The Infinite Jukebox: Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’


For the 22 of three years ago.

I was always a fan of Oasis. Not from the first moment, nor from the first time I heard them, which was performing ‘Shakermaker’ on Top of the Pops. Properly, though I liked each succeeding single, it wasn’t until ‘Whatever’ that I bought anything by them. From there it went back to picking up the CD singles, and Definitely Maybe. And I’m still a fan of Oasis, or at any rate those first two albums and the singles that came out from them.
I know all the criticisms that have been made of them, and I whole-heartedly agree that if John Lennon had never met Paul McCartney, Christ knows what Noel Gallagher would have done with his life but that doesn’t alter the fact that he wrote some bloody good songs whose lack of originality becomes immaterial in the face of their melodies, their gut-grasping choruses and sheer bombastic self-confidence with which the band performed them.
The day I bought (What’s the story) Morning Glory?, I took it home after work, played it and, about halfway through, phoned my mate Steve, the only other Oasis fan I knew, to tell him it was ‘fucking brilliant!’.
By that point, I’d already heard ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. I was waiting for it, it had been picked out by Noel Gallagher as the best track on the album, I heard the story about how Liam had insisted on singing ‘Wonderwall’ which, as the acoustic track, would have been Noel’s to sing, so he’d refused to let his bother have this one. And what a stunning decision that was! Noel’s voice was perfectly suited for this mid-tempo, ballad-structured song. That calm, considered piano introduction, mined from ‘Imagine’, yes, I know.
And Noel sings out, building lyrics that, a quarter century later he claims to still not understand. That was the way of Noel’s lyrics, they were sounds, they were rhymes, they didn’t mean anything because they weren’t intended to mean anything, and I still await someone explaining just why that makes them despicable unlike, say, Keith Reid’s stream of consciousness lyrics on ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’?
Step inside the eye of your mind, don’t you know you might find, a better place to play. If the song is about anything, it’s about letting go of what happened, accepting the past is unchangeable, and looking to make the future what it can be. So I start a revolution from my bed, echoing Lennon’s bed-in of 1969, the original Give Peace a Chance. Instructions to stand up beside the fireplace, take that look for off your face, step outside into the blooming summertime. It’s building up, the music is looking for release and that denial that comes cast in doubt and suspected double-negative, you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out…
And so Sally can wait. Who Sally is, what she can wait for, why her soul slides away, all of these things are unknowable, even to Noel Gallagher but he’s tied all this into one of the purest, soaring, most yearning choruses I’ve ever heard. Don’t Look Back in Anger, I hear him sing, and I hear an answer to John Osborne’s play of so long gone, the Angry Young Men dissatisfied with the world behind the War, when really he’s answering a David Bowie song I’ve never heard, but I don’t care. Don’t Look Back in Anger. Be free of the past, I hear you say.
It’s a brilliant sound, a wonderful song, one that they’ll still be listening to in a hundred years time. This and ‘Live Forever’. Everything else about Oasis is disposable, but these two songs will live forever.
That’s what ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ meant to me for over twenty years. Then, in 2017, a madman, a religious fanatic, a crazy, stupid, evil bastard, set off a bomb in the Manchester Arena, at the end of a concert by Ariana Grande. His target was young girls, and their mothers, girls whose only crime was to love the music of a young idol. The bastard disapproved: not for anyone to like of what he disapproved. He set out to kill and he killed. Among the dead was a 14 year old girl who’d come down from the Hebrides to see her favourite singer.
Most of the dead, the targets, were from Manchester. A Memorial service was held in Albert Square three days later, at which the amazing poem in tribute to our City, ‘This is The Place’, was read out by Tony Walsh. In the crowd, a young woman started singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. The night after the bombing it had been sung by student at Chethams School of Music, but in Albert Square ordinary voices took the song up until the whole crowd were singing it.
It’s our answer to the lunatics, the madmen, the religious fascists. Do what you like, you can never win. You cannot beat us because we will never let you beat us. This is our City,and we are born of it and because we are Manchester we will always be us, and your hatred that extends to even the music we enjoy, to enjoyment and life and happiness is answered by our song that tells us to forgive, but we will never forget.
All of this and more has been wrapped up in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ since that young woman began singing in the clear evening’s silence, and I could not extract it if I wanted to. Our souls slide away, but Don’t Look Back in Anger we sing. This song belongs to everyone who is and was and will be Mancunian, including Ariana Grande, who came back and stood beside us when she could justifiably never have visited Manchester again.

2 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’

  1. What an inspiring post. This was always my favourite Oasis song by a country mile, but in the context of remembrance for those who died in Manchester Arena atrocity, it gains a far deeper resonance. Manchester’s response to that will always remain, for me, one of the greatest displays of strength, unity, and humanity I have ever seen. At a time when so much in our country was leaving me ashamed, this made me proud beyond words. You can’t conquer hatred with hatred. As Manchester demonstrated so admirably, the only way to do that is with love.

  2. Thank you for saying that, George. I have always been proud of my home city and proud to be Mancunian, and the response of everyone to the attack upon us justifiesthat. nd the moment of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ in Albert Square was a hair-raising moment: I wish I could have been there to be part of it. Part of it is the nature of the attack, the target, and as I said I hold Ariana Grande in high esteem for declaring her bond with us over it. To hatred of freedom and enjoyment, it adds mysoginy. We will never allow that.

    The post was actually written a few weeks ago. I have been extraordinarily prolific in this series of late and am currently writing posts that, on a weekly schedule, won’t appear for a whole year. On that basis, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ wouldn’t have appeared until January 2021, until I realised it was the Anniversary. I just wish that the only reason I could have had to write about the song was that it was great, in both writing and performance.

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