From Sinatra to Bowie, Panic! At the Disco’s catalog reflects Brendon Urie’s diverse influences

Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie.
Photo: Shervin Lainez
Annie Zaleski

Panic! At the Disco is on a hot streak. Last year’s Death of a Bachelor album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, got nominated for the Best Rock Album Grammy and has already been platinum-certified for combined sales and streams. In recent months, leader Brendon Urie and the band have made the rounds on late-night TV shows, and they’re currently selling out arenas nationwide.

Panic!’s success can be attributed to hard work, of course. The group also exudes integrity, supporting causes in which it believes—a limited T-shirt released to benefit Planned Parenthood raised more than $55,000 in less than 24 hours—while the 29-year-old Urie radiates enthusiasm. Above all, however, Panic! is succeeding because of its music, which reflects a rainbow of influences—rock, pop, punk, glam, electronic, hip-hop, even early standards—without pandering. Here are five acts that have impacted Panic!’s sound, in ways big and small.

Elvis Costello Costello knows something about transcending early stereotyping and establishing a meaningful and diverse career. No wonder Urie is a fan. He once posted a raucous, faithful cover of “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” on his Twitter account and contributed “Oliver’s Army” to a mix for USA Today. “One day this smarter/cooler kid in school starts up a conversation with me and midway says, ‘Have you heard “Sweet Adeline” [by Elliott Smith]?’” Urie recalled. “So I say, “Yeah! I like ‘Oliver’s Army,’ too,” totally thinking he was talking about Elvis Costello. He just stared at me then slowly walked away. We never talked again.”

Chicago Death of a Bachelor’s “Hallelujah” samples Chicago’s ’69 semi-hit “Questions 67 and 68.” Urie has been a fan since he was 6, when he heard Chicago on a father-son camping trip. “[My dad] pops in this tape. ‘Hey, check this out,’” Urie enthusiastically told the Weekly in 2016. “And it’s Chicago’s ‘25 or 6 to 4.’” Urie’s mind was blown. “I was like, ‘What is this? This is f*cking awesome!’ The horns are blaring, the drum-kick patterns are crazy. I was in love right away.”

Billy Joel On this current run of dates, Urie is taking to the piano to lead the band through a faithful cover of Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out.” Unsurprisingly, Urie told SoundSpike that Joel—whose “Big Shot” he performed at 2013’s Kennedy Center Honors Billy Joel production—is “one of my favorite songwriters of all time. I was raised on Billy Joel.” 1993’s “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” is particularly special to him. “My mom would play piano, and she would sing to me. Whenever I’d wake up with a nightmare, she would sing to me [sings] ‘Goodnight, my angel/Time to close your eyes.’ It just made me cry.”

Frank Sinatra It’s no secret that Urie is a massive fan. “I attach his music to so many memories: opening presents on Christmas day, my grandparents teaching the rest of the family to swing dance, watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with my siblings,” Urie wrote in a 2015 Instagram post announcing Death of a Bachelor. His genuine reverence for Ol’ Blue Eyes’ songwriting and aesthetic makes his admiration stand out.

David Bowie Bowie’s turn as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth first piqued Urie’s interest; hearing 1971’s Hunky Dory cemented his fandom. “I love how elegant he looks laying in a dress on the cover,” he told, likely referencing the cover of The Man Who Sold the World. “It’s just like … what is this dude?” Urie added, “In terms of how I create, cultivate an image, visually, re-creating yourself as an artist—all these things I think David Bowie was the best at, honestly. He somehow was able not only to re-create himself, change his sound every album, but you always felt the essence. It’s always Bowie.”

PANIC! AT THE DISCO with MisterWives, Saint Motel. March 24, 7 p.m., $40-$60. Mandalay Bay Events Center, 702-632-7580.

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