Brian May tells how David Bowie and Queen wrote the legendary track Under Pressure
But we only hooked up properly because of a coincidence. We all happened to be in a sleepy little town called Montreux in Switzerland at the same time.
In the 70s we worked at the small studio there, Mountain Studios, with David Richards, and liked it so much we bought it, and continued to work there until Freddie’s passing many years later.
David Bowie had actually settled in Switzerland to live, very close by, and since we already knew him a little, he popped in to say hello one day while we were recording.
Now time dims the memory a little, but the way I remember it we all very quickly decided that the best way to get to know each other was to play together
So we all bowled down into the studio and picked up our instruments.
We had fun kicking around a few fragments of songs we all knew.
But then we decided it would be great to create something new, on the spur of the moment.
We all brought stuff to the table, and my contribution was a heavy riff in D which was lurking in my head.
But what we got excited about was a riff which Deacy began playing, 6 notes the same, then one note a fourth down.
Ding-Ding-Ding Diddle Ing-Ding, you might say.
But suddenly hunger took over and we repaired to a local restaurant for food and a fair amount of drink. (Local Vaux wine as drunk in Montreux is a well-kept secret).
A couple or three hours later, we’re back in the studio. “What was that riff, you had, Deacy?” says David B. “I was like this”, says John Deacon.
“No it wasn’t, says Bowie – it was like this”.
This was a funny moment because I can just see DB going over and putting his hand on Johns fretting hand and stopping him.
It was also a tense moment because it could have gone either way.
Deacy did not take kindly to being told what to do, especially by physical interferences while he was playing!
But he was good natured, and it all went ahead.
Then we began playing around – using the riff as a starting point.
Now normally, if it had been just us, we probably would have gone away and thought about it, and started mapping out a song structure.
David said something like “We should just press on instinctively. Something will happen.”
And he was right. It did. I put a little tinkling guitar riff on top of John’s bass riff (David later was adamant it ought to be played on a 12-string, so I overdubbed that later at some point).
And then we all mucked in with ideas to develop a backing track.
The track had something that sounded like a verse, then a quiet contemplative bit, which built up ready for a climax.
I managed to get my heavy riff in here. I remember saying … ‘cool – it sounds like The Who!” At which point David frowned a little and said “It won’t sound like The Who by the time we’re finished!”
Now at this point there is no song … no vocal, no words – no title, even – no clue as to what the song will mean – just an instrumental backing track.
But it really rocked. Born completely spontaneously, it was fresh as a daisy.
Stop there? Go away and write a song for it ? “No” – says David.
He’d been working with a bunch of people who developed a technique for creating the top like by ‘democracy’ as well as the backing track.
The procedure was each of us went into the vocal booth consecutively, without listening to each other, and, listening to the track, vocalised the first things that came into our heads, including any words which came to mind, working with the existing chord structure.
At this point Freddie laid down his amazing De Dah Day bits, very unusual, which actually made it to the final mix.
The next step was to cut up everybody’s bits and make a kind of compilation ‘best of’ vocal track – which would then be used as the template for the final vocals.
It came out pretty strange, but very different.
We all went home that night with a rough mix which was provisionally called ‘People on Streets’, because these words were part of the rough.