There was a time when getting two of your favourite musical artistes of one song was like a major life-affirming events, Seriously. It was such a rare event that something like “Under Pressure” was a seismic event. Nowadays, the likes of Ed Sheeran seems to be “collaborating” with everybody – no matter who they are. Pharrell seems to be even worse, and let’s not get started about Will-I-Am. Collaborations are the name of the game these days. Does it result in brilliant songs? Well, I leave that to your artistic judgement to decide.
I believe that modern pop collaborations are a cynical market driven ploy to maximise combined fan bases to get a song maximum airplay, maximum streaming publicity and first week downloads. Like many things in life these day, I find myself hating it with a vengeance primarily because it reeks of cynical market driven forces that have managed to suck the life and joy out of just about every single aspect of living these cynical post-millennium days. Yeah, every new Coldplay album brings another collaboration. Oh, the joy is uncontained.
However, back in 1981, something magical happened – Queen and David Bowie released a single together called “Under Pressure”.
It was and still is magical:
Yeah, sorry that the official video is a bit rubbish but do remember that was back in 1981 when even videos weren’t really considered to be videos, they were just clips to put on Top of the Pops when the band was not going to be able to play live in the studio – and who could actually expect Queen and Bowie to do a poxy TOTP appearance? Yeah, exactly. Cool yer boots, there is a nice video that goes with the slight remix that was put together some years later. I’ve also found a couple of live versions that should generate a little excitement.
Let’s just remind yourself of one small but important piece of information that is easily overlooked in today’s mash-up collab heavy culture of today – tis bleeding QUEEN and equally bleeding BOWIE on the SAME BLEEDING SONG, INNIT!!!!
Yeah, I just needed to get that out of my system – apologies if my tiny bit of bad language offended your finer sensibilities there… I’ll try my very best not to repeat that. Phew!
As you may have guessed, Bowie was a fundamental influence upon my musical life and sense of individuality – from hearing “Starman” on the radio when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, all the ways through the art-rock Berlin years, through the mega successful 80s, and then into the artistic rejuvenation of the 90s. The fact that you could change your personal style like the much quoted chameleon that he was often described as. Bowie sound-tracked much of my early teens, along with Roxy Music, who provided a bit of glamour and style to my family circumstances of growing up in dull, beige South Wales – circumstances that were sometimes difficult and challenging in Thatcher’s Britain.
However, Queen were also a fundamental staple of my radio based musical diet back then too – anybody who grew up in 1970s cannot deny the life-changing moment of hearing “Bohemian Rhapsody” on Radio 1 for the first time, or the first moment of seeing the famous video on TOTP.
So, here they were together on one single. Wow! I mean, wow!
Oh, and that song features one of the most recognisable bass-lines ever in the history of bass playing, thanks to big hair and shy talent of John Deacon. Just don’t mention Vanilla Ice.
Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
But you guys don’t want me to talk about music, do you?
No, you want an entertaining rant about something.
Read that fragment of lyrics again – couldn’t it easily be a song that was written now, in these difficult times of austerity and Brexit and Trump and whatever the hell comes next?
We live lives that are increasingly dominated by pressure – and that pressure seems to have grown and increased since I was a teenager growing up back in the 70s and 80s. Yeah, I remember the difficult times of growing up in the 1980s, when my dad was unemployed. I remember my parents arguing about things like lack of money back when I was a teenager, and I also remember thinking that I wanted my life to be different. Not that I wanted to become a money grabbing yuppie wearing red braces and investing in stocks and shares. No, I just wanted to have an interesting life that was not dominated by domestic chores and the wage slavery created by bills. I wanted to become an artist, or a performer, or a musician. I just didn’t want to argue about money.
Yeah, how is that for youthful idealism, eh?
I’m interested in how people manage to live a life that is completely separated from the system. I’m sure there are lots of people who live in caravans or houseboats or other such alternative accommodation choices who convince themselves they are living “off-grid” or outside the system. I’m sure that some manage to achieve this lofty goal but, unless they are living a la “The Good Life” in a completely self-sustaining manner that requires no electricity, water, sewerage etc, then I really question whether people who claim to live an alternative lifestyle are really doing so or whether they have merely managed to reduce their participation in the “shit-stem” (as described by dear old John Lydon).
I really loved the idea of “The Good Life” when I was young, the idea of not going to work and just creating a completely self-sustained way of life – growing your own crops, farming your own livestock etc. Of course, I now realise that this would require so much dedication and hard work that I don’t know whether I would have the self-discipline necessary to maintain that type of lifestyle choice. I didn’t stick with my original choice of living as a creative artist for very long. However, after maintaining a teaching career for approximately 23 years, maybe I do have that level of dedication? Feel free to put your opinions on a stamped, addressed enveloped and send it to the usual address.
Nowadays, the idea of being “alternative” seems to be not very alternative at all to be honest – whack on some tribal style tattoos and put your hair into dreadlocks, or a Mohican, or whatever and you can claim to be alternative but you can still find yourself working in bank, or whatever career choice people have decided for themselves. Even the idea of going to art college seems to lack the revolutionary aspect that it might have done back in the days when John Lennon and Bryan Ferry were art school graduates. I fully expected to turn into one of these “crusty” type art school types, living life in self-imposed financial poverty but pursuing artistic purity – however, life tends to get in the way of dreams and reality gives us a bloody big thwack around the head.
So, here I find myself, having graduated with my Creative Arts (Hons) degree in 1991 – with my mortgage and my responsible job, looking back and wondering where all this pressure has come from. I think it might be the difference between the illusion that we convince ourselves that we are in control of our destinies and the reality that everything can be lost in an instant.
Ultimately, the worst pressure is created by me.
It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!”
Tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people – people on streets
People on streets.
Damn, this song gets more and more relevant with each and every passing lyric.
People on streets – yup, the numbers of people on streets has been growing and growing in my lifetime. I can remember when it was rare to walk through a town and see a person huddled in a doorway, swaddled in layers of the warmest and most waterproof possible clothing, with cardboard and sleeping bag to provide shelter from the harsh environment.
Now, I can barely count a day when I walk through town and I don’t see “people on streets”.
Is this what we want our once glorious nation to be like?
I hope not – because it still shocks me to think that we, as a nation, allow this to happen when there are buildings lying empty.
It has been a pretty pressurised year for reasons that I’m just not going to go into here – and I’m not going to go into reasons to explain why I’m not going into reasons! Those who know will know why. And I know that some of you know why! And now you know that I know – clear.
So, enough of my tangential nonsense.
Enjoy a live version from Queen at the height of their powers!
Here is Bowie doing his own take on the song along with the singular talent of Gail Ann Dorsey:
Thanks for reading.