The dream of the ’90s is alive with many, many borderline-millennial parents. Because I was born in 1981, I consider myself a faux-millennial, and that’s because I’ve never met very many self-identifying millennials who listened to Oasis when they were in high school. But for millions, the bad boy Britpop band was either your favorite thing ever or a bizarre curiosity. Oasis was the kind of band that seemed like they had already broken up the second you’d heard of them. By 2009, this fact was actually true. But even in the ’90s the brazen and tumultuous relationship between brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher was equal parts baffling and hilarious. Isn’t this band mostly famous for shoe-gazing pop ballads about wonderwalls and champagne supernovas? Why are they pretending to be such criminals?
On February 19, 1995, exactly 25 years ago, Oasis released the song “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” which, I’m sorry to say to all your “Wonderwall” or “Live Forever” fans out there, is by far their best song. Infamously, the leader of the band, the younger Gallager brother, Liam, doesn’t sing on this song at all, which makes his presence in the music video pretty hilarious. In the ’90s, it seems that your job in a band could actually just be to sit around scowl. But, “Don’t Look Back In Anger” isn’t just awesome because it trades the acerbic vocals of Liam for the more middle-of-the-road Noel, it’s a timeless ’90s song because it’s a total confluence of what ’90s soft rock eventually became.
Somewhere, Noel Gallagher is furious that I’m calling “Don’t Look Back In Anger” soft rock. But it totally is. This is why the song is so excellent. With an opening piano riff outright stolen from John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the song doesn’t try to just connect with the youth of the ’90s, it also strives to be a respectable song that your parents could dig, too. If Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is one-half of alternative ’90s male-driven rock, then Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is the other half. “Smells Like Teen Spirt” was saying FUCK YOU MOM AND DAD. “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” was saying, the kids are, in fact, all right.
“Don’t Look Back In Anger” is the best song of the ’90s because it sounds like a soundtrack from what kids were feeling. It has a nonsense curiosity about the ’60s, complete with Beatles-eque imagery like “they said the brains I had went to my head,” but there’s also the sense that a perpetual breakup is happening, all the time, just one that you can’t really commit to. Sally is waiting, but she’s also walking on by. She’s both done with your bullshit, but she may come back. It’s pretty classic pop-song-faux-romance-stuff, but there’s something slightly more interesting going on. With this song, the ’90s has one foot out of the door of the ’60s, but one foot still firmly planted there, too.
For my parents, the music and culture of the ’60s was a revolution, a complete rejection of what their parents liked. But, the ’90s wasn’t like that. I would argue that kids that came of age in the ’90s were among the first generation of kids who actually agreed with their parents about music more than they didn’t. The Beatles are the obvious touchstone here, but there’s even something a little Elton John about “Don’t Look Back In Anger” that makes it equally viable for a Disney movie that I just made-up in my head. (The Lion King came out a year before “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” never forget!) This may sound like hyperbole, but I actually remember a moment in 1998, sitting in my friend’s kitchen, listening to him play “Don’t Look Back In Anger” on his acoustic guitar.
His mom said, “Is that the Beatles? or Did you write that?” My friend lied and said he’d written it, but that he was inspired by the Beatles. His mom believed him, and I didn’t correct either one of them. The thing is, everyone was right. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” transcends Noel Gallager and Oasis, which is why it’s the greatest song of the ’90s. By the time you heard it, you already felt like you’d heard it a million times before.
In 1995, we put our life in the hand of a rock and roll band and threw it all way. It turned out just fine.
If for some reason you don’t own the song, here’s the iTunes link to the single.
It’s also track 4 on the album (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory, which you can snag on vinyl, here.