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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Don't Look Back In Anger" is my New Year's Eve anthem

Move over, "Imagine" — Oasis provide the perfect soundtrack to changing calendars.


It's New Year's Eve, and in terms of music, that means one thing: shortly before midnight Eastern Standard Time, someone will perform a subpar cover of one of the most vastly overrated songs in the pop canon.


The song, of course, is John Lennon's "Imagine," and this year, the "honor" of covering it goes to Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, to whom I mean absolutely no offense. I'm simply over "Imagine" as a song, and I was over it even before all the celebrities sang it near the beginning of this pandemic. Its simple sound and idealistic lyrics may be loved by many, but for me it's overused and blissfully ignorant in its utopian view.


The thing is, the song does have good bones musically, which is why I'm not surprised that the song I find appropriate for right before the Times Square ball drop in its place starts the same way — and the artist who wrote it is unashamed in admitting that's the case. My just-before-midnight pick is "Don't Look Back In Anger," by Oasis, a Britpop master stroke, with a message of remembering the good parts of the past while looking forward that I find much more appropriate for New Year's Eve than that of the normal selection.

I wouldn't be shocked if some people hear "Don't Look Back In Anger" for the first time and are confused in its opening seconds, because those first chords (C Major 7 to F Major) are indeed the exact same. From there, however, the two songs quite dramatically diverge, with Oasis changing to a new, much more active chord progression while opting for an alt rock sound typical of the Britpop era. Noel Gallagher and Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs' electric guitars are just heavy enough to stay out of the way of Noel's vocals — his first lead role in the group other than a B-side — while Alan White's drums and auxiliary percussion power through as they keep the beat. More than any of those instruments, though, I find myself picking out the synth strings played by producer Owen Morris. Especially in the pre-chorus, the lower end of the strings define the chords along with the bass, and as they climb they help ramp up the song's energy going into the chorus.


Above those instruments and more, Noel Gallagher sings of... well, a lot of things, none of which really come together to make a whole narrative — perhaps a side effect of him being under the influence of substances while writing the lyrics. However, this isn't a damning quality of the song, and if anything it makes reading into the different parts more interesting on their own. One of these parts, the pre-chorus, demonstrates further Lennon influence on the track: the lyrics on "start[ing] a revolution from my bed" are a nod to his 1969 Bed-In protests with his wife Yoko Ono among others.


Upon reaching the chorus, "Don't Look Back In Anger" sonically explodes with a cymbal crash and Noel's highest note yet as he sings, "So, Sally can wait," a line that came from his brother Liam mishearing him during a sound check. As if the song's lyrics weren't strange enough already... From there, the chorus alludes to a girl watching as her old flame and his new love walk past. The titular line comes at the end of the chorus, as it's said by one of the parties to this uncomfortable passing-by. I hear it as being said/sung by the new girlfriend, inviting the ex to not look back in anger by either thinking back on positive memories or looking forward to a better future as she carves a different path.


Along with the song's overall sound, it's this title lyrical moment — coming at the end of the chorus and thus concluding the narrative when the section and song each end — that makes the song feel particularly appropriate for New Year's Eve. While I've been down on celebrating the new year in a couple recent posts, the one thing I do appreciate about the holiday is that it gives a chance for people to appropriately both reflect and look ahead. I don't need to tell any of you how many things in the past year have angered us, both individually and collectively, but that isn't the type of reflection "Don't Look Back In Anger" or the end of the year merit. It's often harder to think of good moments, but in recalling them we remember what drives us to continue living and caring about the people and the world around us. These positive memories also encourage us to look ahead to recreating those feelings with new moments and achievements.


All of the above is why, some time around 11:54 PM tonight, I'll be listening to "Don't Look Back in Anger." In hoping to feel both thankful for the good 2021 has brought into my life and others', as well as hopeful for 2022, it's the perfect choice. I'll then ring in the New Year with an even more unorthodox song choice — one I'll reveal to you all in my next post.

 

Postscript — an excellent cover: In the spirit of the Times Square performance to come this evening, I figured I should also provide a cover of "Don't Look Back In Anger." Thankfully, I know just the one to show you. At the One Love Manchester benefit concert Ariana Grande organized following the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, Coldplay's Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland gave a beautiful rendition of the song, along with the thousands gathered at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Watching the live stream that day, I found it hard to hold back tears given the circumstances of the performance and the crowd lending their collective voice in tribute to those lost.


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