And After All…
Published November 23, 2010
“WONDERWALL” SINGLE COVER COURTESY OF CREATION RECORDS
A young Nick Hornby loved “Thunder Road” so much that he feared that if he listened to it “in some girl’s bedroom in 1975, decided that it was OK, and had never seen the girl or listened to the song much again… hearing it now would probably bring back the smell of her underarm deodorant.” Hemingway plots a similar fear in The Sun Also Rises: be weary of using good wines for toasting, because “you don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”
A song called “Wonderwall,” by an unassuming brotherly pair surnamed Gallagher, was released on October 31st, 1995, and quickly became the anthem upon which a particular kind of emotion could be projected—over and over again. A 15-year anniversary for a pop song about love means it’s been around for 15 years of senior proms, 15 seasons of spring weddings, and 15 Valentine’s Days, and included in at least one Josh Schwartz-created show about a curly-haired dork from California who—defying logic, hers and ours—gets to take the hot girl home. Less of a song and more of an anthem, “Wonderwall” has become one of the most-covered tracks in pop-music history.
There are the ironic covers: Radiohead created a funny bootleg version, without all the lyrics intact, and quipped, “Is this abysmal or what?” at the song’s close. Robbie Williams sang it to be contrarian. The Mike Flowers Pops version did well on the charts, but can only be considered ironic in a cosmic sense—and the Pops weren’t even alone in their idea to subject the song to the retro, jazzy treatment (we’re looking at you, Paul Anka).
And, of course, there is Jay-Z’s cover at 2008’s Glastonbury, a triumphant end to a turf battle that began when Noel Gallagher said hip-hop didn’t belong at the festival. Jay walked on stage, guitar around his neck, to sing half-heartedly and stop to be serenaded by an adoring crowd who knew every word. He then sampled “Wonderwall” on “Jockin’ Jay-Z,”a track that was cut from The Blueprint 3. “That bloke from Oasis said I couldn’t play guitar/Somebody shoulda told him I’m a fuckin’ rockstar/Today’s gonna be the day that I’m gonna throw it back to you” may very well be one of the best genre-jumping diss couplets in recent years. (When Rihanna sang the song in Zurich, we had the feeling it was an homage to her mentor, not to Oasis.)
Then there are the serious covers. Cat Power’s unreleased version is elegiac and wistful and otherworldly in that way she has perfected. And Ryan Adams recorded a version for 2004’s Love is Hell that made Liam admit, “I think Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got that song right.” Both Cat Power and Ryan Adams manage to strip the song of the accumulated burden of being every couple’s song.
It was suddenly made new, capable of supplying the score to first kisses and first dances and one-more-nights and never-agains with the same arresting alacrity. It attempts to represent the affable, and we find comfort in that hubris when we’re in love or think we are. “Wonderwall” has borne the weight of 15 years of loves found and lost, and it has come out of it all without a single trace of underarm deodorant.