Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ remains one of the Britpop era’s best-loved and most iconic tracks. But what’s the real story behind the song?
Lets start with the artwork. Did you know the person in the frame on its sleeve was meant to be frontman Liam Gallagher? Noel arrived on set via taxi at the last minute to courteously explain, “it’s a fucking love song… no way was Our Kid appearing on the cover.”
Most people assume the song is an ode to Noel’s then-wife Meg Matthews. Not so, says the man himself. “The meaning of that song was taken away from me by the media who jumped on it, 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.”
The song was originally titled ‘Wishing Stone’ and began life on a rainy Tuesday night at Rockfield Studios in Wales. Noel had planned to sing the track himself, but eventually gave it to Liam, whose vocals on the track producer Owen Morris hailed as “rasping blues, like he’s smoked 100 cigarettes.”
Liam wasn’t that impressed on first listen. “What do you think you’re doing, dickhead?” he shouted at Noel when the guitarist first presented it at rehearsal, with a different bass line. “Oasis aren’t a funk band.” 19 years later, the frontman’s hardly warmed to it: “Every time I have to sing it I want to gag.”
Noel’s not that enamoured by it, either: “Outside of England, it’s the one song we’re famous for all over the world, and it annoys the fuck out of me. It’s not a fucking rock’n’roll tune. There’s quite a vulnerable statement to it. When people come up to me and say it’s one of the greatest tunes ever written, I think, ‘fucking hell, have you heard ‘Live Forever’’?”
You’ve gotta love Liam’s explanation of the song: “A wonderwall can be anything. It’s just a beautiful word. It’s like looking for that bus ticket, and you’re trying to fucking find it, that bastard, and you finally find it and you pull it out, ‘Fucking mega, that is me wonderwall.'”
The song’s title is a loose nod to ‘Wonderwall Music’ – George Harrison’s 1968 film OST and the first Beatles solo album. “The Beatles are, to me, the be-all and end-all. Where it starts and where it finishes,” Noel said in 1995. Comparisons to the Liverpool band, of course, followed Oasis throughout their career.
To date, the song’s sold more than 1.26 million copies in Britain alone. After its huge initial success on these shores, rocketing to number 2 in the UK Singles Chart, held off the top spot by Robson and Jerome’s ‘I Believe’, the track became their first single in the US, reaching number 8 on the Billboard Top 100.
According to Noel, US songwriter Ryan Adams, who turned the track into an acoustic slow-burn on a 2004 EP, did a better job with ‘Wonderwall’ than Oasis ever did. The guitarist told an audience in 2009 he’d recently seen him cover the song live: “Afterwards, I told him, ‘You can have that song, man, because we could never quite get it right.’”
The song was played at the funeral of Leah Betts, a teenager who died in 1995 after taking ecstasy. Oasis also gave permission to use the track in a video reconstruction of her last hours as part of an anti-drug campaign.
The ‘Wonderwall’ video shows a cellist playing on the second verse but – sorry cello fans – that’s in fact a Mellotron.
The song’s music video won Best Video at the 1996 Brit Awards, as it happens.
Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, U2 guitarist The Edge and – hilariously, given their once-intense rivalry – Blur’s Alex James have all named ‘Wonderwall’ as the one song they wish they’d written.
Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan doesn’t feature in the song’s video after, according to Noel, “Guigs, bless him, had developed ‘lazy-itis’, masquerading as nervous exhaustion.” A replacement, Scott McLeod, stood in for the bassist on the shoot and on tour. When McLeod later quit, during the group’s ’95 US tour, Noel reportedly told him: “Good luck signing on.”
Jay Z famously opened his Glastonbury 2008 set with a cover of the track, after Noel claimed “It’s wrong. I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury.” “That bloke from Oasis said I couldn’t play guitar,” Hova later said. “Somebody should have told him I’m a fuckin’ rock star.” Noel then took it all back: “I said what I said, and it was wrong.”
One for the sonics enthusiasts. Crank your speakers at the end of the song and you can very faintly hear ‘Supersonic’ being strummed on an acoustic guitar.
One Direction are another act who have covered the song – much to Noel’s bemusement, who described them as “fucking idiots” who make “banal pop music” and would otherwise be working at a “local fucking Costcutter.”
Liam’s Beady Eye performed the track at the London 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony – but had to ask Noel’s permission. The guitarist was also invited to perform but turned down the offer, saying the OTT level of secrecy and security involved was “like the Iran nuclear programme or something.”
Ever heard the Radiohead cover of ‘Wonderwall’? It’s quite something. Liam’s not that bothered by Thom Yorke’s crew, though: he claims he’s never listened to ‘OK Computer’, doesn’t get why they’re famous and after 2011’s ‘The King Of Limbs’, berated them for “writing music about fucking trees.”
Other bands who’ve covered the track include not just Pavement, Rihanna and the Beastie Boys but also unfortunately Jason Mraz, Jessie J and David Guetta. Go searching for those versions on YouTube at your own peril.