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Brian May says he “bowed out” to David Bowie in fight for mix of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ – but has “never liked it”

Queen guitarist Brian May has revealed that he has “never liked” the mix of ‘Under Pressure’, the band’s 1981 smash hit collaboration with David Bowie. 

Speaking in an interview with Total Guitar (via Guitar World), May revealed that the original version of ‘Under Pressure’ “sounded massively chord-driven,” but that much of its “heavy guitar was lost” following Bowie’s input on the final mix.

Recalling the song’s creation, May said ‘Under Pressure’ was the result of spontaneous late nights in the studio, with the initial cut featuring a “pretty heavy backing track.” At first, May said he was “beaming” over the heavier guitar sound because it reminded him of The Who.

May raised that comparison to Bowie, who said “‘it’s not going to sound like The Who by the time I’ve finished with it.’” May continued: “[Bowie] didn’t want it to be that way.”

The guitarist said that the changes were made because “we all had different ideas of how [‘Under Pressure’] should be mixed,” specifically naming Bowie and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

“Basically it was Freddie and David fighting it out in the studio with the mix,” May recalled, “and what happened in the mix was that most of that heavy guitar was lost.”

May went on to reveal that he originally played the main riff of ‘Under Pressure’ on an electric guitar, but that it was replaced by the “acoustic bits which were done first as a sort of demo.” As for the final mix that was eventually released, May admitted that he “never liked it, to be honest.”

“I do recognise that it works. It’s a point of view, and it’s done very well,” he added. “People love it.”

In live shows, the guitarist said he now performs ‘Under Pressure’ “quite a bit different” to the released version, leaning into its more guitar-heavy origins. “It is a lot heavier and I think it benefits from it,” May said.

Looking back on the process, May said, “it’s probably the only time in my career I bowed out, because I knew it was going to be a fight.

“David was an awesome creative force, but you can’t have too many awesome creative forces in the same room. It starts to get very difficult.”

May had previously commented on the relationship between Bowie and Mercury while recording ‘Under Pressure’, telling Mojo Magazine (per Radio X) in 2017 that the pair “locked horns, without a doubt.”

“It wasn’t easy because we were all precocious boys and David was very… forceful,” May said. “But those are the things that happen in a studio, that’s when the sparks fly and that’s why it turned out so great.”

Earlier this month, May was revealed as one of over 60 rock icons set to appear on ‘Going Home: Theme of the Local Hero’, an upcoming fundraiser single for Teenage Cancer Trust.

May also recently joined Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi to discuss and play ‘Paranoid’ for a segment in the new guitar-themed Sky Arts documentary, Greatest Guitar Riffs.

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