Once upon a time there was a thing called Britpop. It was quite massive in the UK for about oh, three years at the most and then it became so opulent it actually burst and it was all very messy and looking back on it now, it all seems very rum indeed. Most of those bands weren’t very good, but they had guitars and haircuts so they got a record deal.
Actually that haircut line is nonsense. Bonehead didn’t even have a haircut and he was in the biggest band in the country.
Oasis and Blur. You know this would be about Oasis and Blur. Mostly Oasis, but Blur have a part to play because Battle of Britpop! They hated each other! Music press construct! Column inches! Released singles on the same day! Who’d get to number one! On News At Ten! What the fuck! Blah blah blah everyone knows this story!
I liked Blur first, is the thing. Country House was the first single I ever bought. But it was quite literally like a first crush because I was thirteen and I fancied Damon Albarn. You’re allowed to like bands because you fancy the singer when you’re thirteen. That’s still not a very good reason for buying Country House instead of Roll With It, although neither of them are actually very good. Country House is much, much worse though. God it’s terrible. Without even mentioning the video, because it’s terrible in its own right.
I liked Blur, though, and I wasn’t smart enough to realise you could like Oasis AND Blur. I bought into the Battle of Britpop thing wholeheartedly at the time. I know now it was mostly a construct, although people added much more significance to it at the time. North vs south, working class vs middle class and all that. It didn’t mean any of that to me though, it was just that the band I liked fought with another band so boooooo to them.
Except after Roll With It, Oasis brought out Wonderwall. I wavered, I faltered and I gave in: Oasis might not actually be awful, I thought. I listened to more. I listened to more Blur too and didn’t like what I heard: the first album I bought was – yep – The Great Escape. Now that WAS awful. It still is. So I started seeing Oasis more and more behind Blur’s back. I left Damon Albarn for Liam and Noel Gallagher.
Blur were my first crush. Oasis were my first love. God, I fell hard for them. Wonderwall still gives me shivers even now. Yes, the Ryan Adams version is beautiful and has seemingly usurped the original as the definitive version. But the cello on the original. And the way Liam sings it. And the way the drums kick in. It does things to my heart, that song.
All of Morning Glory gives me a rush, and I know exactly why: it’s the music of my youth and that’s always going to sound different to you. It’s not just music to me, it’s who I was. I compare them to a first love because I was a painfully shy teenager who was miserably lonely at school. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to relate to anyone else, due to the fact I was terrified of everyone else. So like countless terrified teenagers before me, I used music to fill the void. Bands before boys and all that (it’d take me another 16 years to get the hang of boys).
Oasis get called a “lad” band, but they were never that to me. Not musically. True, in the interviews you had Liam shouting about getting off his face and Noel telling him to fuck off and occasionally they talked about some songs, and they got chucked off ferries, and they forgot to go on tour (Liam) and compared drugs to tea (Noel) and they drove cars into swimming pools and they said frankly inadvisable things often, but the music isn’t “laddish”. Listen to it. It’s about love and life and being from nowhere but wanting to be someone, it’s about where you bought your records when you were young, it’s about getting pissed which is very much not a lads-only pastime thanks much, it’s about trying to relate, it’s about trying to be part of something. None of those songs are about being a twat and fighting, even if actually being in Oasis seemed to be about being a twat and fighting.
Oasis are as far as I know the only band to have a modest chart placing – somewhere in the 50s – for a single featuring two of them arguing. Noel and Liam repeatedly spoke of wanting to knock seven bells out of each other. They repeatedly did it too. When they weren’t mouthing off about each other or how they were the best band in the world, they were being dickish to other bands. Mostly Blur, it has to be said.
(As an aside, it’s grimly amusing to me that both my favourite bands of the 90s wished death by AIDS on some of their contemporaries; Noel Gallagher wished it on Blur and Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers wished it on Michael Stipe. I’m not sure what that says about me, but mostly I think it says that the 90s weren’t so much the age of Britpop as the age of the colossal gobshite.)
Basically, Oasis were a bit of a shambles. They had the bad boys of rock image; I remember my sister trying to tell me that my band were bad news by showing me the News of the World reports that they took enough coke to kill a rhino and that Liam surfed on the roof of a tourbus. It didn’t work, sis. Liam decided not to bother going on tour while at the airport waiting to go on tour; he went house hunting instead. He also decided not to do MTV Unplugged just before it happened because he had a “sore throat” (he didn’t), leaving Noel to sing that night.
Which was interesting. Because it made me realise, ah, yes, Noel is the superior brother. Was I infatuated with Liam? Of course I bloody was. He was and apparently is a complete and utter knob but he was a bloody gorgeous one. And I might have mentioned his voice. If the wretched performance of Wonderwall at the Olympic closing ceremony a few weeks back is anything to go by then he’s shot that voice to pieces now, but in the glory days it was wondrous. It was by turns belligerent and tender and defiant and beautiful, and I’d forgive him anything because of how he could sing. Ironically, he’s in amazing voice on Be Here Now, even though that album is… well we’ll get to that.
After hearing Noel doing the Unplugged gig though, I realised he was the heart of the band. And I fell in love with him a bit. Apparently this was a bit weird, because Liam was the fit one and I didn’t actually tell anyone this because they’d laugh at me and anyway I was already adept at “weird” fancies being as I was in the throes of a massive crush on Paul Merton because he made me laugh… But so did Noel. He was a funny bugger. Besides which, all those songs that made my heart soar, that made me feel alive and invincible? They were his. Of course I thought he was amazing. And, while Liam hasn’t looked after his voice, Noel’s is still in fine form.
When I hear the Morning Glory album, or any song from it, my heartbeat quickens, even now. I’m fully aware I can never look at it impartially – it’s the sound of the first record that truly made me realise music is a tingly, alive thing. I bought it on tape the first time around and I played that thing until it snapped (it snapped at She’s Electric, in the interests of full disclosure). And the second one. I finally owned a CD player by the time I’d destroyed my tapes. I played it so much that it became burned on my soul, that’s the only way I can describe it. That album means more to me than any other. It was the first time music actually transformed me, from a shy girl all alone in the world to a girl who could be moved after all, a girl with fire in her soul that took music to spark.
I love Definitely Maybe too, of course. It’s entirely wonderful in every way, and the only reason I don’t wax rhapsodic about it in the same way is that Morning Glory was there first. I’d actually managed to make some friends in school by this point, and I must have driven them MAD hammering on about Oasis and Britpop and music all the time.
And then… Ah yes. Then.
Oasis were top of the world. Only they weren’t, they were top of the UK, but it felt like the world. The swagger went on. Too much swagger, in fact, and far too many drugs. But when Be Here Now was announced I was beside myself. It was going to be AMAZING AND GREAT AND THE BEST RECORD EVER MADE EVER EVER EVER.
Of COURSE it wasn’t. But I didn’t have anyone to take me aside and say “mate, there’s a sample of a toilet flushing on it. And there’s a song that lasts ten minutes and has three orchestras and ten key changes or some fucking nonsense on it. It’s going to be a single and when it is it’s going to have THE WORST VIDEO EVER MADE. And Noel sings a song about pie. Look I don’t know, it’s a pie metaphor and that’s a bad thing. All I’m saying is you might want to adjust your expectations accordingly.”
I didn’t. Nobody did. Okay, nobody in the media did. It’s not actually their worst album, but it’s far too long. It sort of… It doesn’t go anywhere and do anything. Alas, because the title track could be brilliant if it didn’t have a loo on it. And I’ll fight anyone who says Fade In/Out isn’t great.
And after that, it went sort of downhill. I say sort of because while Oasis actually only made two albums which are great all the way through (and one truly superb single not on any albums for some baffling reason – Whatever is made out of sunshine and amazing and I love it endlessly) there are some truly excellent tracks on every one of their albums. Even Standing On the Shoulder of Giants (that is their worst album) has Gas Panic! on it.
Except they do have three superb albums. The third was a bloody b-sides album. Oasis were superb at b-sides, possibly the last band to be. Every single had at least one track that lesser Britpop bands would kill to have as a main track. It was like Noel had an endless depository of tunes and nowhere else to put them; every release was like a superb mini-album. The four singles off Morning Glory plus the extra tracks add up to what could be an album every bit as good as it was. It added to the feeling that they were a bit special.
(Aside: I am dreading any future children I may have asking me what the hell a b-side is. “Mummy, what’s a b-side?”
“Well, music used to come on vinyl records and tapes and they had sides, and the lead track was the a-side and…”
“What? Music had SIDES?”
“Yes. Once you listened to one side, you had to turn it over…”
“………so you listened to it for a while and it just… ran out?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
“How much could you get before it ran out?”
“On a tape, about an hour…” *stops talking as is laughed out of room by disbelieving child*)
Listen, I’m not here to say Oasis were perfect, or that I want them to reform, or that the past is better than the present. I never saw them live and I think it’s better that way because knowing my luck I’d get one of the performances where Liam would bellow “FUCK THIS!” and leave during the second song or have a punch-up on stage or the band would be pelted with stuff or all of the above at once and it’s better to have the memories as they are.
Oasis represent a feeling to me. A feeling that music transcends all the other bullshit that life brings. Music can make you feel connected to something. And music like that can come from people like you as well as from otherworldly stars. I didn’t need a popstar when I was shy and scared, I needed someone I could relate to, someone who came from Everytown, someone who’d had a bit of a shit time (and by all accounts, the Gallaghers had a hell of a shit time on the family front) and knew the yearning to escape it all, who sang about love and loss and life.
They were never perfect. They were often horrible, ridiculous, shambolic and just dickheads. And they were creative, melodic, soaring and most of all, relatable. They were real. They were from the life I was from. They were fucked up. They were my fuck-ups. I’ll always love them.