Thursday, September 08, 2005


Under Pressure
Queen w/David Bowie

At first, Vanilla Ice thought he would get away with it. When To The Extreme was released "Under Pressure" was a hit but not a mammoth hit by any means. In fact, before Wayne's World's appropriation of "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen was not nearly as popular here in the US as they were in England. So Ice took the notorious hook for his song without permission assuming it would slip under the radar. It did no such thing--"Ice, Ice Baby” became one of the best selling debut singles of all time and Queen would file a claim eventually granting them the profits from the one-hit wonder's hit (Ice, or Robert Van Winkle, to this day still claims the sample is distinctively different from the one found in the Queen/Bowie collaboration).

"Under Pressure" evolved from a jam session the band had with Bowie at Montreux, Switzerland, therefore it was credited as co-written by the five musicians. Nevertheless, according to what Queen bassist John Deacon said in a French Magazine in 1984, the (main) musical songwriter was pianist/singer Freddie Mercury, although they all contributed in the arrangement. It reached number 29 on the American charts but hit number 1 on the UK pop charts. While it may be difficult to detach the baggy glitter pants and the shaved eyebrow imagery from the song within the first ten seconds of the song, after the cool handclap-snap combination and rubbery bass Brian May's sinewy and echoed guitar part melts away the Vanilla Ice affiliations.

Freddie Mercury gently enters the song,"Do-do-dah-day, do-do-dah-deh-dah" creating a segue for Bowie's desperate yelp. "Pressure! Pushing down on me, pushing down on me!" The Thin White Duke's voice is at its most distinctive here. Immediately, you sense that the musicians can relate with the turmoil of pressure and desperation. Within the first verse, this collaboration already succeeds in exemplifying its title.

I remember the first time I head this song. I was thirteen-years old in Israel with my family celebrating my Bar Mitzvah. "Under Pressure" was playing on the radio (yes, they still played this song in Israel. In fact, "Under Pressure" reached number 1 in the Czech Republic in 1999. Talk about longevity) and it absolutely blew my mind. Ever since then, it's been one of my favorite karaoke songs. While Freddie Mercury's falsetto is hard to reach, it always gets a good reaction when you do indeed reach it.

"The pressure...splits a family in two, puts people in streets."

This coming week, I am starting my field practice work. Three days a week, I am interning for a non-profit utilizing the skills I learn in social work school. My assigned location is Pathways to Housing, a very worthwhile cause. PTH finds housing for homeless, mentally challenged people (some were previously drug-addicts) so they can feel a sense of pride and try finding a job. This is the first time I will be dealing with this sort of person and to be honest, I'm pretty nervous. I understand that any time we step out of our comfort zone, it's jarring. But this is nowhere remotely near my comfort zone, so I anxiously anticipate the upcoming year where I spend time with six specific clients. I remind myself that I could have easily continued in my self-serving path by, as Mercury sings, "turn[ing] away from it all like a blind man." But as I'm finding out "it don't work."

Essentially, "Under Pressure" could easily be a song about social work. While "there's a terror in knowing what this world is about," and again, while there is a warm security in living within the bubble, the end of the song preaches that "love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night, and loves dares you to change our ways of caring about ourselves."

The song was always one of my favorites but in the coming year, I assume it will take on a more significant depth when I myself am dared into changing my ways.


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