In the early 80’s it was popular for two superstars to get together to release a hit single, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder on Ebony and Ivory, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie on Endless Love, and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton on Islands In The Stream. But Under Pressure marked the first time that Queen would collaborate with another artist, and it was a tense affair, with Bowie and Mercury fighting for control of the creative process, in a recording studio in Montreaux, Switzerland. Both Mercury and Bowie had definite ideas about the lyrics, Bowie wanted a darker, edgier feel to the song, and ultimately a compromise was reached, which ensured that two of the most charismatic voices in in popular music made it onto vinyl.The recording of the song was no less fraught, and prone to diva behaviour by both Freddie and David. They would try and time their arrival at the studio to be the last there to make the other wait, and when recording their improvised vocals, they agreed that they would record them separately and then assess what was the most preferred. Bowie sneakingly listened to Mercury’s vocals and counterpointed then perfectly. Mercury was impressed until producer Reinhold Mack told him that Bowie had stood in the doorway and listened to Mercury’s vocals, this triggered another tiff between the two divas. Under Pressure would be only the second #1 UK hit for Queen after Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Are the Champions, Somebody To Love and Killer Queen had all stalled at #2. John Deacon came up with the iconic two note base riff, after first playing it, not notating it, going out for a pizza, and on his return forgetting it, but Roger Taylor recalled it and the session proceeded, the monumental crescendo and sinuous melodic line, all combined to create a #1 global hit.
Bowie would record a duet with Mick Jagger in 1985 on a cover of Martha and the Vandellas Dancing In the Street, and the one upmanship and diva antics were apparently dialled back considerably there, but then it was a cover version, not the creation of an original song.