Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is a Perfectly Written Song

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? just received the deluxe reissue treatment, which makes it a great time to “look back” at one of the standout songs on this seminal 90s album: “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” This Noel-led number follows the foolproof approach of a simple song with a great melody, classic format, and one major unique characteristic – various usages of the flat 6. This is, flat-out, a perfectly written radio rock song.

G# in the Key of C

This song is in the analysis-friendly key of C major, which means no sharps and no flats. Yes! So this will make it easy when we start talking about all the chords in it that have a G#, right? Wait, what? I thought you said this song had no sharps or flats? Well….

A great way to add some nuance and depth to a song is to bring in chords that are from outside of the key – or “borrowing” them from other keys. There are three uses of outside-the-key chords in this song: F minor, E major, and G#. The notes of F minor are F, A♭, and C; the notes of E major are E, G#, and B; and the notes of G# are G#, B, and D#. Since A♭ and G# are the same note, you’ll see that G# is a common note in each of these chords.  G# is the flat six and is one of the most common non-key notes you will hear in a major key.

It is a common adage in songwriting that the proper way to use these outside-the-key chords is to do so sparingly – using only one or two per song at most. Here, Oasis does it three times. However, it’s really only one ingredient used in three different ways. It’s kind of like when people make potatoes two ways on a cooking show. Each of these chords has the same effective ingredient – the G#/A♭ – the flat six. It keeps the song grounded but lends sophistication and personality.  This added sophistication is apparent whether you’re analyzing the music or just singing along in your car. These touches of brilliance shine through whether you notice them or not.

Let’s see how they do it. First, the G# shows up in the E major chord, a major 3 chord. It’s not particularly jarring, but gives a nice extra push to this very straightforward chord progression.

C                            G                     Am

Slip inside the eye of your mind

E                                                     F

Don’t you know you might find

G                                C      Am G

A better place to play

C                           G                    Am

You said that you’d never been

E                                                       F

But all the things that you’ve seen

G                      C     Am G

Slowly fade away

Next, the pre-chorus brings the G# back in the form of F minor as a minor 4 chord (see our discussion of this chord by Chris Martin of Hostage Calm here). This usage is a little bolder because you can actually hear the F major turn to F minor. Finally, the strongest usage of the G# comes at the end of the pre-chorus with the big line “Take that look from off your face…,” helping lead us into the chorus.

F                               Fm                      C

So I start a revolution from my bed

F                                               Fm                          C

Cos you said the brains I had went to my head

F                           Fm                                  C

Step outside, the summertime’s in bloom

G

Stand up beside the fireplace

G#

Take that look from off your face

Am                               G                            F              G

Cos you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out

Another interesting aspect of this song is that even though there are outside-the-key chords throughout, there are almost no outside-the-key notes in the melody – save for two instances in the pre-chorus. On the word “summertime” we get a subtle use of E♭before a highlighted usage of E♭ on “TAKE that look from off your face.”

Where does the E♭ come from? First, it is the same note as D#, which is the fifth of the G# chord, so it fits on that chord. Second, it is the common flat third usage in a major key that is the hallmark of the blues – a major influence on rock ‘n’ roll. This blue note both fits the chord beneath it and gives this moment some bluesy emotional edge – all of which leads us into the giant singalong rock chorus. That is how you set up a chorus!

Lastly, you may not have noticed, but the verse and chorus have the same chord progression, lending a comfortable feel to the whole song. “It’s a Shame About Ray” by the Lemonheads also uses this approach.

Lyrical Structure

The lyrics of this song are almost by the book on “how to write a song.” The verse and pre-chorus are both rooted in a basic AAB rhyme scheme. The first verse is:

Slip inside the eye of your mind

Don’t you know you might find

A better place to play

You said that you’d never been

But all the things that you’ve seen

Slowly fade away

The scheme of this verse is AABCCB. We get “mind” rhymed with “find” before it lands in the non-rhyme “play.” This lack of resolution pushes the song forward. We then get a new rhyme sound with “been” and “seen” before bringing back the original B sound, rhyming “play” with “away.” This is an absolutely airtight rhyme scheme for a verse with a comfortable feel but also momentum moving forward.

The pre-chorus almost follows the same approach, with AABCC, but then refuses to bring back the B rhyme and instead giving us the un-resolved line “you ain’t never gonna burn my heart out” giving the song further momentum into the chorus.

Finally, the chorus form starts to resemble the verse but changes to give a stronger, more chorus-like, resolution:

So Sally can wait

She knows it’s too late

As she’s walking on by

Her soul slides away

But don’t look back in anger

I heard you say

The scheme here is AABACA, giving us four uses of the A rhyme: wait late, away, and say.

In conclusion, f you want to write an airtight radio rock singalong, this song could be a blueprint. From the chord usage to the rhyme scheme, to the setting up of the huge chorus, you really can’t do much better this.

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  1. Brian Williammee November 24, 2014
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