Thursday, 3 January 2013

Oasis 'Don't Look Back In Anger'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]


On 25th February 1996, 'Don't Look Back In Anger' rocketed into the UK chart at No.1... It sold a staggering one quarter of a million copies in just one week- meanwhile the classic 'Wonderwall' just keeps on selling and was still in the Top 30 after an amazing 17 weeks on release - wow!
Young people, you'll have to trust me that in the mid-1990s it was staggering for a song to spend 17 weeks in the Top 30. The turnover's a bit slower now. Nowadays it would also be effectively impossible for the fourth single from an album to enter the chart on such a high weekly sale, as people would have been downloading it throughout the months since the album came out. In 1996 you could still that though, and Oasis did it without any help from me on this occasion (as I recall I was all set to buy it on the original release date but it was postponed and by the time it did come out I'd spent the money elsewhere, and I never got around to it).

Slightly surprising that they go to such lengths to big up 'Wonderwall', the track that's not on this album (regular readers will know that it finally showed up on Now 34, out of chronological sequence). Still, such were the achievements of the band at the time: I always think of 1996 as the year when their fame peaked, despite the paucity of new material they released: it was the year that saw their huge Knebworth gigs, the year the Morning Glory album wouldn't stop selling and the year that ended with their tribute act No Way Sis in the Top 30; their acknowledged tribute band, I should say, since it was also the point when record companies became increasingly desperate to sign up similar-sounding or even -looking acts. It's the time when annoying young men in town centres started wearing parkas in imitation of Liam Gallagher. There were obviously many reasons for the band's ascendancy to mainstream celebrity and their shifting the centre of gravity of Britpop: the need for pop stars tabloids could write about every day as Take That split was clearly one big factor, but it also helped that the two singles they released around the turn of the year, this and the aforementioned 'Wonderwall', were big consensus hits. They were songs that with their big choruses and lack of distorted guitars could appeal to the older generations but because they came from a band that had already made 'Cigarettes & Alcohol' and 'Roll With It' they were treated as rock anthems too. Thus it was that whilst Morning Glory didn't quite get to be the biggest selling album of 1995 or 1996, it was the runner-up both years and the biggest selling album of the decade as a whole and until last week the second-biggest-selling studio album of all time. My mum probably would have bought it if I hadn't beaten her to it and passed my copy on to her when I got married - it's on her iPod now, as we were listening to it in the car on the way home from her house just the other day. Perhaps I should make allowances for the fact that it played just after a Beatles album - albeit Rubber Soul, which ends with the worst Beatles song ever - but it really didn't seem to have dated all that well, sounding remarkably thin.

If I'm honest though, the biggest problem with this track is just overexposure during the 18 months when it was their most recent single: I have a clear memory of standing in a university building in October 1996, hearing this played over the PA and suddenly thinking "I'm not enjoying this". That was not, as you might guess, the last time I heard it and I think it's now the track I own most copies of but don't want to listen to: as well as Now 33 and the album I have it on Shine 5, The Brits 97 and doubtless others I can't remember. Time has rather dulled the appreciation I had of it at the time and made it less of a refreshing change to hear Noel Gallagher as a lead singer, whilst drawing more attention to its flaws. It's not so much the opening reference to 'Imagine' that I mind because that's so lampshaded it's kind of daring you to take umbrage at it. In fact, I must admit that a lot of what's wrong with it is as much about the fact that it foreshadows what would go wrong with Oasis after this, the self-conscious massiveness, slow pace and death-by-overdub that would eventually drown their next album Be Here Now (which broke down the consensus, if not the fame) and which is perhaps most obvious at the very end of the track when it doggedly refuses to finish: Noel sings the title line three times, then sings "I heard you say". Then there's a bit of guitar. Then he sings "At least not today," which is a bit of a poor lyric and ruins the effect. And he's still not finished, there's a big extended chord to follow it. It all feels like Gallagher's attempt to sound monumental, egged on by the sort of fans who sought to find meaning in his obviously thrown-together lyric. On the positive side, at least Alan White's drumming and percussion gave the production a bit of oomph and save it from being the complete sludge-fest it would otherwise have been. He later married (and subsequently divorced) one of the models from the video.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 38, 52, 53, 54, 61, 62
Available on: (What's The Story) Morning Glory

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