Best tunes of 1993: #12 Blur “Chemical world”

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Back when I was in university, I still listened to commercial radio relatively often, but for me, the only station worth listening to had become Toronto’s CFNY 102.1 (these days called The Edge). I loved the morning show with Humble & Fred, the weekend live-to-air shows by Chris Sheppard and Martin Streek, Alan Cross’s Ongoing history of new music on Sunday nights, and of course, the all request nooner on weekdays. The nooner was music “as chosen” by the listeners. I was a regular listener and tried often enough to put in requests but I think my songs only made the show once or twice.

The one time I can say for absolute certainty that it happened for me was when I requested they play Blur’s “Chemical world” just a few days before the band was due to play The Phoenix in Toronto in September 1994. Back then, requests couldn’t be made by webform, email, or tweets, they had to be called in by landline telephone. The phone lines opened 30 minutes to an hour before the show was due to start and some intern or other answered the calls, and if we’re being serious here, they were the ones that really decided which songs were going to be played. After dialling, getting the busy signal, hanging up, and hitting the redial button a number of times, I actually got through to a live person! The guy asked what I wanted to hear, hesitated briefly at my response, and then said “yeah, I think we can play that for you.” He recorded me giving the song an intro and let me go so he could take the next call. I sat by the radio for the next hour in my basement apartment while I ate my lunch and got ready to head in to the university for an afternoon class. Just at the end of the hour, I heard my groggy voice croak the intro and my request was played.

“Chemical world” was the second single released off of Blur’s sophomore release, “Modern life is rubbish”. It’s one of the songs the band recorded when they were sent back to the studio by their labels after initial recordings for the release did not yield any singles. It definitely fits the definition of single without straying far from their new aesthetic. After their debut couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be baggy or shoegaze and it (and their performances) couldn’t find foothold with the US markets, they decided to record the antithesis of the grunge music that was taking over in North America. “Modern life” would turn out to be one of the initial albums to fly the Britpop banner and in the process, influenced a host of other like-minded bands.

“Chemical world” was the only track from the sophomore album to crack the US charts and it was one of the few songs I would hear by the band on occasion, even on alternative radio, at the time. It’s still one of my favourites by Blur and came in at number three when I counted my five favourites by the group a few years ago*. Dave Rowntree is pounding away at the drums, violent but tame, Graham Coxon is ripping away at his guitar like he’s been hanging with John Squire, Alex James’s bass line is holding it all together tightly in muscular arms, and Damon Albarn is once again bashing out against modern life and modern Britain and how it cannot be escaped, even if it was wanted.

“It’s been a hell of a do
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes
And now she’s right out of view
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes
Well, I don’t know about you
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes

Until you can see right through”

*In that post, I told a shorter version of the story detailed above.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.


Top five tunes: Oasis

Who? Oasis

Years active: 1991-2009

Band members:
Liam Gallagher (lead vocals) 1991-2009
Noel Gallagher (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals) 1991-2009
Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs (guitars, bass) 1991-1999
Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan (bass) 1991-1999
Tony McCarroll (drums) 1991-1995
Alan White (drums) 1995-2004
Gem Archer (rhythm and lead guitar) 1999-2009
Andy Bell (bass, keyboard) 1999-2009

Selected discography:
Definitely maybe (1994)
(What’s the story) morning glory? (1995)
Be here now (1997)
Standing on the shoulder of giants (2000)
Heathen chemistry (2002)
Don’t believe the truth (2005)
Dig out your soul (2008)

It’s been a long, long, loooooong time since I’ve done one of these Top Five Tunes posts. The last one I did was on my favourite ever Industrial Rock tunes just over two years ago. In fact, I actually came up with the idea and created a draft for this Oasis post just about a year and a half ago, back in May 2021. It’s definitely time I pushed through the procrastination and just get this one done.

I think I actually got the idea to feature Oasis as my next subject because there were, at the time, rumours that they might be considering re-forming. The Gallagher brothers seemed to be on good terms. There wasn’t the usual animosity and smearing going on in the social medias. Indeed, I feel like I even remember seeing a photo of the two of them together, some time around the holiday season, spreading some cheer. Of course, said reunion never happened and instead we’ve returned to the very publicized battles between the two, especially on the part of the younger sibling. And in just the last few weeks, Noel was asked in an interview about the possibility. He responded that the band is bigger now than when they were together (!) and didn’t see a point. Personally, I think it’ll happen eventually, they’ve just got to get their solo careers out of their system and see enough cash thrown their way.

Oasis was formed in Manchester, England in 1991 when Paul McGuigan, Paul Arthurs, and Tony McCarroll auditioned a young Liam Gallagher to join their band The Rain as lead singer. His brother Noel attended one of their first ever performances together, didn’t hate what he saw, and started seeing possibilities for expanding on his songwriting ideas. When he was eventually asked to join by his younger brother, he said that he would, but only on condition that he write all the songs. They were later ‘discovered’ by Creation Records chief Alan McGee, who signed them to a deal and made a ton of cash when their first two records went monster status.

I got into them with their first album when my friend Tim recorded me a copy to cassette, raving about this Brit band to whom all his friends at Waterloo university were listening. It was love at first listen and I recognized one of the first handful of tracks (“Live forever”) from a CMJ monthly magazine compilation that I had purchased a few months earlier. Then, I had a chance to see them play a small show at Lee’s Palace, their first Canadian show, but I had to give up my ticket because I had an essay due the next day that I had yet to start. It’s a concert I’ve regretted missing ever since because from all accounts, it was a blistering performance. And of course, after that, they went huge, possibly in no small part because of the explosion of ‘Cool Britannia’ and everything British. A scene that became so prevalent that even in the midst of grunge, North America started to take notice.

“Definitely maybe” and “(What’s the story) morning glory” are now modern rock classics. But everything the band wrote and recorded during their first few years in existence was pure gold. Indeed, they even have so many excellent b-sides from this time that, “The masterplan”, the compilation they released in 1998 is still better than many of their contemporaries’ best albums. Like many others, I was pumped for their third record, 1997’s “Be here now”, and remember listening to its first single on the radio with great interest, but unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown. They were finally completely let loose in the studio given their huge success thus far and it felt to me at the time that the results were overwrought and underwhelming. Of course, nowadays, I can appreciate it more but it just wasn’t the same and I began to drift from the boys from Manchester.

I returned to fold in the early 2000s, initially, because I heard a lot to like in their fifth album “Heathen chemistry” but it was their sixth, “Don’t believe the truth”, that really did it. I was an Oasis fan again. By this point though, the Gallagher brothers were the only original members left. I had almost completely missed Alan White, the drummer that had replaced Tony McCarroll when he was dismissed in the mid-90s. And of course, Guigsy and Bonehead both left just prior to Y2K and were replaced by Heavy Stereo’s Gem Archer and Ride’s Andy Bell.

I finally got to see them live shortly after the release of what would turn out to be their final album, 2008’s “Dig out your soul”. I convinced Victoria that I needed to go to the two day Virgin music festival on Toronto Island and that she needed to come on the second day, when the headliners were none other than Oasis. Of course, some of you might remember what happened that night. We didn’t actually see it happen because we had decided just previous to the fracas that we’d had enough of being right in the middle of the crowds and had started to make our way back during “Morning glory”.

Suddenly, the music abruptly stopped and there appeared to be mass confusion. I turned around to see the musicians shuffling off the stage but before I could make anything out, Victoria was reaching back for me to continue our way out to more breathing room. Once there, we asked someone nearby and they mentioned that someone climbed up on stage and pushed ‘him’ but didn’t clarify which him. I’m not sure why we assumed it was Liam that was pushed but we did. Noel eventually came out and performed a few more songs, with the rest of the band joining him a bit at a time, even, eventually, Mr. Liam. When we got home and watched the replays on YouTube, we learned that it was Noel that had been pushed from behind by a drunken hooligan, which made it more surprising that he was the first one back on stage, especially after the news came out later on that he had come out of it with a few broken ribs.

The band broke up the following summer in 2009. Noel went solo and Liam carried on with the rest of the group as Beady Eye. They released a couple of albums but it wasn’t the same without Noel. In the decade that has passed since, both Gallagher brothers have had a modicum of success on their own but the rumours and the clamouring for reunion just keep growing louder.

Oasis is now the stuff of legend and revisionist history. Their early work is untouchable and their later work more accepted with the passing of time. They will certainly always have place in this music fan’s heart. So yeah, narrowing their long list of great tunes down to a top five was a harrowing exercise but one that I braved for all of you. Enjoy.

The top five:

#5: Lyla (from “Don’t believe the truth”, 2005)

As I said above, the sixth album was the one that truly brought me back into the fold and I likely wasn’t the only one. It was generally agreed upon to be their best album in almost a decade, a return to form of sorts, and their highest charting album since “Be here now.” The first single was the brash and bouncing “Lyla”, a song that Noel Gallagher wrote but didn’t even really like until they got around to performing it live. “Hey Lyla. The stars about to fall so what you say, Lyla. The world around us makes me feel so small, Lyla.” There’s nothing small about this track at all. It’s gigantic and stadium-ready without being bloated. It is full length rock and roll guitar strumming and a banging and bashing rhythm by Zak Starkey that you just can’t escape. And then, of course, there’s Liam, sneering a love story about a girl named Lyla.

#4: The masterplan (from “Wonderwall”, 1995)

Oasis’s primary songwriter, Noel Gallagher has often referred to this as one of the best songs he has ever written. The problem, if you want to call it as such, is that it was just one of many great tracks that came out of a period of incredible productivity by the band in the mid-90s. As I inferred above, this meant so many of their b-sides had a-side written all over them and many of them ended up on their much lauded b-side collection, which took its name from “The masterplan”. First appearing on the “Wonderwall” single, it is a rare early track on which the younger Gallagher brother doesn’t appear at all. Noel takes lead responsibility, both on guitar and vocals, Bonehead plays the piano, original drummer Alan White keeps time, and an orchestra fills in the rest. As great a frontman as Liam is, I’ve always preferred Noel’s voice and here, it’s as epic and big as the sound. “Say it loud and sing it proud today. I’m not saying right is wrong. It’s up to us to make the best of all things that come our way.” The horns, the strings, the muscular guitar, and Noel’s rock and roll posturing are all part of the masterplan.

#3: Live forever (from “Definitely maybe”, 1994)

A whistle, an ‘oh yeah’, a big pounding on the bass drum, and then: “Maybe… I don’t really wanna know… how your garden grows, ‘cause I just wanna fly.” This was my introduction to Oasis. First heard on a CMJ new music monthly sampler, my ears pricked up to the brash earnestness of it all, the solid guitars and the pure joy of the noise. It was the third single released in advance of their debut album but the first to catch the attention of the music world at large. Written by Noel well before he had joined the band, it seems to just explode with optimistic energy and youth. This is a band cranking the volume on all the knobs and laying it all out there, not caring if they make small mistakes or whether they’re letting their influences show too much, they’re just rocking it, man. This kind of music is timeless and eternal.

#2: Don’t look back in anger (from “(What’s the story) morning glory?”, 1995)

From the band’s massive second album, which boasted a ton of hit singles like the title track, “Roll with it”, “Champagne supernova”, and the intergalactic “Wonderwall”, this one here was hands down my favourite of the bunch. It’s a hammering on the piano, like an angry rendition of “Imagine”, and lots of wailing and screaming and mountainous guitars, but most of all, it’s Noel bringing down the house. The was first single to feature the chief on vocals, rather than his younger sibling, and thankfully for all involved not the last. I remember being in a pub one night a good five years after its release and the entertainment that night was a guy with his guitar covering a wide range of popular tunes. At one point, he broke into this particular track and when he got to the chorus, I swear the whole pub joined in shouting “And so Sally can wait, she knows it’s too late, as we’re walking on by” at the top of their lungs and as one. It was anthemic then and it is every time I hear it. There’s good reason that Manchester picked up on it and used it as a rallying call following the bombing at the Manchester Arena in 2017. As Noel has said, it’s about not being upset with past but instead looking forward.

#1: Whatever (from “Whatever”, 1994)

Yes. That’s right. My favourite Oasis tune is from neither of their first two big records but a non-album single released between the two. In fact, it is the only one of the five that I don’t yet have in my vinyl collection, something I would love to remedy should I ever find a copy of the EP out in the wild. For me, the nearly six and half minute tune almost perfectly encapsulates what made Oasis so great in the early- to mid-nineties. It’s big and epic and orchestral, positive and uplifting, instantly hummable, and wears its influences like an obvious pair of cheap dollar store nose glasses. Noel was always forthright in how he lifted directly from his heroes when writing his own songs but in this case it might’ve been too obvious. The shout-along refrain of “I’m free to be whatever I, whatever I choose, and I’ll sing the blues if I want” sounded a little too close to singer/comedian Neil Innes’s tune “How sweet to be an idiot”. Litigation ensured and bam, Innes secured himself a songwriting credit. But who cares? Noel doesn’t and I don’t. You can’t tell me it’s any less of a song. Nobody got hurt. In fact, I’d be willing to bet it’s laissez-faire message has cheered up many a soul. I’ll take it any day. Cheers!

For other top five lists in this series, click here.


Vinyl love: Various Artists “Caught beneath the landslide”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Various Artists
Album Title: Caught beneath the landslide
Year released: 2021
Details: Limited edition, ‘Indies only’, double LP, clear

The skinny: Not counting film soundtracks, I only have three compilations on my record shelves* and that’s already three more than I ever thought I’d ever have when I first starting collecting vinyl. This particular compilation didn’t jump out at me when I first started seeing it pop up in my mailing lists from the various record vendors I’ve frequented over the years… that is, until I happened upon the track listing. And then, the salivation started in earnest. You see, I’ve always had a soft spot for Britpop and those years in the mid-90s when everything coming out of England was golden (or fool’s golden). “Caught beneath the landslide” was put together as companion piece to a photobook by former NME photographer Kevin Cummins that shared some of his iconic snaps from the era. The tracklist features a who’s who of those artists associated with the Britpop term but instead of the obvious picks by each, it collects together alternate versions, remixes, b-sides, covers, and rarites. I opted for the ‘Indie only’ version in clear vinyl because… clear vinyl. And this particular sucker for Britpop, loves everything about it.

Standout track: “Ciao!” by Lush with Jarvis Cocker

*The other two are the Frightened Rabbit tribute compilation “Tiny changes” and the very excellent, “Warchild – Help album”, another Britpop heavy record.