Brian May reveals he “never liked” Queen hit ‘Under Pressure’

Queen guitarist Brain May “never liked” the mix of the band’s 1981 collaboration with David Bowie, ‘Under Pressure’.

The song was first released as a single before being later included on Queen’s 1982 record, Hot Space. A global hit, it reached the top spot on the UK Singles Chart, becoming the band’s second number-one in their home country and Bowie’s third. Additionally, ‘Under Pressure’ also broke into the top ten in more than ten countries worldwide, including Australia and the United States.

In a new interview with Total Guitar, May reflected on making the track, saying that the original version “sounded massively chord-driven,” but that much of this “heavy guitar was lost” following Bowie’s input on the final mix.

Looking back on that time in the Mountain, Montreux, the guitarist said ‘Under Pressure’ resulted from haphazard late nights in the studio. At first, he was “beaming” with the heavy guitar sound as it reminded him of British Invasion heroes, The Who.

However, after May noted that parallel with Bowie, he told him, “‘It’s not going to sound like The Who by the time I’ve finished with it.’” May continued: “[Bowie] didn’t want it to be that way.”

May then explained that the changes to the mix were enacted because everyone, including the two most prominent characters in the studio, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and Bowie, had different ideas of how it should be mixed. Much of the heavy guitar was lost because of the two vocalists quarrelling over the mix.

Giving a flavour of the changes, May revealed that he originally played the main riff of ‘Under Pressure’ on electric guitar, but it was replaced with “acoustic bits”. Regarding the final mix, May said he “never liked it, to be honest.” This is why, in the live setting, he plays the track more akin to its guitar-heavy version than the one that reached number one.

“I do recognise that it works. It’s a point of view, and it’s done very well,” the guitarist added. “People love it.”

May has spoken about his dissatisfaction with the song before, and in a 2023 interview, he called the recording experience with Bowie “terrible”.

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