from the album, Louder Than Bombs
Panic is a song by the British indie band The Smiths, written by singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr.
Panic was 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.
The song was released by Rough Trade Records as a single in 1986, reaching # 11 in the UK Chart. It was later released on the compilation albums The World Won’t Listen and Louder Than Bombs.
Panic was recorded at London’s Livingston Studios in May of 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 May 5th, 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.
A story circulated as the basis for the song is that days before recording the song, 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!”
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 mimics 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 criticized.
Panic drew negative reaction from critics who construed Morrissey’s lyrics to have a racist connotation, due to their disparagement of the “disco” and the “DJ“. 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!”
The song reached # 11 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 # 7, and reached # 32 on the Dutch Top 40.
Panic was voted Single of the Year by the annual NME readers poll, and also ranked sixth in the Best Dance Record category. In 2007, NME placed Panic at # 21 in its list of the 50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever.
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.
Editor’s Note: Day two of the “Radio” theme and with it comes a flash flood of memories.
There was this boy (isn’t there always a boy?) who fancied himself a disciple of Morrissey and the biggest fan of The Smiths that ever lived. Funny, as before I met him I had hung around a handful of boys who would have said the same. For a spell of time, a good long one at that, nearly every boy I knew was obsessed with Morrissey. I was less enchanted then, maybe water-logged and aurally overwhelmed by all the play he seemed to get. There always seemed to be a Smiths song playing, even when I was lying in bed next to the disciple, playing with his hair and tracing his chest with the tip of my finger, sighing and shifting closer, trying to get him to give me even half the attention he was giving to the Louder Than Bombs album that was spinning in dizzy circles.
I wanted to hang the DJ.
Time changes, soothes and softens, and I find myself enjoying this song now, even when all those obsessive boys, the lover and the friends, all dance around to Morrissey and Marr in my head. I’m here, too, tapping my foot and singing-a-long, while they dance away.