Oasis (Contemporary Musicians)
Noel Gallagher, lead guitarist, songwriter and musical director of the English band Oasis declared, "I could say to any band member from any era, 'Give me the best song you think you've written, and I'll pick mine.' And I think the best of ours would be above the best of theirs." This pronouncement from an interview with Spin's Neil Strauss gives a fair indication of Gallagher's confidence. Yet unlike many other British hopefuls, Oasis managed with their first two records to match their voluminous hype with large-scale success. After a critically lauded debut and a couple of strong radio singles, they returned with an even more popular sophomore album; and despite alienating some listeners with their foul-mouthed, cocksure behavior and often lackadaisical live shows, they showed every indication of continued growth.
The story of Oasis begins in the industrial, northern English town of Manchester, where Noel and his younger brother Liam grew up. Their father poured concrete floors by day and worked parties at night as a country-and-western disc jockey. Though Noel was introduced to some classic country artists through his father, he discovered classic rock on his own. The crafted, eclectic pop of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin's thunderously adventurous rock, the glam-rock opuses of T. Rex, and punk standard-bearers the Sex Pistols' sneering iconoclasm all melded in his mind. He received his first guitar at age 13 and learned the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride"; soon he was writing his own songs. He gave up on school early on, as did many of his working-class peers. "As soon as I learned to read and write," he revealed to Jason Cohen of Rolling Stone, "I didn't even bother turning up half the time. There was just nothing there for the musician in me." A period of rootlessness and petty crime followed.
"So I Started Me Own Band"
Liam Gallagher played soccer, which most of the world calls "football," and didn't gravitate toward music until the end of the 1980s, when Manchester became England's hot music town. Hosting a variety of successful bands that mixed post-punk energy with dance beats, "Madchester," as it was briefly known, swirled with excitement. Liam got together with some of his "mates," Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and Paul McGuigan, and started up a band. McGuigan told Liam he couldn't play anything, he informed Musician, to which the younger Gallagher replied "'Then play bass, 'cause you only have to play the top string if you want.' So I said okay." They enlisted the only drummer they knew, Tony McCarroll, to round out the lineup. "We had f*** all else to do," guitarist Arthurs recollected to Rolling Stone. "It was either get in a band or get drunk every night." The two pursuits turned out not to be mutually exclusive.
Noel, meanwhile, became the "guitar tech" for the band Inspiral Carpets, accompanying them on the road to keep their instruments and other equipment in shape. "I knew how to change strings, how to tune a guitar, and change a fuse or a plug, and that's about it, really," he told Musician. Though other guitar technicians he met possessed all manner of arcane knowledge about the gear, he admitted, "I haven't got a clue, mate. Not a clue. I just lied when I got the job."
Going on tour with the Inspirals was frustrating for him, since they didn't have any spirit. 'They were just going through the motions for the money. And then, well, I'd be looking at them and thinking, 'F***ing hell, if they can get away with it, I can.' So I started me own band." In reality, he offered to take over Liam's band. Having written a number of songs during the Inspirals tour, he felt that his kid brother's group had little to offer beyond Liam's surprisingly powerful, sneering voice. He therefore announced that he would joinrovided they stand aside and play his songs according to his exacting instructions. In Rolling Stone he reported having said, "I can only do this one way: with me in complete control of it."
Definitely Wowed Critics, Fans
Oasis began working far more intensively. "All our friends would say, 'Let's get drunk, let's chase some women, let's take some drugs,'" Noel recounted in Musician. "We'd say, 'No, no, we have to practice.' They all thought we were mott [crazy] for quite a while." After spending the requisite period learning to play Noel's songs exactly as he wanted to hear them, Oasis talked themselves onto a bill at a Glasgow, Scotland club. Closing their set with an earsplitting rendition of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," they got a record offer from a member of the audience, Creation Records founder Alan McGee.
Their debut album, Definitely Maybe, was released in 1994 and synthesized the pop, glam-rock, and punk influences that had informed Noel's youth. The band immediately became the darlings of the passionately fickle British music press. Thanks in part to singles like the evanescent ballad "Live Forever," the album rocketed up the English charts. Their status as darlings of United Kingdom rock scribes certainly derived in large part from their way with a pop tune, but the band's bad-boy attitude also contributed. "We always knew we were going to be good," Noel said with characteristic immodesty in Guitar Player, "because you don't write a song like 'Live Forever' and disappear. We weren't surprised that the album reached #1 in England and went gold. It was just surprising how fast it got there."
Unfazed By Skeptical Yanks
Things took a bit longer in the United States. Despite largely glowing reviews for the album, the band's live shows often drew fire. Onstage, Jason Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone, "Oasis act completely oblivious to the rich nuances and joyous, thudding impact of their music," and described their performance as "frustratingly passive-aggressive." A disgruntled concertgoer interviewed by Musician's Charles M. Young, meanwhile, dismissed the band as "a very loud version of 1970s bubblegum popsters The Bay City Rollers." Yet the record fared quite well, thanks in large part to the airplay earned by "Live Forever."
Oasis very loudly replied to such criticism that they didn't care. They toured relentlessly and proudly indulged in classic rock and roll pursuits like drinking, drugs and the trashing of hotel rooms. They also engaged in a very public feud with fellow Brit band Blur and derided most other bands, especially American ones. Their acerbic esprit de corps had its limits, of course; Liam and Noel quarrelled constantly. "Some days we get on really well," Noel reported to huH's Mark Blackwell. "Other days we f***ing 'ate the sight of each other. But that's life." And the band's high opinion of itself was recorded faithfully in a stream of interviews. "I'm always sayin', 'We're the best band in the world,'" Liam informed Blackwell. "The reason I say it is because we jus' f***ing are. I don't say it for the sake of just sayin' it. I believe it, man."
Morning Glory Showed Growth
While the band's meteoric rise and unflinching arrogance invited many a predictionnd no doubt a fervent wish or twohat they would wind up as one-hit wonders, Oasis instead came back stronger on their sophomore effort. They replaced McCarroll with Alan White before going back in to the studio, however. McCarroll would later file suit against the band for firing him wrongfully. The new album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, showed greater songwriting depth, according to reviewers like Rolling Stone's Jon Wiederhorn, who called it "more than a natural progression; it's a bold leap forward that displays significant personal growth."
Morning Glory stormed up the American charts on the strength of "Wonderwall," another anthemic ballad. The album became the second biggest-selling British record of all time after the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Such triumphs hardly stunted Noel Gallagher's already towering self-regard. If Oasis had existed at the same time as the Beatles, he told Spin, "I think we'd be the Beatles." The press began to faithfully follow and report every last move the band made, focusing especially on Liam and Noel's increasingly heated arguments. Their volatile relationship lead to the cancellation of an American tour in support of Morning Glory and a tour the following year in support of their next album, Be Here Now.
The name of the album was taken from a comment John Lennon once made when asked what the "message" of rock 'n' roll was. A shortened version of his reply, "to be here now," became the title of Oasis's third studio album. Hastily recorded in a drug-induced environment, the album failed to meet expectations set after the huge success that was Morning Glory. Noel later acknowledged the extreme lifestyle he and his bandmates were living: "We did our share [of partying], and then we did everyone else's who couldn't afford it." The work was generally dismissed by critics for its close stylistic resemblence to the Beatles. A Time reviewer remarked, "Oasis would be a better band if it started to innovate more and imitate less." Noel, in an attempt to regain his musical focus, sobered up late in 1997 and asked that the other band members do the same for the length of their next recording session.
Founding Members Departed
Arthurs left the band in 1999, reasoning that he'd like to spend more time with his family. McGuigan also left the band around this time. Noel's comment to NME after the two founding members departed was, as reported by All Music Guide, "It's hardly Paul McCartney leaving the Beatles." Changes in the band's record label also occurred that year. Alan McGee sold the rest of Creation Records to Sony (Sony previously owned only 49 percent of the once-influential independent label). Oasis planned to finish the two albums remaining on their six-album obligation on Sony, but Noel was wary of signing with another label after their contract expired. "Somebody's got an awful flicking long way to go to convince me record companies are worth anything these dayshey're just a bank."
Oasis recruited two new band members for the recording of their fourth album. Guitarist Gem Archer and bassist Andy Bell joined the group, adding more musical input and songwriting skills than the previous members had offered. The result, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, was released in 1999. The name came from Noel's drunken misinterpretation of the Isaac Newton quote inscribed on the British £2 coin, which reads, "If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants." This title seemed to acknowledge the debt Oasis owed to their predecessors. The official Sony biography that was sent out with the record spoke to that: "Oasis have always stood on the shoulders of giants, which is why they towered above their peers." A live album recorded at London's Wembley Stadium, Familiar to Millions, was released later in 2000.
Oasis's fifth studio album, Heathen Chemistry, was released in 2002. Deciding to forego big-name producers, the members of Oasis instead produced the album themselves at their own studio near London. Liam had previously contributed one song he penned to an Oasis album ("Little James" on Giants), but the songwriting balance was even further shifted from Noel on this album, with Liam contributing three songs and Archer and Bell one each. Noel, with characteristic immodesty, told Music & Media, "It's far and away the best record since Definitely Maybe'd probably say the whole thing will be an eight out of 10." Some critics seemed to agree. A Guitar Player reviewer commented, "Obvious style-checking notwithstanding, Heathen Chemistry is full of well-crafted and enthusiastically performed material."
Even Liam and Noel's well-publicized sibling rivalry seemed to be dying down. "I've grown to love that boy so much," Noel remarked about his younger brother on a Sony biography posted on their website. "Now he understands that when you're working you can't go on acting like you're sixteen when you're thirty." But some old habits apparently die hard. A ruckus in a Munich nightclub in December of 2002 between Liam and Alan White and five Italian businessmen ended with Liam and Alan in jail.
Despite ongoing internal and external band struggles, a changing lineup, and constant criticism from the press that they take too much from their predecessors, Oasis shows no sign of falling apart. Speaking to NME in early 2003, Noel told them that they band was too "important" to him to break up, calling it "the best gig in the world." He acknowledged in another NME report that Oasis hasn't change their style much: "We do Oasis music and that's it," which had been a criticism from the press, but said he was content with the music they play.
Definitely Maybe, Creation; reissued, Epic, 1994.
(What's the Story) Morning Glory?, Epic, 1995.
Be Here Now, Epic, 1997.
Masterplan, Epic, 1998.
Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, Epic, 2000.
Familiar to Millions (live), Epic, 2000.
Heathen Chemistry, Epic, 2002.
Billboard, January 20, 1996.
Entertainment Weekly, March 10, 1995; September 5, 1997.
Europe Intelligence Wire, December 4, 2002.
Guitar Player, March 1995; September 2000; November 2002.
huH, April 1995.
Interview, January 1998.
Music & Media, July 6, 2002.
Music Connection, March 6, 1995.
Musician, September 1995.
New Statesman, October 10, 1997.
Newsweek International, March 6, 2000.
Rolling Stone, December 15, 1994; May 18, 1995; August 5, 1995; October 19, 1995.
Spin, January 1995; November 1995; December 1995; February 1996.
Time, August 25, 1997.
Time International, July 29, 2002.
Variety, August 18, 1997.
"D'You Know What I Mean?," NME, http://www.nme.com/news/104045.htm (January 28, 2003).
"Oasis," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 17, 2003).
Oasis Official Website, http://www.oasisinet.com (January 27, 2003).
"Roll With It," NME, http://www.nme.com/news/104028.htm (January 28, 2003).