Meaning of The Panic by The Smiths & The Story Behind

When The Smiths released the track Panic, a flurry of criticism fell upon the musicians. They were accused of inciting riots, racism and other sins. However, they probably expected such a reaction when they recorded a song with phrases like “burn down the disco” or “lift the DJ”.

The story of Panic by The Smiths

It was written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr. The tragedy at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant prompted the authors to write a song.

Johnny said:

Panic appeared during Chernobyl. Morrissey and I listened to a Newsbeat radio report about it. The story of a shocking disaster comes to an end, and then all of a sudden, Wham!’s I’m Your Man is turned on. I remember I said, “What the f*** does she have to do with human lives?” We hear about Chernobyl, and then, literally in a second, we’re supposed to be dancing to I’m Your Man.

NME, 1987

True, Marr later said that one should not count that news release and the song Wham! their main source of inspiration.

By the way, the ill-fated song was put on by DJ Steve Wright, whom Morrissey could not stand because of the strange track listings on his airs. Later, the musicians ordered a T-shirt with a portrait of Wright and the inscription Hang the DJ! (“Hang up the DJ!”).

Musically, the composition is based on the famous Metal Guru track performed by T. Rex. Marr recalled:

When we wrote Panic, Morrissey was obsessed with Metal Guru and wanted to sing in the same style. He sang it endlessly, trying to modify Panic’s lyrics to fit exactly into Metal Guru’s rhythm. He also convinced me to use the same guitar part, so these two songs are the same!

Les Inrockuptibles, 1999

Recording and release

The musicians recorded Panic in May 1986 at London’s Livingston Studios, working under the direction of producer John Porter.

It became the first composition of The Smiths, created with the participation of Craig Gannon (Craig Gannon). He replaced Andy Rourke, who had to be suspended due to his heroin addiction.

On July 21, 1986, the song was released as a single. It reached number eleven on the UK Singles Chart and number seven on the Irish Singles Chart. The track was later included on the compilation albums The World Won’t Listen and Louder than Bombs.

Panic was voted the best single of the year by NME readers. In 2007, this magazine ranked the song at number 21 on their list of the fifty greatest indie anthems of all time.

Meaning of Panic by The Smiths

So what is Panic about? The first part deals with the chaos that has engulfed the British and Irish cities. Further, the authors hint that the cause of the riots lies in pop music. They even call to fight it with radical methods: burn discos and hang up DJs.

It is unlikely that Morrissey and Marr really wanted to push listeners to such actions, but critics were quick to bombard them with angry reviews. The musicians were accused of racist attacks on the music of blacks and even of calling for terrorism.

Marr responded to the attacks:

To those who felt insulted by the phrase “burn down the disco”, I would say: “Please show me the black members of the New Order!” Personally, I think that New Order makes great disco music, but there are no black members in the band. My point is that the words “black” and “disco” are not interchangeable, nor are the phrases “black music” and “disco music”. It doesn’t make any sense.

NME, 1987

Video of Panic by The Smiths

Check out the music video for “Panic” by The Smiths.

Interesting Facts

  • The Australian rock band The Panics are named after the song.
  • Group Panic! At the Disco got its name not because of the Panic The Smiths track.
  • One of the episodes of the Black Mirror series is called Hang the DJ. The authors were inspired by the song Panic.

Panic Lyrics by The Smiths

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?
The Leeds side-streets that you slip down
I wonder to myself

Hopes may rise on the Grasmere
But honey pie, you’re not safe here
So you run down
To the safety of the town
But there’s panic on the streets of Carlisle
Dublin, Dundee, Humberside
I wonder to myself

Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music they constantly play

On the Leeds side-streets that you slip down
The provincial towns you jog ’round
Hang the DJ

Lyrics of Panic by The Smiths Alternate

Panic in the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham.
I ask myself in amazement:
Will common sense return to life?
The lanes of Leeds that you wander through.
I ask myself wondering…

You can pin your hopes on Grasmere,
But baby you’re not safe there either
That’s why you’re looking
Shelter in the city.
But panic is already on the streets of Carlisle
Dublin, Dundee, Humberside.
I ask myself wondering…

Burn down the disco
Pull up the damn DJ
‘Cause the music they play all the time
Tells me nothing about my life.
Pull up the damn DJ
Because the music they play all the time…

In the lanes of Leeds that you wander through
In provincial towns where you jog
Pull up the DJ.

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