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Under Pressure (Song Lyric Sunday – Contrasts)

Musical contrast is the difference between parts and sounds. In particular, rhythm, melody and harmony. Contrast is not only a way of adding interest, and difference in a song, but is essential to the aesthetic illusion of dramatic resolution of conflict. For me I couldn’t think of a more appropriate suggestion than … Under Pressure. It has it in bucket loads.

Photo by Mat Brown on

Whilst I’ve loved the power of the Bowie, Mercury vocal contrast, I’ve gone with the Annie Lennox & Bowie tribute video. Not only do we have the harmonic contrast, we have vocal contrast, expectancy contrast, and in this performance, we get a stunningly visceral, visual difference too.

Under Pressure

Mmm num ba de
Dum bum ba be
Doo buh dum ba beh beh

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

Um ba ba be
Um ba ba be
De day da
Ee day da, that’s okay

It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
“Let me out!”
Pray tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people, people on streets

Day day de mm hm
Da da da ba ba
Chipping around, kick my brains around the floor
These are the days it never rains but it pours
Ee do ba be
Ee da ba ba ba
Um bo bo
Be lap
People on streets
Ee da de da de
People on streets
Ee da de da de da de da

It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
‘Let me out’
Pray tomorrow gets me higher, high
Pressure on people, people on streets

Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why, why, why?
Love, love, love, love, love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?’

Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
Under pressure

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: David Bowie / John Richard Deacon / Brian Harold May / Freddie Mercury / Roger Meddows Taylor

The song uses very few chords function-wise, lots of slash chords as a result of pedal bass, and also of occasionally stepwise descending bassline. The harmony stays in D Major most of the time.

The alternating handclaps/finger-click on the even beats and the piano lick are instantly recognisable part of the intro almost as much as the bass rift. It evolved out of an unplanned jam session in Switzerland. When the backing track was done, everyone went in a vocal booth individually to sing how each thought the melody should go—just off the top of their heads. The lyrics evolved out of that. This is how the lead vocals are shared in such an unusual 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.

If you listen to this Bowie and Mercury Capella, you can feel Bowie’s voice of doom, contrasting Mercury’s positive and passionate counterbalance in the ‘Why’?

Harmonic contrast means to have a change in keys or chords or even cadences. This last phrase with Bowie’s crescendo singing (step-wise moving ascending tune) and Roger’s crescendo drums results in 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.

Source: Queen Songs

Bowie chose not to perform “Under Pressure” in public until a 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, where he sang it with Annie Lennox. He continued singing it at nearly every one of his subsequent shows with his bassist, Gale Anne Dorsey, until he stopped touring.

Just for the hell of it … I have included the original promotional video. Those were the days when music video were really quite marvellous.

With thanks to Jim Adams for his Song Lyric Sunday Prompt & Rules

Next Sunday’s challenge is the Canadian Connection. I promise you something very different!


  1. Thanks Christine, I too was a bit concerned that I might have gone off on a tangent, but there are contrasts in the lyrics too … when you think about it? 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

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