It is one of the band's signature songs, and was played at almost every single live show from its release to the dissolution of the band. It was ranked number one on a list of the '50 Most Explosive Choruses' by the NME, and was voted as the fourth most popular single of the last 60 years in the UK by the public in conjunction with the Official Charts Company's 60th anniversary.
Noel was so excited of the potential of the song when he first wrote it that he used an acoustic set to perform a work-in-progress version, without the second verse and a few other slight lyrical differences, at an Oasis concert at theSheffield Arena on 22 April 1995. He said before playing that he'd only written it the previous Tuesday (18 April 1995) and that he didn't even have a title for it yet. The title was picked as a reference to the 1979 David Bowie song "Look Back In Anger" from the seminal art rock album Lodger, with Bowie's work being a massive Oasis influence.
Noel said of the song, "[It] reminds me of a cross between "All the Young Dudes" and [something] The Beatles might have done." Of the character "Sally" referred to in the song he commented, "I don't actually know anybody called Sally. It's just a word that fit, y'know, might as well throw a girl's name in there. It's gotta guarantee somebody a shag off a bird called Sally, hasn't it?"
Noel Gallagher (from Uncut magazine August 2007): "We were in Paris playing with The Verve, and I had the chords for that song and started writing it. We were due to play 2 days later. Our first-ever big arena gig, it's called Sheffield Arena now. At the sound check, I was strumming away on the acoustic guitar, and our kid (Liam Gallagher) said, 'What's that you're singin'?' I wasn't singing anyway, I was just making it up. And our kid said, 'Are you singing 'So Sally can wait'.' And I was like – that's genius! So I started singing, 'So Sally can wait.' I remember going back to the dressing room and writing it out. It all came really quickly after that." Noel claims that the character "Lyla", from Oasis' 2005 single is the sister of Sally. In the interview on the DVD released with the special edition of Stop the Clocks, Noel also revealed that a girl approached him and asked him if Sally was the same girl as in The Stone Roses' track "Sally Cinnamon". Noel replied that he'd never thought of that but thought it was good anyway.
Noel admits that certain lines from the song are lifted from John Lennon: "I got this tape in the United States that had apparently been burgled from the Dakota Hotel and someone had found these cassettes. Lennon was starting to record his memoirs on tape. He's going on about 'trying to start a revolution from me bed, because they said the brains I had went to my head.' I thought 'Thank you, I'll take that'!" "Revolution from me bed" most likely refers to Lennon's notorious bed-ins in 1969. The piano in the introduction of the song strongly resembles Lennon's "Imagine", as well as "Watching the Wheels". As Oasis are often criticised for borrowing parts of other artists' songs for their own, Noel Gallagher commented on the intro's similarity to "Imagine" saying, "In the case of Don't Look Back in Anger – I mean, the opening piano riff's Imagine. 50% of it's put in there to wind people up, and the other 50% is saying 'look, this is how songs like Don't Look Back in Anger come about – because they're inspired by songs like Imagine'. And no matter what people might think, there will be some 13 year old kid out there who'll read an interview and think 'Imagine? I've never heard that song' and he might go and buy the album, you know what I mean?" Gallagher also admits that he was under the influence of illegal substances when he wrote the song and to this day he claims he does not know what it means.
In a 2006 radio interview, Liam Gallagher said that it was he who came up with the line "so Sally can wait" as Noel was struggling with that particular line at the time. Noel confirms this on the bonus DVD, entitled Lock the Box, released with the Stop the Clocks retrospective album. In the interview with Colin Murray, Noel admits, "I was doing it in the sound check and the so Sally bit, I wasn't singing that...and he [Liam] says, 'Are you singing so Sally can wait?' and I said, 'No.' and he said, 'Well you should do.'"
On the Time Flies... 1994–2009 video for the song, Noel says that, given the number of songs the band had at the time, he was forced to play an acoustic set at their first arena show at Sheffield Arena explaining that it allowed the band to drag time having to get a stool out and set up the stage. He had written the basis for it a couple of nights previous and was playing it during the soundcheck and only filling the words out because it was incomplete. Liam came up to Noel and said "Who's Sally?" and Noel replied "What are you talking about?". Liam said "Well that's what you're singing isn't it, 'So Sally can wait'?". Noel thought that it was so brilliant that, even though those were not the words, he decided to use them.
Noel once admitted, on the Frank Skinner show, to telling Liam that he wanted to sing "Wonderwall". On hearing "Wonderwall", Liam demanded that he should sing it. Noel reluctantly agreed on the understanding that he could sing the next song on the album ("Don't Look Back in Anger"). However, in reality, Noel only ever really wanted to sing "Don't Look Back in Anger" and used "Wonderwall" as a bargaining tool, since he knew Liam would want to sing it.
The song became a favourite at Oasis' live performances. Noel encouraged the crowd to sing along and often kept quiet during the first chorus, allowing the fans instead to sing along while he plays the song's guitar part. During the Dig Out Your Soul Tour, Noel Gallagher abandoned the song's previous, full-band live arrangement in favour of a much slower, primarily acoustic arrangement in a lower key (B major). From 2008 through Oasis' breakup, the song was performed by Gallagher on his Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar backed up by Gem Archer on electric guitar, and Chris Sharrock playing tambourine. On 11 and 12 July 2009, during performances of the song at London's Wembley Stadium, Gallagher didn't sing a word; instead, he stood back, played guitar, and allowed the crowd to sing the entire song. He has since reverted to the original arrangement when playing the song with his solo project, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.
The single cover is a homage to the incident where Ringo Starr briefly left The Beatles during the recording of The White Album; after the other three Beatles members successfully persuaded him to return, George Harrison decorated Ringo's drum kit in red, white, and blue flowers to show their appreciation.
The B-side "Step Out" was originally intended for the (What's the Story) Morning Glory? album but was taken off after Stevie Wonder requested 10% of the royalties as the chorus bore a similarity to his hit "Uptight (Everything's Alright)". Also, because of this, Wonder, Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy received credit for writing the song, along with Noel.
Its charting coincided with its usage at the end of the final episode of Our Friends in the North, which, upon production, used the track without knowledge it was going to be released as a single.
"Don't Look Back in Anger" was met with high critical praise and it became a commercial hit. Billboard said of the tune, "Noel Gallagher reveals a deft sense of timing and craft that turn his improprieties into masterful pop gems."
In a 2006 readers' poll conducted by Q magazine, "Don't Look Back in Anger" was voted the 20th best song of all time. In May 2007, NME magazine placed "Don't Look Back in Anger" at number 14 in its list of the "50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever".
3 September 2009: the song was used in episode six of We Are Klang during the 1990s flashback scene.
4 September 2010: the song was used as the ending theme for the live-action film adaptation of the Japanese manga series BECK.
11 April 2011: the song was used in the closing scene of the Being Human (North American) season 1 finale titled "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Me Killing You". It is played during a flashback showing the body of Sally Malik being taken away as Aidan Waite and Josh Levinson walk past her house, not having met her ghost yet, which watches the ambulance pull away. This resembles the lyrics in the song "as we're walking on by, her soul slides away".
The song was covered by The Wurzels among others for an album of covers of songs seemingly inappropriate to their West Country image and style, and has become one of their more frequently performed numbers.
Opera group G4 covered the song during series one of The X Factor; Noel Gallagher later claimed that he hated their version.
The song was covered by Tori Amos on 6 June 2005 in Manchester at her Beekeeper tour. A soundboard quality solo piano version of the song was officially released on the live recording 2005-06-05: Manchester Apollo, Manchester, UK
Glay covered the song for their 2011 album Rare Collectives Vol.4.