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.


Best tunes of 2002: #9 Oasis “Stop crying your heart out”

<< #10    |    #8 >>

Oasis. Yeah, I loved them. But there was also a period where we grew apart, me and Oasis.

As I wrote in my post detailing their appearance on my Best tunes of 2000 list with “Go let it out”, I found their third record, 1997’s “Be here now”, just a tad over the top, even for them. I didn’t even bother with the next one, “Standing on the shoulders of giants”, at the time, and took me many years before I gave that full album a chance.

My return to the Oasis fold started with their 2002 album, “Heathen chemistry”, their first album with new band members Gem Archer and Andy Bell (of Ride) and their last with longtime drummer, Alan White. It was marked attempt by Noel Gallagher to rein things back in a bit, and to try to recapture some of that magic that made the Manchester, England rock band so big in the first place. I’m talking here of the magnificence and exuberance that was their first two records. And I swore I heard a bit of that the first time I heard the lead off single from “Heathen chemistry”. I remember that I was back in Toronto for the weekend and driving around with my brother-in-law Nick and “The Hindu times” came on the radio. I also remember exclaiming aloud that it sounded like Oasis. To which Nick, thinking I was just stating the obvious, replied, “That’s because it is”.

As piqued as my curiousity was with this first single, it wasn’t until a few months later that I was really pushed to give Oasis another chance. My younger brother, Mike, came up to Ottawa to visit that summer and with him brought a bunch of CDs to keep him company on the long Greyhound trip from Bowmanville. One of the evenings that weekend was spent spinning CDs and sharing tunes and the two new ones that really stuck out for me was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s self-titled debut and the CD single of “Stop crying your heart out” by the Gallagher brothers and their friends.

“We’re all of us stars
We’re fading away
Just try not to worry
You’ll see us some day“

Noel’s lyrics aren’t always clear and aren’t always deep but they’re well put together for the melody and still manage to evoke moods and feelings. “Stop crying” is a motivating and uplifting number. Yeah, it’s a piano ballad with Gem Archer earning his keep. But it soon gets anthemic because… of course, it does. Big guitars, shimmering and crashing cymbals, towering strings, and over top it all, it’s Liam, sneering and crooning and jerking our tears and pulling our heartstrings.

Sing it with me: “Hold onnnnnn!”

Man, that Noel knows how to conjure rock and roll, doesn’t he?

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Live music galleries

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #2 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Friday, July 8th, 2016

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds live at Bluesfest 2016

Artist: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
When: Friday, July 8th, 2016
Where: City Stage at 9:30pm
Context: One of the problems with multi-stage music festivals is that, invariably, you run into situations where there are multiple artists that you want to see playing at the same time. It’s happened to me more than a few times over the years and I’ve had to make a decision on who I wanted to see more, weighted based on whether I had seen the acts before and the chances that I’d have to see the act again. One of the most grievous scheduling conflicts I ever had to negotiate was on that Friday back in 2016 when I had to leave an incredible set by Swedish singer/songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth only a few songs into it in order to get a good spot to catch Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds.

My wife Victoria joined me that night (as she does on occasion), just as she did the last time I saw Noel Gallagher live, back when he was performing with Oasis at the 2008 V fest on Toronto Island. A few of you might recall how that one turned out. Some drunken, middle-aged hooligan had hidden himself under the stage, climbed up in the middle of the set, and pushed the elder Gallagher brother from behind, cracking a few ribs in the process. After the fracas and some confusion in the crowd, the band came back out and performed a handful of songs but it wasn’t a complete set. So although we can say we saw Oasis live, we always felt like we were cheated, knowing there were songs they could have played but didn’t.

Eight years later, Oasis had of course broken up and Noel Gallagher had at that time put together two solid solo albums with a new band. I’d always thought Noel more talented than his younger brother Liam and though Victoria doesn’t agree, I’ve always felt that he had the better voice. Don’t get me wrong, Liam is a great frontman, but his force is his attitude and confidence, more than his talent. Nonetheless, seeing Noel Gallagher live again was too good a chance to pass up and it wasn’t hard to convince Victoria to join me.

Out of a set of twenty songs, exactly half were songs that Noel wrote during his days with his original band. He dutifully played the hits – “Champagne supernova”, “Wonderwall”, and the perfect closer, “Don’t look back in anger” – to all of which the crowd was pleased to help him with the vocals and he welcomed it, stepping back from the mike while we sang the choruses. What I found really cool, though, is that he also dug deep into the B-sides, playing some of the more popular (“The masterplan”, “Fade away”, “Half the world away”) but also the not-so-popular (“Talk tonight”, “D’yer wanna be a spaceman”). And it wasn’t for any reason more complicated than that those were some of Noel’s favourite Oasis tracks.

The other half of his set was dedicated to the songs he has written with his new band, The High Flying Birds, and these are no less excellent. Tracks from both the self-titled album and the previous year’s, “Chasing yesterday”, were well-represented and though, some in the crowd were less familiar with these songs, they were well-received. And why not? Some of these tunes, like “Ballad of the mighty I” and “AKA… what a life!”, are far better than some of the tunes he wrestled together during his time with Oasis. In the High Flying Birds, Noel is calling the shots. He doesn’t have to contend with his brother’s ego and he has just as fine a backing band. The five-piece were on fire, assaulting us with a wall of guitars and waves of organ, sometimes augmented by a three-piece horn section, and they played straight through to just before 11 o’clock, not bothering with the whole encore charade, opting instead to play as many songs as possible.

About a third of the way through the set, I think it was during “Champagne supernova”, I looked around at the joyful reaction and attentions of the crowd and turned to my wife and said, “Now why would he want to get Oasis back together?” It was pure rock and roll, Noel style.

Noel Gallagher and Russell Pritchard
Tim Smith, Mike Rowe, and Chris Sharrock
Russell Pritchard and the horn section
Mike Rowe on keys
Noel Gallagher with Russell Pritchard, Chris Sharrock, and Tim Smith
“We love you, Noel!!!”

Everybody’s on the Run
Lock All the Doors
In the Heat of the Moment
Fade Away (Oasis song)
The Death of You and Me
You Know We Can’t Go Back
Champagne Supernova (Oasis song)
Ballad of the Mighty I
Talk Tonight (Oasis song)
D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman? (Oasis song)
The Mexican
Half the World Away (Oasis song)
Listen Up (Oasis song)
If I Had a Gun…
Digsy’s Dinner (Oasis song)
The Masterplan (Oasis song)
Wonderwall (Oasis song)
AKA… What a Life!
Don’t Look Back in Anger (Oasis song)