Under Pressure

Composer: Queen and David Bowie
Album: Hot Space
Single: 26 october, 1981
Meter: 4/4
Key: D Major, (G Major)
Form:

      Intro | Verse 1 | Bridge 1 |
 | re-Intro | Verse 2 | Bridge 1 |
 | Bridge 2 I - II - III - IV - Outro |

Many of the songs on the Hot Space album start with a bass (guitar/synth) hook. This was not a much appreciated feature, especially for those preferring the artfully and rocking Queen of the seventies. Despite "Under Pressure" also starts with a bass guitar hook the song became a favourite, it even reached No1 in the UK. With it's extended Bridge 2 (consiting of four subsections) form-wise this song belongs to the most adventurous hit singles of the eighties.
The related interviews suggest that the lyrics have been penned mostly by Bowie, but the music must be really a team effort between Queen and David Bowie, with Mercury's and Bowie's dominance. In spite of the common belief, the signature bass-motif came from Bowie himself. The songs started its life as a jamming over the turn-around chord progression of the Verse. The song keeped much from that "garage" rock feeling. The song uses very few chords function-wise, lots of slash chords as a result of pedal bass, and also of occassionally stepwise descending bassline. The harmony stays in D Major most of the time, only 1-2 phrases attempt to hijack it. The arrangement is free from the Queen-trademark block harmonies (guitar and vocal).


Walkthrough

Intro:
one of the classic opening technique is used here: start with an ostinato motif and alongside the accompaniment is thickening gradually. The alternating handclaps/fingerklick on the even beats and the piano lick (shades of Get Down Make Love) are instantly recognisable part of the intro almost as much as the ostinato bass-lick itself. The period-length of the ostinato lick is one measure, the piano lick suggests two
measure phrases, while the guitar arpeggio and the later sung phrases are four measure long.

mm. 1-5: bass + fingerklick/handclaps + piano + hi hats, the latter picks up the song.
m.6    : piano is dropped, guitar arpeggio added, and a short synth motif is played which slowly echoes the bass motif.
m.10   : guitar arpeggio gets doube-tracked, scat-like lead singing is added.

Note how the open hi-hats are played with increasing frequency (4 > 2 > 1 measures respectively).
The last two phrases with guitar arpeggio outlines a simple turn-around progression with pedal bass reinforced by the bass ostinato. The arpeggio intro was Taylor's, while the pedal bass was May's signature gambit inside the band, but we have no info about the origin of this sequence except that it was a part of the pre-Bowie demo
version.

D:
/------ 2x------\\
|No chord| -    |

/----------- 2x -----------\\
| D   | A/D  | G/D  | A/D  |
| I   |  V   | IV   |  V   |

re-intro: before the second Verse there is a four measure connector section repeation the bass hook without the turnound progression. Scat-like singing is added.

verse:
The Verse grows out from the Intro-sequence. It consists of three 4 measure phrases (AAB, bass-line wise ABB). The lead vocals are shared between Mercury and Bowie in a non-regular way:

1st phrase: Bowie doubletracked
2nd phrase: it starts with a harmony between both of them, Mercury sings the middle
in solo, then the ending is Bowie's again.
3rd phrase: it's Freddie throughout mostly scat-like singing.

The arrangement is added more drums (eg. snare, not just hi-hat) and piano. The latter plays simple chords (1/8 vamping) and also the opening piano lick returns twice in a phrase. From measure 5 on the bassline is altered and and also played one octave lower. In measure 5 we can hear also that bass-echoing synth motif again (very simple but very effective). The lead melody omits the 7th grad (C#).

D:
| D   | A/D | G/D | A/D | 
| I   |  V  | IV  |  V  |

/---------- 2x ---------\\
| D   | A/C#| G/B | A   |
| I   |  V  | IV  | V   |

The second Verse adds step-wise ascending unisono backing vocals (Bowie). More on that later. The lead melody is drastically altered throughout. The first phrase is sung by Mercury in falsetto occassionally with free phrasing (rhythm-wise). During the rest of the section except two "people on streets" (the working title of the song btw.) phrases Mercury sings lead with scat-lyrics.

Bridge 1
It's square eight measure long with two measure phrases. The first three pharses feature pedal bass combined with IV and V chords alternated, and added some appogiaturas. Harmony-wise very bridge-y detail is how the tonic is given hardly any airplay, and it's not catchy enough to be a chorus.

| G6  | A/G |
| IV  |  V  |

| G(maj7) | A(sus4)/G |
| IV      | V         |

| G   | A/G |
| IV  |  V  |

| D/F# | G A7 || D 
|  I   |IV V  || I

The arrangement does not make sharp contrast with the verse, but the snare drum is played with double frequency. The upbeat of the section re-uses the aforementioned two-note synth-motif, a phrase later also appears the piano motif too. Bowie sings lead in the first half of the section, Mercury sings lead in the rest.
The last phrase makes contrast both harmony and rhythm-wise. The staccatto perfomed lead vocal makes use compound rhythms (3+2+3 against the 3+3+2 accents of the drums). Freddie's closing phrase ("high high high") resembles to a similar climbing figure in "Don't Stop Me Now". The second Bridge 1 is added an extra measure.

Bridge 2
This section is not a usual Bridge, even though it makes contrast both harmonically and rhythmically with what preceded it, and also starts where you expect to come a Bridge (ie. after two cycles of alternated sections). Unlike predictable middle eights (ie: Bridges - see in Teo Torriate) this one is extended into a mammuth
section with more climaxes, and it eventually concludes in the outro instead of reprising the Verse - Chorus (here: Verse - bridge 1) themes at least once again. Let's see the subsections respectively:
The first subsection is very quiet, thus it provides dinamic-wise wide space for lift and climax what comes after. The phrasing is 2+2+2 harmony-wise AAA, melody-wise AA'B. In the A phrases Bowie and Mercury sing in octaves, the B phrase is sung by Bowie. We have a weak modulation to G Major:

G:
/---- 3x ---\\
| G   | C   |
| I   | IV  |

The first phrases are accompnied by quiet organ chords and hi-hat beats. In the final phrase a guitar figure leads into a "lift" subsection with getting louder arrangement. Note how Roger's drumworks gets more intense, and how Freddie's glissando singing in falsetto perfectly underscores this lift that ultimately concludes in a climax. The harmony of this "lift" subsection is also full of tension. In the phrase with F pedal bass the tonality is weak, no roman numerals needed.

G:
| Am  |
|ii/G |

| F   | G/F | F   | G/F |
(bVI/A)

D:
| A   | C5/A | A   | A  G |
| V   | bVI  | V   | -  IV|

This last phrase with Bowie's crescendo singing (step-wise moving ascending tune) and Roger's crescendo drums results in an one of the most climactic climaxes in the history of rock music. Freddie's passionate voice combined with the return of the long awaited tonic chord is most effective. The first syllables of the descending
melodic phrases get the most emphasys.

/----- 3x -----\\
| D   | G  A G |
| I   | IV V IV|

| D   | D/C# | D/B | D/A |
| I...

The phrasing is 2+2+2+2 harmony-wise AAAB, melody-wise AA'A", the last phrase echoes the "give love" words fading out while the step-wise descending bass foreshadows the next subsection. The last two measures with Bowie's lead singing lift the song to another climax. The lead melody of this lift phrase is the same what we heard as
backing vocals in the second Chorus! This is a very clever (and also very Queen-esque - see in Bohemian Rhapsody) use of motif-repetition, and makes the whole song song more cohesive. Harmony-wise we have four-measure phrases with the same turn-around progression as what we saw in the Verse. Melody-wise the phrases can be
divided to one measure sub-phrases (AAAB).
The phrasing is AAA'(harmony-wise AAB), where the last phrase is not just varied, but also extended. The extension is only two measure, it makes it less predictable. On the other hand the chord progression is taken from the end of the Bridge 1 section, creating a perfect introduction for the outro which reprises the bass-hook
(shade of the Bridge 1 > re-Intro transition).

/----------- 2x ---------\\
| D   | A/C# | G/B | A   |
| I   |  V   | IV  | V   |

| G   | A/G | G   | A/G | D/F# | G A7 |
| IV ...                |  I   |IV V  |

The last phrase starts with pedal bass and harmony singing by Roger in parallel fifths. The type of dissonance where the bass is one whole step below the root of the chord we saw back in the second subsection (see also "The Miracle").

Outro:
It grows out from the previous section. In spite the title phrase sounds very familiar, it's a third interval lower than it can be heard in the verses.
Except the piano-hook (also taken from the intro), there is spare harmonic backing. Also the two-note synth hook appears. The bass ostinato stops before the last piano fill.

| D5  | -   | -   | G A7 |
| I   | -   | -   |IV V  |
| D5  | -   | G A7 ... fingerclicks fading out.
| I   | -   |IV V  ...