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Title: ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’
Where to find it: ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ (1995, Creation)
Performed by: Oasis
Words by: Noel Gallagher

Musically, for most of my teens, I was all about the Sixties. The late night DJ on the local oldies station thought it was hilarious that someone my age would call in to request songs or enter trivia contests…and win them. I became convinced I was born in the wrong decade. I loved the Beatles and the flood of other British Invasion artists who came after them, especially the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, and the Kinks, as well as seminal American bands like the Byrds and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Well, before the really wigged out, psychedelic stuff, which I didn’t get or like at all. (I still remember hearing ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ weird tape loop for the first time and being horrified, and then getting horrified again when my brother pointed out John Lennon singing “cranberry sauce.”) If it wasn’t British Invasion or Led Zeppelin (the one holdover from my years of being around an older brother), I didn’t want to give it the time of day. I couldn’t even tell you what was on top 40 radio back then, because I wasn’t listening to it.

My cousin Chris, about a year older than me, came to visit with his family as they always did every summer from Taiwan and showed me the CDs he’d brought with him. He was eager to impress on me his musical taste, but usually I was unmoved and entirely underwhelmed with what he had on offer. That particular summer, he had three he wanted to show me. The first two met my usual eyes glazing over as we played them on my dad’s then top of the line hi-fi: Blues Traveler’s ‘four’ and the Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Ready to Die.’

The third was far more interesting. It was the second album from Oasis, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ I think he knew subconsciously I’d “get” Oasis because of my being such a huge Beatles fan and the obvious Beatles references Noel Gallagher added into the song. But you have to remember that back in 1996, it wasn’t like we were all on the Internet, and certainly we didn’t Google at our disposal. I did remember talking to Chris about Oasis being from Manchester. Like Liverpool had become for me with the Beatles, in my head I had this grand idea Manchester was this amazing faraway land, and one day I would see it for myself. (It didn’t disappoint. I would get my chance a decade later, making my first trip to England, Manchester being my first port of call so I could see Morrissey gig there three times over 3 nights.)

While I never became as big of an Oasis fan as I was of the Beatles, I still prefer Oasis over Blur (sorry, Damon). And despite an unfortunate run-in I had with Noel’s security 3 years ago in DC that resulted from a misunderstanding by venue staff, I still listen to ‘(What’s the Story)…’ with great fondness. When I visited the Beatles Story on Albert Dock in Liverpool some 11 years later and saw the white piano on which John Lennon wrote ‘Imagine,’ it all seemed to have come full circle for me. Regardless of how you feel about him or his big mouth, and even if he admits that he doesn’t know what the words mean in his songs because he was too stoned at the time, Noel Gallagher will always be remembered as one heck of a songwriter.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don’t you know you might find
A better place to play
You said that you’d never been
All the things that you’ve seen
Will slowly fade away

Pre-chorus
So I’ll start the revolution from my bed
‘Cos you said the brains I had went to my head
Step outside ‘cos summertime’s in bloom
Stand up beside the fireplace
Take that look from off your face
You ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out

Chorus
So Sally can wait
she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by
Her soul slides away
“But don’t look back in anger,” I heard you say

Verse 2
Take me to the place where you go
Where nobody knows if it’s night or day
Please don’t put your life in the hands
Of a rock ‘n’ roll band
Who’ll throw it all away

Pre-chorus
Gonna start the revolution from my bed
‘Cos you said the brains I had went to my head
Step outside ‘cos summertime’s in bloom
Stand up beside the fireplace, take that look from off your face
‘Cos you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out

Chorus X 2 (slightly modified lyrics)
So Sally can wait
She knows it’s too late as she’s walking on by
My soul slides away
“But don’t look back in anger,” I heard you say

So Sally can wait
She knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by
Her soul slides away
“But don’t look back in anger,” I heard you say

Modified chorus
So Sally can wait
She knows it’s too late as she’s walking on by
My soul slides away
“But don’t look back in anger, don’t look back in anger”
I heard you say, “at least not today”

Now, the analysis:

There are a lot of interesting bits in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger,’ even if Noel says he wrote the lyrics when he was stoned and they mean nothing, and fans have come up with lyrical meanings that ring very personal to themselves. That alone is a sign of a very well-penned pop song. To me, the themes in this song that speak loudest to me are those of innocence, regret, and hope.

If we take the song and lyrics at their most basic and view it in the context of what nearly all pop songs are about, a romance between a boy and a girl gone sour, a lot of it seems pretty literal: this girl Sally is waiting for a reconciliation with her greatest love that will never come. I remember thinking as a teenager, and one who had never had a boyfriend yet by this time in her life, that this song was so sad, so tragic. Be still my heart! The pain of young love! Oh, how innocent hearts get it all wrong.

The two verses are dreamy, ambiguous. I look at the lyrics to verse 1 as if the singer is telling Sally to meditate, to go to a better place by using her mind (“don’t you know you might find / a better place to play“) and banish any bad thoughts using the meditation (“you said that you’d never been / all the things that you’ve seen / will slowly fade away“). This positive slant reminds me of a favourite song of mine in my blogging career, ‘Dreaming of Another World’ by Mystery Jets. The singer also says later in verse 2, “take me to the place where you go / where nobody knows if it’s night or day,” as if he wants a means of escape or probably more likely, a utopia, a place where such things don’t matter. When night falls, some things become final, and in the light of day, they become obvious in their permanence. In both verses, it’s not clear to me if the voice of the singer is the object of Sally’s affection, but for the sake of argument, let’s say the voice isn’t.

Gallagher has admitted that the lines in the pre-chorus “gonna start the revolution from my bed / ‘cos you said the brains I had went to my head” were lifted straight from a spoken word tape of John Lennon’s, and because they don’t make a whole lot of sense to me in my overall interpretation, I’m going to leave them. That leaves the rest of the pre-chorus, which is pretty perfect to me. “Step outside ‘cos summertime’s in bloom / stand up beside the fireplace, take that look from off your face“: stop pining, stop wallowing, get out of the shadows and into the sunshine and enjoy life, and turn that frown into a smile. Why? Because summertime is in bloom, life is wonderful, and life is out there for the taking. I’m on the fence about the line “‘cos you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out,” because it’s sung sweetly, not angrily, and rather melodically (well done, Noel), even though the sentiment seems to be, “look, I know you’re angry with me/him, but that’s not going to solve anything.” This makes sense in the context of trying to get Sally to look on the bright side of things, to refocus on better days.

A brief aside on why I find the mention of “please don’t put your life in the hands / of a rock ‘n’ roll band / who’ll throw it all away” amusing: I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been told as a woman to avoid getting involved with musicians at all costs. Ask me in 20 years’ time how it’s going…

The choruses are slightly different each time, with either the emphasis of “she’s walking on by” (Sally alone) or “we’re walking on by,” presumably Sally’s ex stepping out with a new woman. However, in all cases, the chorus ends with “‘but don’t look back in anger,’ I heard you say,” with someone telling Sally or Sally herself hearing within herself that she shouldn’t live in regret. I remember watching this video on MTV and at the end, with Noel singing the last few words as he looked out of the back of the car driving away from the house, “‘But don’t look back in anger, don’t look back in anger,’” his voice slightly cracking as if getting emotional himself. Cue sobbing.

The parting words “I heard you say, ‘at least not today’” seem pretty beautiful to me too. Every day is a snapshot of the whole of our lives, isn’t it? I think the voice of the song was meant to be thoughtful and caring towards Sally. He is aware of her pain, of her regret of what once was and what can never be again. But he also knows that one day Sally can come to acceptance of what’s happened and she won’t look back in anger. He’s hopeful, though, that through his healing words, he can get her through this one day and to the next one.

Lastly, the song, in its promo form, those round red spectacles of Noel’s that are forever etched in my mind. That and a lot of tissues…

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