David B0wie x Queen x R0bert Van Winkle - Under Pressure (Treats Blend)
This is the third in a selection of secret blends I’ve been playing out recently, this one with Hugo the Poet as part of Hugo & Treats. Most notably at Earth Frequency Festival 2016. It is a blend of Under Pressure by Queen & David Bowie, with a snippet of the unreleased acapella version, and the beat stem from Ice Ice Baby by Robert Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice.
Queen had recorded a demo of a song called ‘Feel like’ written by drummer Roger Taylor.
The final version, which became “Under Pressure”, evolved from a jam session that Bowie had with the band at Queen’s studio in Montreux, Switzerland. The scat singing that dominates much of the song is evidence of the jam and the song’s beginnings as improvisation.
There is some controversy over who wrote the iconic bassline. Bowie on his website says it was written before he arrived, and according to Brian May, John Deacon, the band’s bass player, had been playing the riff over and over throughout the recording sessions.
Roger Taylor claims that when the band returned one evening from dinner, Deacon, amusingly, forgot the riff, but fortunately Taylor was still able to remember it. However, Brian May contradicted this account in a 2016 Mirror Online article, writing that it was actually Bowie, not Taylor, who had inadvertently changed the riff. The riff began as “Deacy began playing, 6 notes the same, then one note a fourth down”. After the dinner break, Bowie corrected (actually changed) Deacon’s memory of the riff to “Ding-Ding-Ding Diddle Ing-Ding”.
This bassline along with Freddie Mercury’s piano chords was then sampled in 1990 by champion motocross and jet ski racer, Robert Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice. It wasn’t a direct sample as the piano and bass parts were replayed. Vanilla Ice altered the rhythm of the bassline thinking he would thereby avoid any question of credit, royalties, or license. This case never went to court as it was clear that Vanilla Ice had stolen the sample without permission. He settled out of court with Queen and David Bowie for an undisclosed but likely very large amount.
Here's Vanilla Ice in 1990 explaining the difference between the two basslines.
Suge Knight, the head of Death Row Records later claimed that he had written the song, and visited Van Winkle to convince him to sign over the publishing rights. It is rumoured that part of the convincing involved hanging Vanilla Ice over a balcony by his ankles. Knight made a lot of money from those publishing rights, which went into Death Row Records and the development of artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac.