|'Oh Yeah' CD single cover.|
Ash were never one of the very biggest hitters of '90s Britpop, but they did make some great records. Oh Yeah, is definitely one of them, a top-ten hit no less, but its brilliance lies in the fact that it is a song about misty-eyed nostalgia written by teenagers, for teenagers.
This is the song I was going to start with when I first thought about writing occasional music posts. When it popped up the other day I have to say it startled me - for reasons we'll get to in a moment. I bought the single back in 1996 and I liked it plenty at the time; but it is only now, fifteen years later, that the full impact can be felt.
Personally, it doesn't evoke a particular or specific memory but it revels, like a dog in Autumn leaves, in a rich sense of nostalgia. What we were thinking back then I can't remember but the track is taken from an album called 1977 and there was a sense that my generation was, even then, being encouraged to look back at our (Star Wars fuelled) childhoods as a golden age. Certainly I was introspective enough to get nostalgic about things that had happened only months or weeks earlier but, when you're twenty, that's a long time ago, of course. Thinking about it now, with all my university years compacted by hindsight, it seems at least possible that I was being sold the idea that I could be nostalgic about events and feelings that were happening even whilst the record was still playing. That might be my best guess now at what being young feels like, an instantaneous mixture of exhilaration and sadness, but this is really a back projection and an ill-formed one at that. No matter how miserable, happy or bitter-sweet you felt at the time, it is only later, physically separated by the passing of years from those feelings, that it can become nostalgia.
So when the song surfaced recently in a shuffle, it caught me by surprise even though it has been in my mind, off and on, all this time. Suddenly I was forced to listen to the song anew, to calibrate for the extra fifteen years as if they had all passed in one moment.
Listen to Oh Yeah on Spotify.
The lyrics deal with a Summer love affair remembered years afterwards and, although the word 'bitter-sweet' is often used to describe the song, really there's hardly any bitterness to it whatsoever. If there is sadness that the romance didn't last longer ("I don't know why these things ever end") then it is wholly over-shadowed by the fondness of the reminiscence. This is someone looking back with no regrets to the moment of greatest potential, of greatest excitement, the instant when anticipation peaks and beginnings begin: the moment of infinite promise when "her hair came undone in my hands".
With that, the world changes and a new endless future, full of new possibilities, is revealed:
"And, oh yeah, it was the start of the Summer.The joy of the song, the joy of looking back, is being able to see right into that moment and yet also, simultaneously, to know everything that happened next, good and bad, and even, if you like, to watch all the subsequent years unfold in a fast-forwarded montage inside your head during the guitar solo.
It felt just like it was the start of Forever..."
In short, regardless of when or if you grew up, this is not just great pop music, it's 4'45'' of perspective-shattering temporal engineering with a sing-a-long chorus and that, Kirsty, makes it rather special.