Give Love. #PlagueSongs, no. 31

David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” (1981) has long been a favorite. I chose it for this (eventually ending) series of plague songs because it expresses such vulnerability, and because it calls us all to love.

Given the extraordinary talent of the original performers (and of the Karen O – Willie Nelson cover, wow!), I’m surprisingly happy with my own performance of it. Typically, my renditions showcase my (considerable) limitations, but I actually like this one. The hardest part for me was singing the lyrics near the end without crying. “This is our last dance. / This is our last dance. / This is ourselves.” Those words feel — to me — like a condensation of the past year of loss, impending loss, uncertainty, stress, anxiety, grief. We’ve all been under pressure.

But the song’s call to love — and the sincerity of that call from two performers known for theatricality — is so profoundly moving. “Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love…”

There’s much more to say about this song, and Jack Hamilton’s magnificent essay “‘Under Pressure’ Is a Reminder That David Bowie Could Also Be Wonderfully, Powerfully Human” (Slate, 11 Jan. 2016) is the sole piece you need to read. Go and read it. It’s everything  — well, everything except for the song itself, of course.


Here’s a video assembled from footage of Bowie and Queen (1992, with Lennox, whose performance has been removed), and of Queen with Mercury at Wembley Stadium (in 1986). While Mercury was alive, Queen and Bowie never performed the song live. So, this is as close as we’ll get!

Here’s the original video from 1981.

Here’s the 1992 version from the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, featuring Queen, Bowie, and Annie Lennox.

Here’s the single greatest cover of the song, by Karen O and Willie Nelson.

Here’s a playlist of the original version, live versions, and covers.

Why not sing a song of your own? Need ideas? The playlist below offers many tunes that (sometimes only tangentially) intersect with our current plague era. But you should turn to the music that speaks to you most clearly.


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