Worst Songs Ever: Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Oasis’ “Wonderwall”
PEAK CHART POSITION #8 in March 1996

This was a hit. At my desk in the MetLife office building in Kendall, I heard the excitement in the deejay’s voice. To paraphrase him, he said, “This is Oasis, a rock group from England? You might remember them from ‘Rock and Roll Star’ last year. Her they are with…’WONDERWALL.'” On first listen I liked the strings. The pathos of Liam Gallagher’s singsong “There are many things that I/Would like to say to you/but I don’t know HOWWWWW…” But the chorus disappointed me. On and on it went, a drag. Was it songwriter Noel Gallagher’s attempt to place the Harrison-ist drone in a Western rock context? (Harrison, of course, had done it already in the Beatles with “It’s All Too Much” and “I Want to Tell You”). After the second set of verses and a return of the chorus, “Wonderwall” has nowhere to go yet insists on filling its allotted time of 3:45. Presto — cultural phenomenon!

Funnily enough, the forgotten “Some Might Say” and the braying “Don’t Look Back in Ang-ah” topped the British chart but “Wonderwall” stopped at #2, despite its ubiquity. According to Wiki, though, “Wonderwall” remains the most streamed nineties single on Spotify and “the most streamed song released before 2000, with over 428 million streams as of March 2018.” This sounds right. For the rest of 1996 the American rock press was as besotted with the battling Gallaghers as their British counterparts. In Liam they found a proto-Trump figure, given undue attention because he said stupid things in public, sometimes about contemporaries, while the press gaped at each other and muttered, I can’t believe he just said that: about Kylie Minogue (“a demonic little idiot as far as I’m concerned”); about Blur (“a musical joke”). Hell, even George got noogied (“I still love George Harrison as a songwriter in the Beatles, but as a person I think he’s a fucking nipple”). It didn’t matter whether you laughed — Jeb! and the Plankton with a Hairpiece deserved the mockery for following rules of decorum that rewarded courtesy and demanded silence when their policy positions killed people. Liam was being rock and roll.

Pity — I was due to give myself a firm revisionist spanking. Infatuated by Suede and Pulp and Blur at the time, I dismissed Oasis as the Blowzy Boys, often resorting to the classist put-downs they loathed. I can still deal with “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” thanks in part to Rufus Wainwright’s hilarious, poignant piss take “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” released seven years later. But even after I spent an early ’00s weekend using WinMX to download solid B-sides like “Acquiesce” and re-acquainting myself with Be Here Now and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory I came away with cold chips. Forget the Smiths and Slade and Mott the Hoople — they couldn’t even come up with their own Gary Glitter anthem.

“A wonderwall can be anything,” offers Liam. “It’s just a beautiful word.” Phil Collins agrees: he wrote a song called “Susudio.” Paul McCartney agrees: he wrote a song called “Yesterday.” Kanye agrees: he wrote a song called “Stronger.” Oasis’ tragedy is not to record a song worthy of the beautiful word. The farce came an album later, on which they spent a coke-fueled hour and couldn’t come up with Station to Station, let alone Wonderwall.

3 thoughts on “Worst Songs Ever: Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’

  1. The circumstances in which “Wonderwall”, their biggest UK seller and longest-lasting hit despite this, failed to hit #1 are entirely UK-specific, and in fact were entirely specific to the physical era and could never apply now – nothing as old-skewing as two TV actors sleepwalking through a 1953 number one could ever have topped the UK charts since the CD single died. Current teenagers will never see something as alien to them in such a position that might be expected to have such meaning to their lives, and tbh I envy them. Indeed, a lot of the historic UK chart anomalies have died off in the digital era and especially the streaming era, despite the desperate attempts of the chart compilers to recreate something closer to the pre-streaming charts (because it was only here that the charts ever played such a dominant role in some kind of national myth).

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