Deep Cuts: On Oasis, people named Sally and why I will never look back in anger
We all have it -- that one song that stopped us in our tracks the first time we ever heard it, that continues to give us pause each and every time it's played. Granted, some of us (see below) are a little more obsessive about these songs than others, but we each have a song -- and a story that goes along with it. Welcome to Deep Cuts, our latest feature, in which we share the personal stories behind our all-time favorite songs and how and why we came to love them.
During a middle-school trip to Europe, my early precursor to the iPod had a fit and gave up, not actually dying so much as bitterly refusing to play any song that wasn't Oasis's "Champagne Supernova" or the Cranberries' "Zombie." Had it been Dolores O'Riordan's yawl that called to every obsessive tendency I have, and not Liam Gallagher's, my modern life would not include a favorite band, an Oasis tattoo, or the unbroken streak of more than 3,000 days I have since made sure to listen to the song at least once before sleeping.
The day I stopped my parents' F-150 was the first in that string -- the original ache in a wildly neurotic love for the world's crabbiest brothers and their tempestuous relationship with each other, their upbringing, their genre and their songs. It wouldn't end up even being Liam's voice that captured me, but that of his brother, Noel Gallagher, the band's think tank, chief songwriter, head guitarist and occasional lead vocalist. To this day, the curmudgeonly rock elder statesman insists that lines like "So, Sally can wait / She knows it's too late" weren't inspired by a real person, instead either reflecting a dog hanging out inside the studio while Oasis recorded or a fictional character created inside his mind. (According to the legend, his summary is, "It's got to guarantee somebody a shag off a bird called Sally, hasn't it?")
I choose not to believe him.
When "Don't Look Back in Anger" was dropped, it marked the fourth single on Oasis's breakthrough second album (What's the Story) Morning Glory?. What could have been a sophomore slump quickly became an unrivaled success: If you know any of the band's backstory, you'll both wonder why you don't hear about it in the U.S. as often anymore and why you still care. With 1994's Definitely Maybe, Oasis became a national fever, championing the newly christened Brit pop and eclipsing the hopes of any other act on the scene. With Morning Glory, the Gallaghers attempted to win over America, though their early success would be neither complete nor long-lasting.
By the time "Don't Look Back in Anger" was released, it was relatively unimportant how well the song did: Preceded on the charts by "Some Might Say," "Roll With It" and "Wonderwall," and followed by "Champagne Supernova," the song strikes a soft and earnest, if still epic, chord in the band's back catalogue. Legend has it that Noel approached his brother early in the creative process, informed Liam that both "Wonderwall" and its album followup would be explosive mega-jams and asked which one he wanted to sing. Liam chose the band's most popular American hit. Noel chose its best one. (Some still insist the he masterminded the entire effort for the sole purpose of claiming "Anger" for his own.)
With a bittersweet chorus seeming to commemorate the life or light of some woman named Sally, it's difficult to stomach the idea that such a poignant song could stem, like the majority of its peers, from so much drunken or drug-addled debauchery. Not known for poetic lyrics as much as random found verses that kind of work, Noel has since admitted to pilfering some of the lines in the intro ("The brains I had went to my head") from a tape of John Lennon. The song's music video is strategically empty, if still iconic: In it, Noel, his brother and a bunch of bandmembers since kicked out basically hang out in a mansion with a butler.
Away from Jeeves, the song is a cross-continental live staple, though Noel no longer sings the chorus. Instead, when the verses end, he extends his mike and listens as thousands of half-nostalgic, entirely sentimental fans take over. The genius of the song is also its greatest frustration, at least for those of us who still check Oasis message boards. Sally could be anyone you want her to be. In an interview for Oasis's most recent Greatest Hits collection, Stop the Clocks, Noel mentions that one fan even asked him if Sally were "Sally Cinnamon" of the Stone Roses jam. As usual, he wishes he had thought of that first.
For me, Sally is a girl named CJ who didn't like going by Cassandra Jean. To date, she is the only other I've ever known who has seen all of the same Oasis videos and memorized all of the same lore I did in my formative obsessive years. She was the first of my friends to realize their greatness and the last of my friends to learn how to drive. Our senior year of high school, she flipped her family's car over during a Christmas trip. Her family survived. She did not.
Despite having heard "Don't Look Back in Anger" more than 3,000 days in a row, and despite it ranking as our favorite song years before her funeral, it is CJ I have thought of roughly 2,000 of those days. When Noel sings -- or watches his audience sing -- "Her soul slides away," I often consider the wasted potential of claiming that the lines that have shaped my life are about a whole lot of zilch.
But he didn't know CJ.