Listen: Willie Nelson duets with Karen O on Queen/Bowie classic ’Under Pressure’
“I can’t listen to this song without tearing up every time Willie comes in — one of the purest voices which of course reflects a pure heart, and I get to sing alongside it.”
That’s what Karen O of New York indie-rockers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs says about her new duet with Willie Nelson on the 1981 Queen/David Bowie smash “Under Pressure,” released digitally yesterday by BMG. That it ever even happened was almost a cosmic accident.
Karen O had been working with the National Independent Venue Association on efforts to save music venues during the pandemic. Asked if she knew any country artists who might bet willing to sign a letter to Congress in support of the Save Our Stages Act, O checked in with actor-comedian Johnny Knoxville, who she knew was friends with Nelson.
“I asked to see if he could check in with Willie about it, and then out of sheer audacity I added ‘and if he ever wants to do a duet I’m ready and willing,’” she said in a press statement accompanying the new single. “Johnny came back with the news that the signature was in the works, and Willie’s daughter Amy very supportively said, ‘Have her send him the song and he’ll sing on it!’
“At this point my mind was melting but I had to focus and pull a song out of the ether that was worthy of a living legend and spoke to the people in troubled times — not an easy assignment. Then like a bolt out of the blue, ‘Under Pressure’ came to mind.
“I’ve heard this song countless times without processing the gravity of what Bowie and Freddie (Mercury) were singing about, maybe because their performances are so exhilarating you get swept away in the high of that duet. Our cover was meant to be more intimate but just as saturated with the power of love.”
Others who contributed to the track include her Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmate Nick Zinner, SoCal psych-rocker Imaad Wasif and indie-folk artist Priscilla Ahn. Dave Sitek produced and added vital touches of pedal steel and piano. Willie’s son Micah Nelson is credited as associate producer.
Here’s the track: