In 1981, David Bowie together with Freddie Mercury from Queen, climbed to the top of the United Kingdom charts together, with their collaboration single, “Under Pressure,” the track widely recognized by this generation as “the one that sounds like ‘Ice, Ice Baby.’”
Despite the unfortunate associations with a 2000s rap tune, “Under Pressure” is one of the most stunning songs recorded by either artist. The ballad’s universal lyrics remain relevant in any context, and in any generation. It is a song about coming together to support one another through all circumstances. The message “can we give ourselves one more chance, can’t we give love one more chance” is one that I hope will rise again in our society.
The brilliant song was included on an equally brilliant album, Queen’s “Hot Space.” This album follows trailblazer hit “Another One Bites the Dust” down the path of funk and disco influences. That influence can immediately be traced in “Back Chat,” which includes bass lines, rhythm guitar solos and synthesizer backings reminiscent of the pop culture funk go-to, “Funky Town.” Heavily influenced by black musical traditions, this song opens the classic rock band into an entirely new genre, which I feel they embrace with full success.
Queen really “brings out the funk,” embracing it rather than just introducing the style, in “Dancer,” written by Queen guitarist Brian May. “Dancer” combines the newfound funky bass riffs with the classic choral harmonies heard in more characteristic Queen tunes (cue “Bohemian Rhapsody” interludes). The most successful merging of the two styles, however, comes from May’s marriage of funk guitar with rock solos. The solos evoke a sense of “call and response” language from the instruments, beginning with more muted funk style, and expanding into full-fledged Brian May glory.
The shift away from that signature “Queen” sound enraged scores of fans, not only because “Hot Space” sounded different, but the band also looked different. Tours of this album marked Freddie Mercury’s transition into his official 80’s look, complete with leather pantsuits and bushy mustache. Luckily for the lost followers, the back half of the album is a bit more tame, though not by much.
“Calling all Girls,” the third song on the B-Side, employs a bit more of an eastern influence with a sitar-styled guitar backup, but Mercury’s belting vocals are fairly classic. Classic Freddie continues in the track “Cool Cat,” where that all too familiar falsetto is allowed to belt and run rampant all over the scale. Though the soothing sounds of the front man on the back side potentially offered some consolation to funk-hating classic rock advocates, this album marked a significant shift in Queen’s style, and a shift that they knocked out of the park. “Hot Space” solidified the band members’ positions as rock and roll superheroes, and began their journey in astounding listeners that they can, in fact, play it all as the best band in the game.