[Note: this article by Rob Hughes was originally published in UNCUT magazine in 2005 and was later republished on L4E’s Oasis Newsroom as part of a news exchange between the two sites; it is reproduced here by kind permission of L4E’s webmaster]
How Noel Gallagher’s 1996 Lennon-loving No.1 fuelled the brothers’ sibling rivalry and became the new yardstick for British stadium rock.
Written By: Noel Gallagher
Performers: Noel Gallagher (Vocals, lead guitar), Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs (Rhythm guitar, piano), Paul McGuigan (Bass), Alan White (Drums)
Recorded at: Rockfield Studios, South Wales
Produced by: Owen Morris and Noel Gallagher
Released as a single: 19th February 1996
Highest UK chart position: 1
Highest US chart position: 55
By September 1994, Oasis led the mood of the times. Definitely Maybe was the fastest-selling British debut album in history. Liam and Noel’s fractious relationship was gleefully chronicled in the tabloids, while their ferocious consumption of drugs and alcohol chimed with Britpop’s most hedonistic urges. How do you follow that?
Regrouping in early ’95 – after a few disastrous, fight-strewn US dates – they recorded their first No. 1 single, Some Might Say. A month later, Noel led the band into Rockfield Studios to record songs for their second album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Overseen by New Order engineer Owen Morris, Noel promised an LP big on choruses. On the fourth day, they cut Don’t Look Back In Anger, Noel’s attempt to capture the vibe of Weller’s Stanley Road bookend Wings of Speed.
But as with much of Oasis’s best work, the influence was more Lennon. The piano intro came via Imagine, while he admitted pinching lines from bootleg recordings of Lennon’s memoirs. One of the tapes, apparently from a batch originally stolen from the Dakota building, found Lennon talking about “Trying to start a revolution from my bed, because they said the brains I had went to my head.”
Released in February 1996, Don’t Look Back in Anger was the fourth single lifted from (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? Vast hands aloft rock ’n’ roll, it gave Oasis their second number one and became their biggest-selling single ever, a crossover hit that you could hear played everywhere from student discos to the white-stiletto-packed clubs of Streatham.
And fuelling the sibling rivalry between the Gallaghers, it’s Noel who sang it. “It’s our most famous song,” says Noel today. “Which must do Liam’s head in…”
Lyrics, Vocals, and Guitar
We were in Paris playing with The Verve, and I had the chords for that song, and I’d started writing it. We were due to play two days later. Our first-ever big arena gig, it’s called Sheffield Arena now. At the sound check, I was strumming away on the acoustic guitar, and our kid said, “What’s that you’re fucking singing?” I wasn’t singing anyway, I was just making it up. And our kid said “Are you singing ‘So Sally can’t wait’?” And I was like, fucking hell that’s genius!
I remember going back to the dressing room, [The title] Don’t Look Back In Anger just popped out. We wrote the words out in the dressing room, and we actually played it that night. In front of like, fucking 18,000 people. On acoustic guitar. Sat on a stool. Like an idiot. I never fucking do that now.
When we were coming off recording Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger, I was originally gonna sing Wonderwall, and Liam said, “I wanna sing it!” And I was like, “I’m singing one of them, so take your fucking pick.” He chose Wonderwall and I chose the other one. Then it came out as a single. And on that [BBC TV] series Our Friends in the North – the last ever one where they all meet up, when they’re all older and have all got kids and they’re all alcoholics – that was the music over the end credits. And I still haven’t seen that episode, but loads of people have come up to me, saying “Man, it was so fucking powerful.”
And it kinda took on a life of its own after that. It took over from Wonderwall in England as our most famous song. And it’s the biggest song of the night now, when we play it live. Which must do Liam’s head in – as he doesn’t get to sing it – but it makes me feel pretty good.
If Andy [Bell, Oasis’s bassist] call’s Cigarettes and Alcohol the British national anthem, then Don’t Look Back In Anger is the one where every fucking body will sing at an Oasis gig, particularly the first chorus.
When I went to see Ian Brown a couple of years ago in some forest, this girl, a complete stranger, came up to us. We were all completely trolleyed and she said “You know Don’t Look Back In Anger. You know the girl, Sally is about [Stone Roses’] Sally Cinnamon? And she had this whole fucking theory, how Sally had left her love letters on the bus. She came out with this fucking elaborate story, and it all made perfect sense. I was like, fucking hell, that is genius! I wish I’d thought of that before the song came out.
Going into record (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Noel said the album would be all about big choruses. I think that Don’t Look Back in Anger, along with Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova, and Morning Glory are where he really did that. The atmosphere was fantastic going into the album.
Everyone wanted to be there and was doing it for the right reasons. The first week was one of my favourite sessions ever. We recorded and completed a track a day. On the Monday we did Roll With It, on Tuesday we did Hello, Wednesday we did Wonderwall, Thursday we did Don’t Look Back In Anger, and on Friday we did Champagne Supernova.
We partied on Saturday. Liam brought back everyone from the pub in Monmouth [actually the four piece band Cable], and the band split up for a couple of weeks on Sunday.
For Don’t Look Back In Anger, Noel put a guide acoustic and vocal down to a click track. Alan played along and got his drums within two or three takes. It was all very matter-of-fact. Noel gave Liam the choice of singing Wonderwall or Don’t Look Back In Anger, and Liam chose Wonderwall. So Don’t Look Back in Anger became Noel’s. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was the right decision, but it absolutely became Noel’s song. I think it always works better live than it did on record. It’s just got the greatest sing-along chorus.
The person in the studio who was most excited by the songs was Noel’s guitar roadie, the legendry Mr Jason Rhodes. He was convinced it was Oasis’s best song. I think the happiest part of recording the song was when we did the sing-along backing vocals on the last chorus, and Jason proudly led the drunken crowd.
Sonically, like the rest of Morning Glory, Don’t Look Back In Anger is pretty ropey. I was recording things very basically. Alan had some dodgy old drum kit. We got away with it because of the quality of the songwriting and the conviction in the singing and guitar playing. It’s not a recording I’ve ever listened to and could claim to be proud of the ‘production.’
I guess it was the biggest single because Oasis were on such a roll by then. People were buying the singles for the B-sides. On Wonderwall, the previous single, we’d put The Masterplan. I can’t remember what’s on Don’t Look Back In Anger [it’s Step Out], but I think we’d peaked with the B-sides then.
Creation Records MD
At that point, after Oasis had sold three or four million copies of Definitely Maybe, we just put them in the studio. And we got Don’t Look Back In Anger back. I’m not sure if his song writing around the time of Morning Glory had evolved as such, because he’d always written great songs. For example, Live Forever is unbeatable, too. You could go on and on. But Don’t Look Back In Anger is the best-ever Oasis song.
In the last 25 years, there have been three genius songwriters: Noel Gallagher, Elliott Smith, and Sean Lennon. I worked with Noel for six or seven years and if it’s marks out of ten, then he’s a 12. As the years go on, I love his voice more and more. But Don’t Look Back In Anger is the ultimate song. What’s genius about that song is that there’s a descending chord change as the vocals keep accelerating up. And that’s the brilliance of the anthemic chorus.
I didn’t want to carry on with Creation Records and that’s why I started Poptones. I wanted to get back into managing bands again. But it was never anything to do with Oasis. I’d come to the end of the decade and wanted to change my life. But if I regret anything, it’s not working with Noel. The guy has fucking genius in his genes, if you know what I mean. Whenever I DJ the one Oasis song I always play is Don’t Look Back In Anger.
It was a shame that my relationship with Noel wasn’t quite what it had been when they were making that record. But I suppose it was inevitable. I had cleaned up while he carried on partying. We were going down different roads. But you know what? We’re in a really good place with each other now. We don’t see each other much, but we send each other texts every so often.
Our relationship is as good as it can be. It’s not like we were ever huge friends – we never had anything to fall out over – but music-wise, I’ve got two hundred-and-fucking fifty-per cent respect for the man.
He is a songwriting genius and I love great talent.