The Story Behind Electronic’s “Getting Away with It” and How It Parodies a 1980s Icon

In the latter half of the 1980s, two of the decade’s most influential English bands were heading in different directions. New Order were beginning to enjoy mainstream success in the U.S., and their final album of the ‘80s, Technique (1989), was their first to top the UK Official Albums Chart. The Smiths were also enjoying a higher profile in the U.S., but by 1987 they had disbanded. Despite the divergent paths taken by the bands, members of both groups shared the common link of being engaged in solo projects.

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Electronic was a project that brought key members of these two bands together—namely, Bernard Sumner of New Order and Johnny Marr of The Smiths. They kicked off their partnership with a single that took aim at one of their longtime collaborators. But which one of the duo wrote the stinging lyrics? Was it Sumner or Marr or both of them? Each of those guesses would be wrong, as neither Sumner nor Marr was responsible for the unflattering picture that “Getting Away with It” painted.

Getting the Message Behind “Getting Away with It”

If you only focus on the chorus of “Getting Away with It,” it would be easy to mistake it for a relationship song. The refrain of However I look, it’s clear to see / That I love you more than you love me sounds like it could be about someone who is in a one-sided romantic relationship. However, the affair in question is not between two partners but between a rock star and the rest of the world.

The rest of the lyrics leave some strong hints as to the identity of that rock star. The opening lines I’ve been walking in the rain / Just to get wet on purpose / I’ve been forcing myself not to forget / Just to feel worse paint a picture of someone who is not only miserable, but seems to revel in misery. Even if Marr weren’t a part of Electronic, it would be easy to figure out that the song is about his former Smiths bandmate, the notoriously discontented Morrissey.

Given that The Smiths’ breakup was less than amicable, it would be natural to assume that Marr was responsible for the lyrical digs at his ex-bandmate. He did begin the songwriting process for  “Getting Away with It,” but he only got as far as writing the music for the song’s chorus. The lyrics were written by Sumner and the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, with the latter taking on the larger share of the work.

About the same time, Tennant had written the song “Miserablism” for the Pet Shop Boys’ album Behaviour, which was a parody of Morrissey’s sullen public persona. In the liner notes for the album’s reissue, he confirmed he wrote lyrics for “Getting Away with It” from the same perspective. He wrote, “‘Getting Away with It’ is looking at Morrissey’s persona of being miserable and all the rest of it, and saying that he’s been getting away with it for years. It’s meant to be humorous.”

How Tennant Got Involved with Electronic

When Electronic released “Getting Away with It,” they got labeled as a supergroup, given the involvement of Sumner, Marr, and both members of the Pet Shop Boys. Tennant not only co-wrote “Getting Away with It,” but he and his bandmate Chris Lowe also performed on the song. However, they only contributed to one other track from Electronic’s self-titled debut album (“The Patience of a Saint”).

Sumner and Marr’s partnership with Tennant and Lowe—and by extension, “Getting Away with It”—only happened because some mutual friends introduced them. As Marr explained in a 2021 interview with MusicRadar, “we just kind of got put together, really, by friends on a social basis. But Bernard and I had been feverishly concocting ideas and ideas. And then we made this plan [to write and record together].”

The two songs with Tennant and Lowe were written as bookends around a night spent at The Haçienda, the famous Manchester, England, club of which New Order were co-directors. “Getting Away with It” was composed prior to going to the club, and “The Patience of a Saint” was written the following afternoon.

The Impact of “Getting Away with It”

“Getting Away with It” was an instant hit for Electronic, becoming a Top 10 track on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay (No. 4) and Dance Club Songs (No. 7) charts. It also reached the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100—a feat never achieved by The Smiths and only twice by New Order—as it peaked at No. 38. “Getting Away with It” is far and away the most popular Electronic song on Spotify, having been streamed more than 21 million times.

The song was not initially included on the original UK pressing of Electronic’s debut album, but it was subsequently added. The album was not released until nearly a year-and-a-half after “Getting Away with It” was, but it carried over the momentum from the successful single. “Get the Message” was a No. 1 Alternative Airplay hit, and “Tighten Up” (No. 6) and “Feel Every Beat” (No. 27) also spent time on the chart.

Skunk Anansie vocalist Skin covered “Getting Away with It” on a rereleased version of her 2003 album Fleshwounds. The album went to No. 43 on the UK Official Albums Chart.

Electronic would make two more albums, though they would not replicate the commercial success they had with “Getting Away with It” and their debut record. Not surprisingly, Sumner (mostly with New Order) and Marr continued to be prolific artists over the ensuing decades. While Tennant and Lowe’s contribution to Electronic was fleeting, with “Getting Away with It” they helped to create a song that has a legacy as big as some of their better-known hits. And that’s nothing to mope about.

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