Panic (The Smiths song)
|Single by The Smiths|
|Released||21 July 1986|
|Format||7", 12", CD|
|Writer(s)||Johnny Marr, Morrissey|
|The Smiths singles chronology|
"Panic" is a song by the British indie band The Smiths, written by singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr. The first recording to feature new member Craig Gannon, "Panic" bemoans the state of contemporary pop music, and implores its listeners to "burn down the disco" and "hang the DJ" in retaliation, refrains that led some to accuse the band of promoting racism and homophobia. The song was released by Rough Trade Records as a single in 1986, reaching number 11 in the UK Chart. It was later released on the compilation albums The World Won't Listen and Louder Than Bombs.
Background and recording
"Panic" was recorded at London's Livingston Studios in May 1986. It was the group's first recording sessions since they completed work on their third album The Queen Is Dead six months earlier. During the interim period, bassist Andy Rourke had been fired due to his drug addiction. The band hired Craig Gannon to replace him, but after they rehired Rourke, guitarist Johnny Marr offered Gannon a position as second guitarist.
The now five-piece band worked with producer John Porter at Livingston Studios; this was his first work with the group in two years. Porter added several layers of tracks by guitarists Marr and Gannon. Porter was concerned that the song was too short, so he copied the band's first take from 5 May and spliced a repetition of the first verse at the end to increase its length. The group was unimpressed and opted to leave the song as they originally structured it.
Composition and lyrics
A story circulated as the basis for the song holds that Marr and Morrissey were listening to BBC Radio One when a news report announced the Chernobyl disaster. Straight afterwards, disc jockey Steve Wright played the song "I'm Your Man" by pop duo Wham!. "I remember actually saying, 'What the fuck does this got to do with people's lives?'" Marr recalled. "We hear about Chernobyl, then, seconds later, we're expected to jump around to 'I'm Your Man'". While Marr subsequently stated that the account was exaggerated, he commented that it was a likely influence on Morrissey's lyrics. The band even commissioned a t-shirt featuring Wright's portrait and the phrase "Hang the DJ!"
"The anecdote might well be true," writes Tony Fletcher in A Light That Never Goes Out, his 2013 biography of the Smiths. However, he finds some elements of the story implausible. By the time of the Chernobyl disaster, he notes, "I'm Your Man" had been off the UK pop charts for several months, "and Morrissey hardly needed further provocation to attack Wright, whose highly ranked afternoon show treated all popular music as secondary to his madcap party format" (The antagonism was apparently mutual; former Smiths manager Scott Piering says that at a 1985 meeting, Wright and his producer both made it clear that they disliked the band's music). Moreover, he adds, the song itself makes no mention of the radio.
Journalist Nick Kent described "Panic" as a mandate for "rock terrorism". Musically, the song is based around a rotation between the G and E minor chords that mimicks "Metal Guru" by the glam rock band T.Rex. The song begins with Morrissey mentioning chaos unravelling throughout Britain (specifically naming locales such as Dundee, Carlisle and Humberside). In the second part of the song, Morrissey reveals that the source of this chaos is pop music, which in his words "says nothing to me about my life". In reaction, Morrissey implores listeners to "burn down the disco" and "hang the DJ", the latter lyrics repeated with the addition of a chorus of schoolchildren. Morrissey considered the fact that the song appeared on daytime British radio a "tiny revolution" in its own way, as it aired amongst the very music it criticised.
Release and reception
"Panic" drew negative reaction from critics who construed Morrissey's lyrics to have a racist connotation, due to its targeting of the "disco" and the "DJ". "If Morrissey wants to have a go at Radio 1 and Steve Wright, then fine," wrote Paolo Hewitt in the New Musical Express. But by using those words and "all the attendant imagery that brings up for what is a predominantly white audience, he is being imprecise and offensive." Fletcher agrees that the lack of any explicit indication the song was about radio, "it could be construed as reviving the racist and homophobic 'Disco Sucks' campaign of late 1970s America."
The criticism was intensified by comments Morrissey made in a September 1986 Melody Maker interview with Frank Owen, where the singer denounced a "black pop conspiracy". Marr in particular was incensed by the article and threatened to "kick the living shit" out of the writer if he crossed the band's path. Marr countered that "disco music" could not be equated with "black music"; he argued, "To those who took offence at the 'burn down the disco' line [. . .] I'd say please show me the black members of New Order!"
Fletcher suggests the song was not as much about race or sexuality as it was about the culture of British popular music. "For British Smiths fans," he writes,
... the 'disco' of 'Panic' was generally presumed to mean the longstanding city-centre meat market, which suggested exclusivity by demanding patrons wear a tie, or at least to 'dress smart,' but where drinks were overpriced, fights routine, and both the disc jockeys and the commercial Top 40 music that they played was almost embarrassingly disconnected from the neighbouring streets. Then again, when the Smiths performed 'Panic' to nearly 15,000 white American college kids, outdoors in the suburbs of Massachusetts, such reference points, vaguely stated in the first place, were easy to misconstrue.
"Panic" reached number eleven on the UK Singles Chart and stayed on the chart for eight weeks. The single also stayed on the Irish Singles Chart for five weeks, reaching a peak of number seven, and reached number thirty-two on the Dutch Top 40. "Panic" was voted Single of the Year by the annual NME readers poll, and also ("somewhat incongruously", noted Smiths biographer Simon Goddard) ranked sixth in the Best Dance Record category. In 2007, NME placed "Panic" at number 21 in its list of the 50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever. Chris Sievey's Frank Sidebottom character released an EP in 1993, credited to The Sidebottoms, featuring nine versions of the song.
An image of actor Richard Bradford, known for his lead role as private eye McGill in the 1967 British TV adventure series "Man in a Suitcase" featured on the sleeve cover.
- 7" vinyl record
- "Panic" – 2:20
- "Vicar in a Tutu" – 2:21
- 12" vinyl record and CD
- "Panic" – 2:20
- "Vicar in a Tutu" – 2:21
- "The Draize Train" (Marr) – 5:10
- Goddard, Simon. The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life. Reynolds & Hern Ltd., 2003. ISBN 1-903111-47-1
- Goddard, p. 191
- Goddard, p. 192-93
- Goddard, p. 195
- Goddard, p. 193
- Goddard, p. 194
- Fletcher, Tony (2013). A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths. London: Windmill Books. pp. 501–2. ISBN 9780099537922.
- Fletcher, 543.
- Goddard, p. 193-94
- Roberts, David (editor) (2006) . British Hit Singles & Albums (19th edition). London: HiT Entertainment. p. 510. ISBN 1-904994-10-5
- "The Irish Charts – All there is to know". Irish Recorded Music Association. 2008. Retrieved on 3 August 2009. Note: User needs to enter "Panic" in the "Search by Song Title" field and click "search".
- "Nederlandse Top40: 18 Oktober 1986 Week 42" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Top40. Retrieved on 3 August 2009.
- Goddard, p. 196
- "The Greatest Indie Anthems Ever – Number One is getting close | News". NME.com. 2 May 2007. Retrieved on 3 August 2009.
- "Man behind cult comedy figure Frank Sidebottom dies". Daily Telegraph. 22 June 2010. Retrieved on 4 February 2011.