The song was written by Oasis' lead guitarist Noel Gallagher, who also provides lead vocals. The song is a slow acoustic tune with plodding keyboards, and the lyric - much like "Rock 'n' Roll Star" - expresses a desire to leave a stagnant life in a boring city. The song is primarily in C Major.
Recorded at The Congress House Studio, Austin, Texas in October 1994, "Half the World Away" was first released as a B-side to "Whatever" on 18 December 1994, reaching #3 in the UK charts.
In 1998 the song was included in The Masterplan, a collection of Oasis' best B-sides. The collection was a success, peaking at #2 in the UK charts. The track is also included on Oasis' compilation album Stop the Clocks, which also reached #2. The song reached #56 in the UK charts in 2015 following the release of Aurora's cover version, marking their first top 100 song since the release of "Falling Down" in 2009.
Oasis' sound engineer Mark Coyle introduced the band to Burt Bacharach's song "This Guy's in Love with You". Coyle was in charge of musical intake while on tour, and this song was often played during his eclectic sets. Drummer Tony McCarroll pointed out that the song's drum shuffle could be adapted for one of Oasis' acoustic numbers. After a while "instead of adapting the drum shuffle, Noel seemed to have adapted the whole song and renamed it Half The World Away". Despite the input and being able to play the pattern well, McCarroll (along with the rest of the band) were invited to leave the studio for a break, but it turned out being just an excuse so Gallagher could record the drum track himself.
In interviews, Gallagher - who is famous for "borrowing" from other musicians – has admitted the tune to "Half the World Away" was adapted from "This Guy's in Love with You" by Bacharach and Hal David. He commented "It sounds exactly the same. I'm surprised he hasn't sued me yet!" Gallagher sang "This Guy's in Love with You" live in 1996 at a Burt Bacharach concert at the London Festival Hall while Bacharach accompanied him on piano and conducted the orchestra.
The song gained mass public exposure when it was selected by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash to be the theme tune to their sitcom The Royle Family. The series revolved around the sitting room of a lazy working-class family and was set in Manchester, the hometown of Oasis. Although it had modest beginnings, the series soon became a cultural phenomenon in England and its theme became well known. The opening credits of the series edited together the first stanza of the first verse and the second stanza of the first chorus. The end credits, which would cut in immediately after the final joke of the episode - so as to add weight to it - began with the second stanza of the final chorus and would see the song through to the coda. When Gallagher was originally approached about using an Oasis song for a series about a working-class family in Manchester, he suggested "Married with Children" and was confused when "Half the World Away" was chosen. On tour in America when The Royle Family was first screened, he claims the penny did not drop until he returned to the United Kingdom to find the series a huge success and viewed it, feeling the song was perfect for the series. He now claims not to think of "Half the World Away" as an Oasis song, but rather as the theme tune to The Royle Family.
In 2015, Norwegian singer-songwriter AURORA released a cover version of the song. It was released on 6 November 2015 as a digital download. The song was selected as the soundtrack to the 2015 John Lewis Christmas advert.