7
Sep 13

OASIS – “Don’t Look Back In Anger”

Popular165 comments • 13,580 views

#734, 2nd March 1996

dontlookback Their title-belt rhetoric, Liam’s snarl, and the brick-wall loudness of Oasis’ radio sound made it easy not to notice how thoughtful Noel Gallagher’s lyrics could be. They weren’t especially clever lyrics, or meaningful, or even coherent, but “Whatever” and “Some Might Say” and “Roll With It” and “Wonderwall” and this one all have a reflective streak – bits and bobs of beermat philosophy giving the lie to the idea that Oasis were only a gang of sneering blusterers. Of course, this is more evidence that Oasis weren’t ever really a Britpop band – that scene had an art-pop appreciation for smart, satirical or formally dense lyrics, and even the unworked songs are very knowing about it (“Woo-hoo!”, indeed)

Noel seemed to prefer offhand sincerity, collages of lines that sound good sung, their emotional payoffs poking through puns, rhymes and boilerplate. According to both brothers, the “So, Sally can wait…” line that rouses “Don’t Look Back In Anger” from its slumberous verses was a happy collaborative accident, Liam pouncing on a phrase Noel had pulled from the air and ordering him to keep it. But the whole song feels like a similar patchwork, really good lines – “Please don’t put your life in the hands / Of a rock and roll band” side by side with fumbling about slipping inside the eye of your mind. The magpie phrase-lifting of the title sets the tone for the whole thing.

It might seem perverse to focus on “Don’t Look Back In Anger”’s lyrics, which are a tiny part of why it got to Number One and why it’s one of the band’s milestone tracks. But the rest of it leaves me almost completely cold, even when I can see what it’s up to. The opening piano, a lift from “Imagine”, is one of the group’s least subtle bits of behavioural priming – this is going to be a Big Song, Noel shooting for the Hall of Fame with a pained, ponderous rock ballad. I rarely like that kind of thing, and no surprise, I don’t really like this. It’s a treacly, high-gravity listen – guitars and drums and strings all jostling for space, dragging each other down. And while Liam’s singing wouldn’t have fitted this song’s rueful tone, Noel’s delivery veers between heartfelt and maudlin – particularly when he lets the song fizzle out at the end. Comparisons to “Wonderwall” – with Liam in total, electrifying command of a much tighter arrangement – are inevitable, and don’t flatter this song.

But something I do appreciate about it is that, in the context of rock tear-jerkers and lighter-wavers, the scrappy lyrics are an asset. There’s a sort of story here* – bye, Sal! – but no message or particular claim of wisdom, nothing you’re expected to agree with. Instead, the song flails about in a sump of self-justification and sentimentality, and is all the better for it. I have been drunk, and I have put big, sentimental rock music on when drunk, and felt the beery swell of nameless emotion just out of reach of my befuddled mind, and while I’d never use this track for it, I can recognise that use in it. That just-out-of-reachness – that catalyst for messy, dredged-up, inchoate feels – is the one way “Don’t Look Back In Anger” does stand comparison with “Wonderwall”.

*Though one particular coherent reading did jump out at me – what if that opening steal isn’t just a signal of the type of song this is going to be, but is an explicit admission: this song is Lennon fanfic, and Lennon is its “you”. It’s a fantasy where Noel gets to be John’s buddy – a Mary Stu. “Take me to the place that you go…” – and there’s Noel hanging out in Strawberry Fields, being there at the bed-in, helping him out – saving him, maybe – with some down-to-Earth Gallagher wisdom, vibing off his presence as “Sally” is left behind – no wonder Liam didn’t get to sing this – and kissed off with a snide cultural reference because that’s the kind of thing John Lennon does for Noel, his best friend forever. And there, walking on by, we shall leave them.

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Comments

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  1. 91
    weej on 11 Sep 2013 #

    Noel, quoted at Songmeanings (so to be taken with a pinch of salt unless anyone can find the real source):

    “I went up to The Manor when Paul Weller was recording Stanley Road and that’s when I did my bit on Walking On Guilded Splinters. He played me his song, Wings Of Speed, and that was the feel I tried to get on Don’t Look Back In Anger. I did it live for the first time at Sheffield Arena. Should people put their lives in the hands of a rock n’ roll band? If it’s us then, yeah, I think they can. Some of the lines come from John Lennon. I got this tape in America that had apparently been burgled from the Dakota Hotel and someone had found these cassettes. Lennon was starting to record his memoirs on tape. He’s going on about `trying to start a revolution from me bed, because they said the brains I had went to my head.´ Thank you, I’ll take that. It’s about not being upset about the things you might have said or done yesterday. It’s about looking forward rather than looking back. I hate people who look back on the past or talk about what might have been.”

    …so not from RitH then, though it doesn’t mean he didn’t read it.

  2. 92
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 Sep 2013 #

    Fuller version of that interview here: http://www.oasis-recordinginfo.co.uk/?page_id=1050

    (but I don’t know its source, who NG was talking to or when)

  3. 93
    Cumbrian on 11 Sep 2013 #

    #92: Heh Heh. Thoroughly punctures my theory on Hello that link.

  4. 94
    Erithian on 11 Sep 2013 #

    Going back to weej #25 – why do you think he’s got Bowie rather than Osborne in mind with “Look Back in Anger”? I’d always seen it as a conflation of Osborne and the Dylan documentary “Don’t Look Back” (which I don’t think has been mentioned) with all the connotations of being older, wiser and no longer an angry young man. But you can take out of it what you want to I guess since it’s so… meaningish is an ace word. I used to wonder if I was the only one thinking, yes the lyrics sound good but what the chuff do they mean?!

  5. 95
    weej on 12 Sep 2013 #

    #94 – Simply because Noel was always on about his education being from buying classic LPs at Mr Sifter’s. He could’ve heard of John Osborne, he might’ve seen Don’t Look Back, but he’s absolutely seen Lodger, picked it up and wondered “is this a real Bowie album? It looks like a badly produced bootleg” – like anyone does when they see it for the first time.

  6. 96
    Mark G on 12 Sep 2013 #

    Badly produced bootlegs don’t have glossy gatefold sleeves in full colour.

    If you said “seen “Wah – The Maverick Years”, picked it up and wondered “is this a real Wah album? It looks like a badly produced bootleg” – like anyone does when they see it for the first time.” then I’d go along with that one.

  7. 97
    weej on 12 Sep 2013 #

    Ok, maybe not a babdly produced bootleg, but still “is this really supposed to be like this?”

  8. 98
    Erithian on 12 Sep 2013 #

    Since you mention Wah, very off-topic but I had to chuckle at the TV critic who asked why Simon Schama hadn’t got Pete Wylie to do the title music for his series “The Story of the Jews”.

  9. 99
    ciaran on 12 Sep 2013 #

    #47 – Yes I remember DLBIA being everywhere too about 2-3 month before it was released. Hardly any song before my 3-4 years of musical awareness had this much of a presence without being released and it would take an effort from a similar indie well in 2006 by a similarly mouthy gallagher type before I encountered such hysteria over a previously unreleased album track.Champagne Supernova become familiar aswell in the middle of 1996.

    DLBIA was to me the highlight of WTSMG, an album high on the top of that xmas wishlist which relatives duly delivered.Despite my indifference to the first 2 single releases and wonderwall to a lesser extent I loved everything else.To our youth it felt like the greatest album ever made. A great success on top of a solid debut album and the enormous success of DLBIA signed off the period on a great note, leaving us wanting more.

    I still like this a lot and am surprised by Tom’s fairly low mark..For me its a 9 at least.possible 10.For all of Oasis faults it holds up well now and it’s really the end of the imperial phase.What followed was a great disappointment.

  10. 100
    James BC on 12 Sep 2013 #

    I remember Champagne Supernova being on the radio (Atlantic 252) despite not being a single. If they’d kept going Michael Jackson-style they could have easily got up to seven or eight hits off the album, maybe even nine or all ten with some judicious use of remixes and double A-sides, or live versions.

  11. 101
    Dan Quigley on 12 Sep 2013 #

    #92’s link: ‘Champagne Bossanova’? ‘Champagne Surfer Rosa’?

    This struck me as a shorter but more plodding variation of ‘Whatever’ at the time. In the right combination of circumstances almost any track from DM or WtSMG (still can’t remember where those parentheses go!) could induce in me a madeline-dipped-in-tea moment, but in my current, relatively unaltered state this seems a bit too pleased with itself.

    Forgive me if the following has already been noted, and also if it seems snider than I intend, but with its unmysterious everyman vocals, cod-psychedelic allusions and ‘Drumming is My Madness’ solo, this is more Ringo than John. (Goes off to find DLBIA/Octopus’s Garden mash-up.)

  12. 102
    23 Daves on 13 Sep 2013 #

    Is it me, or is there a vague similarity between some of the strings on this immediately at the end of the chorus and Pachelbel’s Canon In D Minor (used to popular effect on The Farm’s “All Together Now”)?

    Note – it could well be me, as I’m not somewhere I can easily listen to the track at the moment, but it’s a nagging thought I just had.

  13. 103
    Mark G on 13 Sep 2013 #

    Yeah, I’d second that. Pachelbel’s Canon In D Minor played staccato.

  14. 104
    Steve Mannion on 13 Sep 2013 #

    sez wikip “The piece was particularly prevalent in the pop charts of the 1990s, being sampled and appropriated in numerous commercial hits such as Coolio’s “C U When U Get There” and Green Day’s “Basket Case”.

    FSOL and Spiritualised too iirc

  15. 105
    Mark G on 13 Sep 2013 #

    Let us not forget Monty Python’s “Decomposing Composers” also.

  16. 106
    Cumbrian on 13 Sep 2013 #

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM

    Obligatory link to comedian Rob Paravonian’s Pachelbel bit.

  17. 107
    Dan Quigley on 13 Sep 2013 #

    The first time I heard Whatever, the thing I liked about it was its resemblance to the Famous Five’s theme song, another Pachabel-knock off, albeit with some nifty dropped beats.

    I can think of another couple of Canon in D cribs in the pre-millenial lead-up, possibly bunnied. Is the C-G-Am-F progression, which in the 00’s became as ubiquitous as the ‘We Want Cantor’ doo wop changes in the late 50’s, a super-abbreviated nod to the Canon too?

  18. 108
    Patrick Mexico on 13 Sep 2013 #

    Not bunnied – a #3 in July 1997 – but played Coolio’s C U When U Get There (dawn of text speak, urgh) to death on my school French trip that heavily riffs on Pachelbel’s Canon. Thought it was brilliant, miles better than Gangsta’s Paradise; evidence that the macho and excessive also had a heart of gold. I was only 12, I didn’t know that was mostly a very bad idea indeed in pop, from hair-metal to a 2004 bunny who’d get a 6 and a half, maybe a 4 and a half in two rage-coffees’ time..

    Can’t deny some of it is genius – about three minutes it sounds like Coolio’s looking in the mirror and arguing with himself.

    As for DLBIA. This is a very conventional rock record, but it does fly in some faces of fashion, made by the school bullies, but chock-full of wordplay straight from the school swot or teacher’s pet. Yes, it’s sixth-form poetry made by relatively grown men, yes I do understand why people feel awkward the “picking metaphors out of a hat” songwriting, and yes I always hear it as “And so, Silicon Way, she says it’s too late but she’s wanking off bikes.”

    However, Oasis went full pelt here writing the best pure pop song/power ballad they could with the influences at their disposal, and I’m pretty sure at the time people thought they would a) get better with each album or b) do a Stone Roses and sod off for years and leave us alone anyway. So for making the effort to be the definitive Britpop song, deserves a hearty:

    7.

    Replicating this would kill Oasis’ credibility stone dead later, mind, and other bands who’ve copied DLBIA have been responsible for some of the dumbest, most amoebic music I’ve ever heard.

    I had no problem with Britpop wearing influences on its sleeve – futurism in pop is usually followed by a clear opposite – but unlike say, the Smiths, who’d have such affection for cult TV, films and literature of the sixties informed their music’s emotion and character, it feels Oasis chose the Avengers themed video because it’s well, the Avengers, and it doesn’t matter if it’s out of tune, because it’s British, it’s retro, and it’s cool. Love that show, Department S, 1960s Bond and so much from that genre (and.. Archer) but this quote from Wichita Lineman on the Meatloaf thread struck a chord:

    Jim Steinman shows his love of Spector and Springsteen in the same way Mike Myers pays tribute The Avengers and The Prisoner in Austin Powers – both set my teeth on edge because they are taking influences I love, and things they profess to love – I don’t doubt their affection – but missing the point in the most ham-fisted way.

  19. 109
    Kinitawowi on 14 Sep 2013 #

    #108: oh please, Prince had been doing txt spk since the early 80s.

    Seem to recall the Pet Shop Boys version of Go West played up the Pachelbel bit.

  20. 110
    Baztech on 14 Sep 2013 #

    #71,

    But “White Lines (Don’t Do It) almost sounds like a pro-drug song in it’s delivery… But I guess that was your point ;)

  21. 111
    AndyK on 14 Sep 2013 #

    4 out of 10 is incredibly harsh. I can see the flaws but DLBIA embodies a populism and social resonance that is relatively rare and shouldn’t just be dismissed as seventh-pint bluster.

    There is a problem though in that it doesn’t lend itself in any way to close reading. It’s a pure melody-that-offers-itself-up-to-the-historical-moment tune, a stitching together of Bowie + Beatles in a brief moment of time when it looked like the ’80s nightmare was just a blip, that the populist humanism of the 60s/70s was about to return in the form of the first Labour government since 1979. For all the inane couplets here, the slogan-title captured that feeling better than any of Oasis’s supposedly “smart” or “knowing” contemporaries.

    As others have commented, the OFITN starring role sealed the deal.

  22. 112
    Chelovek na lune on 15 Sep 2013 #

    ##102-4, #106

    Not remotely close to being a hit in the UK, but almost unavoidable in some of continental Europe at this time, and mildly listenable, seemingly also with a Pachelbel tinge: ‘Love Is The Price’ by DJ Bobo.

  23. 113
    hardtogethits on 15 Sep 2013 #

    #71, #110 It’s called Don’t DON’T do it. My caps, obviously.

    See Dave Marsh, in “The Heart of Rock and Soul”, 1989.

    “Divining the message is hopeless, however, because even though the verses condemn the drug world (including trenchant lines about the disparity in the court system’s treatment of street kid users and businessman dealers), in the end the singer admits that he gets high himself and that what really bothers him is that the shit’s so damn expensive. So, the double negative in the subtitle says it straight.”

  24. 114
    Tim Byron on 16 Sep 2013 #

    Have to say that I completely disagree with the early comment on this thread about this being better than the Rutles – the Rutles are the kings of Beatles pastiches (the Spongetones or Utopia give them a run for their money) – in terms of nailing the sound and feel, etc. Noel generally wasn’t a clever enough songwriter to really nail it the way that Neil Innes does (“Let There Be Love” from Don’t Believe The Truth does alright, later on.) So instead his attempts, for me, come out as being more like the Stones trying to do the Beatles.

    Oasis were obviously the huge cultural phenomenon at the time in the UK, but they only had the one top 10 single in Australia (Wonderwall, which was a #1). ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ was a #19. And a band like Oasis being that kind of cultural phenomenon changes how you hear the music. In the UK, Oasis were everywhere, apparently, and their fans were apparently chavs/beery blokes/jerks, judging by this thread? In Australia, the equivalent blokes would have been into stuff like Pearl Jam and Metallica in 1996. The people who liked Oasis were probably more or less the same people who liked Blur and Pulp here. If I remember my school friends correctly, Oasis probably had more female fans than male fans here, at the time. So for me in 1996, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ was always a fairly enjoyably poppy slice of Britpop (in the context of a radio playlist next to ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ or ‘Glycerine’, it doesn’t sound especially bombastic or big statement-ish to me). It has a rather pleasing melody and chords.

    I didn’t buy the single (I seemingly spent my pocketmoney on ‘Charmless Man’ and ‘Disco 2000’ instead) but maybe it would have been the next cab off the rank if my pocketmoney had doubled. For me at the time, I was torn between ‘rat in a cage’ rage and my innate pop instincts, and stuff like Oasis and Blur seemed the acceptable golden mean – they were obviously pop but they were smart enough and rocking enough that I felt like I could enjoy them.

  25. 115
    Mark G on 16 Sep 2013 #

    #110, just to add to the un-clarity, the song’s title is “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)”

    (Not a ‘correction’ as such, and as I’ve just noticed #113, I shall say.. no more.)

  26. 116
    Izzy on 16 Sep 2013 #

    #114: everyone liked Oasis here at the time, would be nearer the truth. There would have been a few at the far end of the Blur/Pulp wing of indie who disliked Oasis on principle (and are hugely over represented on ft), plus dance/r’n’b types for whom they held no interest – but otherwise pretty much everyone who liked music liked them. I’ve seen imperial phases before and since, but nothing to really compare with the swell behind them in 1995/96; certainly not for a pretty trad, somewhat sloppy band who were only tangentially a media event.

  27. 117
    Tom on 16 Sep 2013 #

    #116 it’s interesting that both the biggest British bands since the Beatles (Oasis and a different soon-to-be-bunnied five-piece) appeared around the same time and had colossal imperial phases. I suspect there was not much crossover between the fans, though, so I’d still doubt the “everyone”.

    (How big IS the potential audience for music in the UK, I wonder? The biggest selling UK albums hit a ceiling at 4-6 million. Peppers is the highest selling single-artist album but its sales will be boosted by endless reissues across its whole lifetime. In terms of getting people to buy a record in a single year (an imperial phase), WTSMG and 21 must be top, but what proportion of potential buyers did they mobilise? 30%? 50%? 70%?)

  28. 118
    thefatgit on 16 Sep 2013 #

    There’s that 1 unit sale = 1 listener fallacy to take into account. I’m guessing that pre-MP3 sales meant exposure to not just the buyer, but their friends and family also. “Could you tape that LP/burn that CD for me?” soft-piracy, that sort of thing.

  29. 119
    Tom on 16 Sep 2013 #

    Sure, but post MP3 sales will be a fraction of actual listenership too.

    Assessments of ubiquity are always subjective, even when we make our absolute best efforts otherwise. This is why I wish more population-level surveys would include “have you heard of -” / “do you like -” amongst the questions about soap powder and how often you buy milk.

  30. 120
    thefatgit on 16 Sep 2013 #

    Which is why the “whistling milkman” always used to be a good indicator of ubiquity. I’m not at all sure what the equivalent would be today.

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