Link of the day: Isolated vocal tracks from Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”

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We at Make’n Music came across this ditty that just HAD to be shared.  Mind boggling.

Back in the summer of 1981, Queen and David Bowie happened to be recording material in separate studios in Montreux, Switzerland’s Mountain Studios.  After a night of binge drinking and binge… um… sniffing… Queen and David Bowie came up with one of the most killer rock songs written in years.  Below we have the unbelievable isolated vocal tracks from that song.  This was before WAY before autotune and punching in your takes with ProTools.  Just raw talent.  Listen to Freddie Mercury’s vocals when he hits that “why… why…. whyyyyyyy” portion and then goes to a HIGHER note after that.  Unbelievable. Kids, this is HOW IT’S DONE.  Take notes.

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source: OpenCulture

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89 thoughts on “Link of the day: Isolated vocal tracks from Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”

  1. JJ

    Nice find! Punching-in was not introduced by Protools though, and these vocals were not done without it, Bowie and Freddy were perfectionists and didn’t shy away from technology. I think nowadays they would even consider using autotune if it would save a near perfect take like (too?) many top artists do now.

    Were they drinking and sniffing?! Really? That would make these takes even more amazing and unrealistic.

    Reply
    1. Ben Branham

      You are so wrong. Perfectionist use their natural ability. Autotune would have been frowned down upon by these two. Considering Bowie is still kicking and just put out an album and by what I’ve heard him say about how the industry has turned music into a mockery; I think your assumption would be wrong. Freddie Mercury enjoyed trying to push his limits. He could sing as he did without effort unlike modern autotune fakes. Real artistry means doing it yourself. A few effects on your voice is one thing but lying to your fans is another.

      Reply
      1. Jonesy

        Dude, you could not be more wrong. Freddie Mercury put tremendous effort into every performance and every cut off of every album he was part of. He had polyps in his vocal cords for the majority of his career and is on record numerous times saying that singing was always painful for him, especially toward the end of his career. He is also on record many times admitting that he did indeed use editing techniques to help him hit the high notes for albums on occasion. Once of the main reasons he sang down an octave in live performances. Watch some footage, then go back and listen to the songs on the record. The proof is in the pudding. As for Bowie, Ziggy Stardust himself, he was never afraid to use post production editing as well. Specifically in his albums that came out in the eighties and early nineties, before he got into adult contemporary music. They both are incredibly talented vocalists, but they were also both masters of the craft and wanted everything to sound as good as possible. They were not in any way opposed to using production techniques available to them at the time to achieve the best sound possible. It’s well documented.

        Reply
        1. Peter Shaw

          and you hit the nail on the head… Freddie was a natural vocalist.. with all the foibles of any singer… vocal problems plagued him from the start.. the voice isn’t made to do what he did… or Steven Tyler for that matter… steven is just a freak of nature and uses lots of delays and reverb to hit notes to carry the note… but Freddie was a fantastic singer.. he probable wouldn’t be singing now..because he would have been so vocally taxed so many years later… but when Fred sang in the 1980’s .. he was flying high and nothing could touch him .. he was master of his domain if only for a 10 year stretch.. he was King of Queen.

          Reply
        2. Emmett O'Reilly

          Didn’t sing down an octave, that would’ve sounded ridiculous. Like many bands, they just tuned a little bit down, a matter of semi-tones. Of course they comped vocals, George Martin claimed one particular McCarthy vocal was comped from 36 takes but that’s totally different from Auto-tune, which alters the pitch, which is the most important element in music. In a live situation a bum note is gone in a millisecond, on a recording it is repeated over and over, so different standards have to apply.

          Reply
          1. David

            He did not say he recorded vox down an octave. Of course that would sound chipmunk-y. He said he performed some parts in concerts down an octave.

          2. Pat

            Why should pitch be the most important element in music? Look at amazing singers like Steven Malkmus of Pavement or even (to think of a newer one) Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz: they don’t necessarily stay on pitch all the time. What they find more important is the emotive qualities of their voice. To say that pitch is the most important element of all music is to say that only technical perfection matters, which is the crux of a lot of rock artists.

          3. Confused

            *wipes eyes* Wait, wait, wait… did you just compare Freddie Mercury to STEVEN MALKMUS?! Are you kidding me?

          4. Tom

            A a guy who even likes Pavement, you should really keep Steve Malkmus out of conversations about singers with actual talent.

    2. LL

      I don’t think the writer was saying they recorded this track *while* they were “binge drinking and binge sniffing,” just that that is when the song was written/conceived/imagined.

      Reply
      1. thenewobjective

        Which is to say, they are different aesthetics, doing different things. You can’t compare. When vocalists utilize it, often there is no “raw” version, it’s being monitored post-effect, and so the performance is taking this into consideration. (I’m not talking about pop singers using it in an “invisible” way to mask imperfection, but when it is used as an “effect” or an instrument in its own right.) I don’t know why people get so up in arms about this. Enough with the conservative factionalism.

        Reply
    3. Jamie

      Why would they use Autotune when they could sing in tune? Dropping in doesn’t mean anything. Dropping in also doesn’t mean they couldn’t do it live. Often great artist’s were still working out the parts as they were singing them and dropping them in the studio. See Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain,and so many others. Autotune doesn’t just pull someone in tune, it sucks the felling out of the take. It takes away the natural feel. Worse case scenario Justin Bieber and Cher. Singers are often just lazy now, and don’t practice. They can’t sing, thus they use Autotune.

      Reply
    4. Hope Strang

      I agree. These are two artists that are true icons. Love music but not so much anymore, everything seems so fake nowadays. To me this is true music.

      Reply
    5. John Deacon

      How about Freddie singing on the last Queen album when he only had a very short while to live then! That’s impressive.

      Reply
  2. MT

    If you watch the documentary of the making of Dark Side of the Moon (released 1973), you hear Roger Waters asking Dave Gilmore if he should rewind and drop him in a few times, basically punching in by another name. Also Freddy (great as he was) could not hit that high a note, it is manipulated.

    Reply
    1. Jeffrey Lynn George

      I am afraid you are mistaken “MT”! I personally witnessed Freddie “hitting” those High Notes LIVE in 1984! (No Autotune! And, Only Effects Added! NO “Pitch” manipulation!) You are probably “Right” about the Pink Floyd crap though!

      Reply
      1. Emmett O'Reilly

        Don’t want to pull rank on anyone but too many people here don’t understand recording technology. Dropping in has existed for 50 years and it even involves the singer altering how they sing before the punch in point. If you saw Auto-tune being applied to a wildly out-of-tune vocal, on a computer screen, you might question it’s artistic integrity. Daft Punk and Kraftwerk have been using Vocorders and Ring Mod for years and using AT in the same way has some integrity but most AT’d vocals are recorded, then auto-corrected, not the same thing. Often if the singer kept on doing takes until it was closer to perfection, the end result is far better, more real, more human and therefore communicates more, which is what singing is all about.

        Reply
    2. John Deacon

      It’s not manipulated whatsoever. Mercury sung high notes all throughout his career, including live – that most certainly wasn’t manuiplated.

      Reply
      1. Jess P.

        John Deacon of Queen? I second the thanks for your final, inarguable word on the subject, and add my eternal gratitude for putting “You’re My Best Friend” on this earth.

        Reply
  3. Dan Wilbur

    you could punch in on tape back then, do your research. not to take away from their vocal performances but don’t think for a second they wouldn’t punch in if it called for it

    Reply
    1. Grant Ferstat

      I was going to say the same thing. I’ve punched in on tape lots of time. Obviously you can’t comp multiple takes like you can with “tools” or get things down to minuscule sections (the tape is linear, and mechanically moved and has have time to get to speed) but punching in certain sections to improve upon the original vocal take has been around since multi-track recording pretty much.

      Reply
  4. Val

    A link that appears at the end of this vid goes into depth about how much mastering, overlaying, multi-tracking, and “playing with” the layering Freddie did while creating Bohemian Rhapsody

    Reply
  5. kelly

    Queen didn’t use synthesizers until 1980/1981 but that doesn’t mean they didn’t mess with the tracks. They dubbed, manipulated and found ways around it which really is a sign of their creativity. They created the music they wanted but they also noted the trends and went with them, hence why their later music was more synth heavy, very 80’s style of music. Freddie got into that style of music later on.
    The point I am trying to make is that to say that Freddie Mercury wouldn’t touch auto-tune is a bit foolish. My guess is he would experiment with that. That doesn’t make him a bad artist. What sets a good artist apart from a bad one is that someone like Freddie would never RELY on technology. The unadulterated tracks of Freddie’s voice (and Bowie’s for that matter) still show tremendous talent, which is more than anyone can say about many of today’s popular artists.

    Reply
    1. Mark Megerle

      I’ve come to refer most of yoday’s “artists” as “One And Done’rs. Sure isn’t like it was in the sixties thru the 80 when the reason most bands disappeared was because of the members not able to get along. Nowadays the electronics are the main artist with a bunch of people simply trying to create a mood by acting instead of selling their voices to the crowds. Its pitiful these days.

      Reply
      1. kelly

        Tell me about it, Even though these musicians are a part of my generation (90’s and beyond) I still cling to music of the 60’s-80’s and sometimes earlier. It is hard to find a real musician with real talent these ays.

        Reply
    2. Tanya Nguyen

      I know next to nothing about recording and the like, but most things that become over used (auto barf tuning) were used at one point as a part of an art. I suspect mercury would have played around with it, if it gave him a different artistic expression.

      Not on every song, for every performance, to sound like every other singer the way it seems used in pop music today, but for his craft. not to “fix” a bend that went flat, but to see what he could to to make something bend beyond human, for example.

      Reply
  6. nomadicnessa

    Does it really matter whether or not they used technology. They are awesome and changed the face of music with their talent and willingness to push it to the limit.

    Reply
  7. The ME Network

    Great post. There will never be another artist like David Bowie or band like Queen… that doesn’t mean we don’t have talented artists taking to the stage now-a-days.

    Reply
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  9. Jack

    Punching in – it’s been utilized since the 60s. NO ONE gets it right from front to finish- especially perfectionists like the incomparable Freddie Mercury. Please.

    Reply
  10. AmazedHuman

    Oh Lord, I miss Freddie Mercury. Won’t anyone ever have that talent. He was a showman. One with so much talent! I’m not a real Bowie fan, but this was phenomenal. A-Cappella sure shows true talent ,doesn’t it?

    Reply
    1. Farrokh Bulsara

      Sure, but the track is normally credited to ‘Queen & David Bowie’. Unless you’re trolling in which case, consider this comment ipecac and not food.

      Reply
  11. Willy Rodriguez Torres

    They where punching in the takes on tape long before ProTools. That’s why you can do that in ProTools now. I agree they did’nt need autotune they shure produce their voices. That’s withiut a doubt.

    Reply
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  13. Jack Tank

    You can only punch in an additional take if you have an available track on which to place it. Multi-track recording wasn’t available until the 60’s, and then only 2 tracks for several years. What I find truly amazing is how Big Bands of the 40’s-50’s like Count Basie, Duke Ellington or Frank Sinatra fronting The Nelson Riddle Orchestra could get it done in one take. No over dubs, no punch-ins and remember we’re talking about 12-20 instruments with vocals who all had to be in tune, on time throughout the single take. We need to give those old-timers credit.

    Reply
    1. Emmett O'Reilly

      Multi-tracking allowed bits of different takes to be combined. In the 40’s and 50’s they did take after take to get it right. Rarely, in fact, probably never, would Sinatra, Basie, or Ellington release a first take. Recording a studio vocal, I would plan in advance where I was going to drop out and punch back in, allowing me to hit high sustained notes, without worrying about getting air back into my lungs for the next line, The noise of a singer gulping air can be disguised live on an SM58 but sounds awful in a vocal booth with a studio mic and compression.

      Reply
    2. adev

      actually that’s not accurate. Multitrack recording was born in the mid 50s and by the late fifties Les Paul was using an 8 track recorder extensively, so by the 60s the technology was in wide use. Punching in doesn’t require an extra track, all it requires is the instrument in question (be it vocals, guitar, whatever) to be on it’s own track isolated from everything else. The technician would then switch from playback to record on that particular track at the right moment (and back again) to allow a certain section to be re-recorded. It’s not rocket science. Once tracks were ready, multiple tracks could be bounced down to one or two (for stereo) and the other tracks could then be used for more.

      Reply
  14. mvantete

    Apart from the discussion on whether or not they used post production techniques (of course, they used everything available!), this track to me proves how great both Bowie & Mercury are (were) in bringing across emotion through their voices. Despite technique one might say. This vocal only track sends shivers down my spine. Great one!

    Reply
  15. Greg Fellmer

    I won’t pretend to know what these talents did or didn’t do in the studio. One thing I do know is that these two voices are just amazing to listen to. I am always in awe of a great singer.

    Reply
  16. Eric

    Tony Visconti say they didn’t use Autotunes in The Next Day, and use old fashioned recording tecn=hnics. Thats why this sound so organic and take you in the Gut. Tony visconti Bowie was singing always right in key and the first take was always very good.

    Unlike all the noawadays single and throw away singers.. Gaga, and the likes. No Soul

    Reply
  17. Becky

    U r all freakin crazy! N the end, w/w out anything, the fact still remains they r 2 of the most talented individuals of all time! Tech stuff is what it is, there’s got 2 b a foundation & they have it-like no other! Give them that credit! & bite me – ingrates!!! BB

    Reply
  18. David Collins

    I think the author’s point is that these were not digital recordings. Therefore they did not have the modern tools that make it so easy to manipulate and alter the most minute aspects of a recording, This recording obviously makes heavy use of chorus and other analog delays and reverbs, and no doubt the vocals were assembled from many takes by “punching in” with automated tape decks or post-productiion editing. Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti, was known for his innovative use of reverbs, delays, flangers and gates. For instance, he would place several microphones, each one progressively farther away from Bowie. The mikes were then gated so the louder Bowie sang, the more mikes would kick-in. The distance between the mikes would create a natural delay resulting in a multi-voiced chorus effect. Like many singers, Bowie sings louder as he reaches for the higher notes. Therefore, in Visconti’s multi-mike scheme, the chorus delay would kick in as Bowie reached for the higher notes. Chorus effects are often used to mask “pitchiness” because even if the vocals are slightly out of tune with the instruments, the multiple voices of the chorus are in tune with each other, depending on the amount of delay, or in this case the distance between the mikes. Regardless of any studio wizardly, this is certainly an impressive vocal performance that stands on its own with no instrumentation.

    Reply
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  21. Mike Marston

    Absurd to think either never comped a vocal. “Keep Yourself Alive” that opens Queen’s debut puts the lie to that idea. No one could sing those lines in that pacing without taking a breath. And listening carefully reveals a bit of overlap here & there. Obviously alternate lines are edited together. So what? Doesn’t deny talent. And since autotune didn’t exist then, well… the only way to change pitch was to change tape speed. Can’t go more than a couple semitones without it being obvious. That “chipmunk” sound you know.

    Reply
  22. Yuri

    I’m sure Freddie would have loved the way people still talk about him. His last word to Jim Beach (manager Queen) were: “Never make me look boring”.
    This is an incredible vocal part, I love the way they leave out the reverb in the quiet part, brings the vocals closer without being louder. Impressive as it is, Freddie did even more impressive stuff, how about the end of “The show must go on”, impossible for anyone to sing along without using falsetto voice.

    Reply
  23. Guerrero

    All the things that exist.. exist to be use, Autotune is not bad, might be he singer, autotune is a tool like reverb or Eq, there are many good singers that dont need autotune but they apprecciate when its use with them for any reason.. so… humans are others.. Under pressure.

    Reply
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  25. Al

    Would be nice to have heard it without Reverbs and FX/echoes too … PS. You could drop in on tape and do overdubs. For more than 24 tracks you could also link 2 or more 24 track tape machines together. Was good to hear how the vox where put together though, there is still some P’s K’s B’s going on.

    Reply
  26. Guillermo

    Hi. I noticed a “third” voice in minute 2:53 to 3:05. This is not Roger Taylor? It sounds different to Freddy’s voice. It’s the broken sound of Roger’s voice.

    Reply
  27. Scott

    Just to give properly define “punching in” PUNCH IN/OUT: A feature in a multitrack recorder that lets you insert a recording of a corrected musical part into a previously recorded track by going into and out of record mode as the tape is rolling.

    Please NOTE he said TAPE.

    Reply
  28. Scott

    If you want to see what “punching in” is on you tube look for Cory Taylor, Dave Ghrole, and Rick Neilson recording “From Can to Can’t” The 19 min. version. It will show you exactly how its done!

    Reply
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  30. studentofouruniverse

    Even Streisand uses autotune. And so did Christopher Cross. In the studio AND LIVE. Two dynamic dynamite voices. In the studio sounds remarkably different than live. Many singers use it for the occasional clinker in the studio. But when your performance has to sound like your recording, then autotune is used. Unless you want to take it over and over and over again and that wears out the voice and costs a fortune. That being said, the artistry and virtuoso ability of singers from 15, 20, 30, 40 years ago is far and above most artists today. Note I said most not all. They didn’t depend on the technology like artists do today. There are some fine current vocalists in the studio. A lot of them don’t carry it out live…some do.

    Reply
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