Karen O is best known for her work in the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and Willie is best known as an icon. I need a podcast about how this track came together. How does Karen O meet up with Willie Nelson to record a Queen cover? Everything in that previous question is amazing by the way. Even though I do not know a lot about how this track came together, it is incredibly moving.
Musically, the track is slowed right down and stripped back to the bone. This is a bold choice from producer Dave Sitek, who is known from his band TV on the Radio. The original is so iconic that you hear the first few notes and you are immediately brought back into the original’s famous bass line. This works in the song’s favour, because you are brought into the song right off the bat, which gives Sitek room to experiment. The acoustic guitar and country slide create a warmth that envelopes you in a much needed embrace.
The choice of Karen O with Willie Nelson is a masterstroke. Her light and glistening vocals elevates the track by giving it a fragile beauty. Willie comes in with a vocal sounding every bit of his 87 years, which grounds it and gives it a sense of wisdom and importance. It is not a rough and dark vocal, but you feel like you are sitting by the fire listening to a wise sage who has traveled down from some mystic mountain to impart some life altering knowledge. You hang on every word searching for truth.
Sitek’s stripped back and slowed down arrangement allows the lyrics to breathe. You feel the pressure in the first few verses and then are brought to a spiritual release as Karen O and Nelson come together to sing about love and giving humanity one more chance. Having them come together in the final few verses and chorus is sonically amazing and works really well.
This song was released in response to one of the most toxic and divisive elections in recent memory. When you hear Karen O and Willie sing about love, it is not heavy handed, but both spiritually and emotionally moving. You get the aspirational feeling from Karen O’s soaring vocals, while also hearing Willie’s vocal on love as his final parting lesson for humanity. I love this song and see it as a healing message for the nation. One that I hope people hear and put into action.
Listen to Under Pressure