On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure (1981)
Farewell to Italy and welcome home as we return to the UK. For our latest listening pleasure we are in the company of, not one, but two previous guests on our list – David Bowie and Queen. When we pick up the story in 1981, Queen are working on their latest album entitled Hot Space with the recording being in Switzerland. Coincidentally, David Bowie was in the area and decided to drop by the studio. As you do. After jamming together and singing other people’s songs, Bowie suggested he and Queen come up with a song of their own. The result was Under Pressure.
Under Pressure has a self-explanatory title and pitches David Bowie and Freddie Mercury against one another in a vocal masterclass. Both sing of the burden that comes with pressure, not just on themselves but on all of us. It can become so intense that some people end up on the streets. There is ambiguity here when it comes to “pressure” but it does feel like we can generalise the theme as one of life and all the pressures that come with our existence – family, love, work, money, health. There are so many elements that we face on a daily basis, individual blocks of pressure that threaten to crush us beneath the unrelenting weight.
Under Pressure is a famous collaboration between two rock heavy weights in David Bowie and Queen. The composition was largely improvised which is why Mercury’s scat vocals have remained in the recording. This may have been him warming up in the vocal booth or just brainstorming out loud. It sounds like horns were locked at times with the imperious Bowie threatening to seize full control of the song but in the end all members contributed to this one. Its universal message, not to mention that memorable bass line, means it stands tall as a classic song to this day. If you stick two pieces of gold together, you may just end up with a diamond.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
Ultravox – Vienna (1980)