Wonderwall is the song that won't go away — and its secret is in its cover versions
The song has been covered by hundreds of artists, professional and amateur, across many different genres. A quarter-century after its release, why does Wonderwall still speak to so many people?
Sometime in the past 25 years, it has probably been stuck in your head.Oasis's Wonderwall hit number one around the world, including in Australia, when it was released in 1995.Since then, it has lived on — and not just in the way many classic rock songs have lived on, i.e. in the playlists of throwback radio stations and over the sound systems of bars and clubs.
It has been covered by more than 280 artists, according to data from Setlist.fm, a website that crowdsources set lists from shows around the world.A quarter century after its release, why does Wonderwall still speak to so many people?An arm-waiver that defined a decade
I couldn't reach the primary source himself — songwriter Noel Gallagher — so I stated by asking the next best thing: Oasis tribute bands."It's one of those songs that we can't not play," says Kieran O'Sullivan, the lead singer of Shakerfaker, an Oasis tribute band from Melbourne who have been gigging since 2005.
"We've done sets where we have played it twice just because people call out for it."Melbourne Oasis tribute band Shakerfaker on stage(Supplied: Shakerfaker)Aaron Phillips, drummer with UK group Oas-is, who describe themselves as "Definitely, not Maybe, the world's BEST Oasis tribute band", says Wonderwall is more of an "arm-waiver" than a "mosh" like Morning Glory. People love to sing along.
"Not only is it a good song, but it also defined a whole decade I think," he says.Phillips says the album on which the song appeared, What's The Story (Morning Glory), was Oasis at their stadium-filling peak, and epitomised "everything about that time in the UK: optimism, new beginnings and Britpop".
The easy-listening cover that went to #2The cover versions started almost as soon as the song was released in 1995.The easy-listening band The Mike Flowers Pops recorded Wonderwall for a BBC Radio 1 program that year. It was then released and promoted by a BBC presenter, who jokingly referred to it as the "long-lost original version".
Loading...People believed that story — including Gallagher's wife at the time, Meg Mathews, who had been led to believe the song was written about her."She's going, 'You know that song you wrote for me?'" Gallagher told NME in 1998. "'Well, it's not even one of your songs, is it?'
"I was going, 'What are you f*****g going on about?'"The Mike Flowers Pops version ended up hitting number two in the UK charts in 1995.That makes Wonderwall one of the few songs to have competed in the charts against itself, something O'Sullivan says illustrates its inherent power.
"Kids loved it because I looked like a dork and older people were reminded of [Burt] Bacharach," Mike Roberts, aka Mike Flowers, told The Guardian in 2018."It appealed because it took the piss, which British people love."Royalties from covers 'bought Gallagher a swimming pool'
Wonderwall, like many Oasis hits, was written by Gallagher, though the musician said a few years ago that he doesn't particularly like it.Still, when he heard Ryan Adams' 2004 version — quiet, sad, finger-picked — he started performing the usually upbeat song the same way.
Melbourne Oasis tribute band Shakerfaker play on stage.(Supplied: Shakerfaker)Cover versions of Oasis songs are very good for Gallagher, the band's chief songwriter. That version is Adams' most-streamed song on Spotify, despite the fact he has released more than a dozen albums.
"I met Noel once in the street in London and he was very friendly," Mike Roberts recalled."He said: 'Your version bought me a new swimming pool.'"American musician Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, also did a slowed-down version of Wonderwall with just an acoustic guitar.
Those three are some of the best-known cover versions.Then there are many, many less well-known versionsSearch Spotify and you'll find playlists dedicated to dozens of different interpretations of Wonderwall.There's the jazz take (Brad Meldau Trio), the emo take (Through The Darkness), the club banger with the big drop (The Selfie Kings), and the elevator-appropriate salsa version (David Starsky).
Over on YouTube, a search of "Wonderwall covers" uploaded in the just the past week turns up about 100 videos. Many have just a few views or none at all.The '90s generation fell in love with it and they have passed that love onto their kids, many of whom appear to be uploading their bedroom renditions to the internet.
There are a few reasons why Wonderwall was able to make that generational leap, winning triple j's Hottest 100 of the Past 20 Years poll in 2013 and continuing to attract young listeners today."The fact it's pretty easy to belt out on a guitar is one," says Richard Kingsmill, ABC group music director.
"The fact you can sing the song even with a shit voice and still sound in key also helps."It doesn't have a particularly '90s sound, Kingsmill says, which means it hasn't dated. The lyrics — some of Oasis' best, Kingsmill says — feature a "clever" mix of defiance and vulnerability.
"It means the toughest of hearts, and the most romantic amongst us, can both find a place in the song."A member of the British Oasis tribute band, Oas-is, during a performance.(Facebook: Oas-is)O'Sullivan, 39, who is the Liam character in his tribute band (he wears a wig) and whose love of the Manchester quintet goes back 25 years, says when you break the song down, it has a cinematic quality to it.
"It sounds romantic, but when you listen to the lyrics, it's not. It sounds really familiar, but really brand new at the same time," he says."If you play it with an electric guitar, it works. If you play it on acoustic guitar ... it sounds great. It's got a huge chorus.
"It's just one of those songs that never really leaves the back of your brain." Read more: ABC News »
Oasis hit the sweet spot with a 90’s sound while doing a great job as pretending to be the Beatles. Which is weird given what Mancunians and Liverpudlians think of each other. Lined their pockets though. I change the channel when that song comes on. Yuck!
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