we keep on dancing to the beat of the world, cracking, crumbling and breaking inside.
The majority of public shootings and massacres around the world in recent years can be accounted as results of extreme pressure.
Seemingly a catchy dance beat, “Under Pressure” has a deep-rooted meaning that serves the world. What do you think this song means? What do you think the artists were trying to say? Let us know in the comments below.
Full Lyrics to “Under Pressure” by Queen