O asked Nelson to revive the recording with her after feeling inspired by the political message of “Under Pressure” — “And love dares you to change our way of/ Caring about ourselves/ This is our last dance” — as Tuesday’s election grows closer. She first told mutual friend Johnny Knoxville that she was ready and willing to duet with Nelson, and then Nelson’s family got word.
“Willie’s daughter Amy very supportively said, ‘Have her send him the song and he’ll sing on it!’” recalled The Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead vocalist in a press statement. “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 were singing about, maybe because their performances are so exhilarating you get swept away in the high of that duet.”
Their cover comes two days after the 39th anniversary of the song’s release, on Oct. 26, 1981. Dave Sitek produced the tender acoustic rendition, featuring Nick Zinner, Imaad Wasif and Johnny Hanson playing guitars. Priscilla Ahn contributed background vocals.
“Our cover was meant to be more intimate but just as saturated with the power of love. 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,” O said. “I never knew if it was actually going to happen but you must dare to dream. I hope the song brings as much light to the listener as it has to me in dark times.”
Listen to O and Nelson’s rendition of “Under Pressure” below.