25 years on, why Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ is doomed forever
“Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you/ By now you should’ve somehow realised what you gotta do/ I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.” – Noel Gallagher
Ask any band who has seen a gigantic surge in popularity over a short time and they’ll likely tell you that gaining said popularity had the adverse effect of turning their original fanbase into naysayers. As much as we may like to align ourselves with a band for their entire career, or profess to maintain an aversion to the paradigm of popularity making an artist less attractive to their audience, the fact remains that when a song goes from being a classic to a worldwide smash, something changes. The same can certainly be said for Oasis’ 1995 song ‘Wonderwall’.
The track has become somewhat of a punchline in recent years, an aspect that the Gallagher brothers at the centre of the song have also endured. ‘Wonderwall’ has been so routinely—and often poorly—covered by pub singers and karaoke kamikaze pilots that the very first lines of Liam’s vocal performance can bring back PTSD of the highest order. However, when you look back, the song gets a bit of a bad rep. It’s not the song that’s terrible, but the singers who murder it on such a regular occasion.
Released on October 30th in 1995, some 25 years ago today, ‘Wonderwall’ was just another confirmation of what we already knew — Oasis were the kings of Britpop. The song gained quick notoriety and, with its simple yet effective music video, it saw heavy rotation on both MTV and radio. A basic acoustic track, despite Liam’s impeccable vocals, could well be the stuff of album filler fodder. Instead, the band decided to release ‘Wonderwall’ as a single and it shot off into the stratosphere. Though the song only reached number two on the domestic charts, in the US it hit a high of number eight and it was this difference which would change the pathway of Oasis.
The song had featured on the band’s seminal sophomore album (What’s The Story) Morning Gloryand was clearly a favourite of its members. Many have suggested the track was written about Noel’s then-girlfriend and future ex-wife Meg Matthews but, in 2002, the songwriter confirmed otherwise. Speaking to BBC Radio 2, “The meaning of that song was taken away from me by the media who jumped on it,” he said. “And how do you tell your missus it’s not about her once she’s read it is? It’s a song about an imaginary friend who’s gonna come and save you from yourself.”
‘Wonderwall’ was one of several songs on the album which signalled a change for Oasis. They had certainly made their name with the buzz and fuzz of attitude permeating every note of their rock sound but, on the new record, the band went all Fab Four and delivered an LP with several ballads. ‘Wonderwall’ was one of them but other smash hits such as ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’ suggested that Oasis were evolving.
Since the song became a major hit, however, the band would be rather plagued by the material. “Outside of England, it’s the one we’re famous for all over the world, and it annoys the fuck out of me,” Gallagher once said. “It’s not a fucking rock and roll tune. There’s quite a vulnerable statement to it.” It’s true, the track was likely such a hit because—aside from their brazen and ballsy attitude—it proved the band had a softer side and weren’t just rock stars, but musicians too.
The popularity of the song only grew from its release, gathering up countless versions from different singers of varying talent and all attempting to put their own spin on the ’90s classic. However, it is here where the song has fallen down. Its tone is so ubiquitous, its message so easily discernable and its popularity is so well known that it has become a noted moment in most pub rock band’s set, it has littered countless wedding reception dancefloors and been murdered by most karaoke singers. Many would say that after ‘Wonderwall’, Oasis never really regained their edge.
If you’re looking for a similar equivalent then you need only turn your attention to Kings of Leon song ‘Sex is on Fire’ or, more pertinently, The Killers and their song ‘Mr. Brightside’. When Brandon Flowers and his group of highly polished indie rockers first arrived in the ’00s indie circuit, they did so with energy, verve and an album packed with pop-adjacent bangers. The release of ‘Mr. Brightside’ was just one of those bangers and initially gained a smattering of acclaim. A couple of years down the line and after the song had been routinely screamed down the mic of your local karaoke bar, the song and the band had been changed forever.
Does that make the song bad? No. Does it make it unlistenable? Yes.
As humans, we cannot deny one of our mental faculties — our memory. It means that when listening to ‘Wonderwall’, or any other song for that matter, it’s hard to extract the art from the emotions it evoked and likely still does. If you heard a particular song at a wedding or birthday party and had a great time while listening to it, then chances are you will forever associate that song with that experience. The same can be said for Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’.
If you were lucky enough to catch Oasis at their prime, in the mid-90s with thousands of other fake-Mancunians all belting out the dynamic chorus of ‘Wonderwall’, then you’ll see the song for what it’s worth — a connective and vulnerable piece of songwriting aimed at the softest side of one of Britain’s hard men of rock ‘n’ roll. However, if you weren’t so lucky, then the only association the song ‘Wonderwall’ has is a badly sung, badly performed version from some soft-bellied singer down your local. Not ideal.
To put it simply, ‘Wonderwall’ is walking talking irony incarnate. The track’s popularity grew because the song was brilliant but such was the ferocity of the popularity, the attachment so many artists made to someone else’s song, that it made the track utterly unlistenable.