Until Oasis came along, there was no clear cut leader. Suddenly there were two, foils to one another, with the upper middle class Blur in the opposite corner. Manchester’s Liam and Noel Gallagher built everything the band represented on the foundation of Thatcherism austerity. Blur were singing about how to, “Count your thoughts on one-two-three-four-five fingers,” while Oasis was going on about how cigarettes and alcohol would be enough of an indulgence to change their lives.
The overhyped facet of the “Battle of Britpop” aside, the creative peak of Oasis wasn’t much for trifling. Each four-track single they put out at the time would stand up against, and often dominate, the full lengths of contemporaries. Sure, things eventually fell apart, but don’t they always? Even Select magazine was grasping at straws when it tried to convince London that Sleeper’s Louise Wener was the female voice of a generation as the sun began to set on Britpop. In fact, I’m almost certain the diner where Wener was interviewed during the outstanding documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Britpop was while she was on break there.
Thankfully, sonic time capsules like Definitely Maybe exist as proof that what was once considered untouchable remains that way two decades on…even when it gets New Ordered.
“There we were, now here we are.” What a line to open up a track that should’ve probably opened the record. Then again, the same could be said for half the songs on Definitely Maybe. The way “Columbia” builds from a feedback drenched guitar churn gives more than a nod to the psychedelic influences that Noel carried with him both sonically and chemically. But a nod was all it got, then it was onto the full on changing of the guard. The Stone Roses may have been recording Second Coming down the road at the time, but the title was unknowingly bestowed upon Oasis. Baggy was out; tracksuits and trainers were in. The acid trips were old hat – it was time to get on with finding the cocaine.
2. “Live Forever”
Roundly considered to be one of the hallmarks of Britpop along with Blur’s “Girls & Boys” and Pulp’s “Common People,” “Live Forever” was the primary introduction for most casual Stateside music fans. Twenty years on, it’s still as anthemic, with an amount of grandiose ambition that most acts don’t attempt until a third or fourth record.
The U.S. version of the video is typical, early 90s heavy-handedness to echo the song title, conjuring up images of folks who categorically did not “live forever” like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain – oh that’s right, they’ll live in spirit “forever.” The UK version was much more enjoyable, and prescient, with soon-to-be-sacked drummer Tony McCarroll getting buried alive in a grave by his fellow bandmates.
Friday night, March 18, 1994; Oasis makes their live television debut on England’s controversial variety show The Word on Channel 4. Playing in front of a backdrop reminiscent of the Black Sabbath “Paranoid” video to an audience that looked like rejects from MTV’s The Grind, the band performed the brash “Supersonic.” Despite the threat of a shirtless Eric Nies pouncing out at any moment, Oasis killed it that night, with Liam rightfully the star as he postured and preened before people knew it wasn’t a gag – that’s really who he was. Pulling out a Super-8 camera to film the audience was something he might do on a random Tuesday down at the corner pub.
Less than a month later, grunge died when Kurt Cobain took a 20-gauge shotgun to it. A week after that, “Supersonic” got a proper release as a single and shit got real. The stage was set for Cool Britannia; Q magazine struck gold in grouping brothers Gallagher with Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn and Brett Anderson as its favorite cover subjects for the next three years, the NME rightfully earned tabloid status by creating feuds between bands and American music took a backseat once again to the native sounds.
4. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”
Like the rest of the album the lyrics are Noel’s but, and in particular here, Liam effortlessly owns and inhabits them. The most interesting part is what equates a true rock and roll star to these guys isn’t the typical trappings; coming from the blue collar middle class, where the days bleed monotonously into one another, slowing down and living life “for the stars that shine” is the true payoff sought. Still, it sounds suspiciously like the coke that was being sought after in “Columbia” has been located.
5. “Slide Away”
A six and a half minute, expressive epic is a pretty tall order to pull off on a debut full of rousing songs about drink, drank, drugs and living forever. “Talk of growing old” is the antithesis of the rest of the lyrical content on Definitely Maybe, as is the impassioned and downright exposed nature of Liam’s vocals. It’s a beautiful, haunting track that barely fits but somehow broadens the appeal of Oasis. “Live Forever” and its message could be taken as pandering if it weren’t for the rawness of “Slide Away” to back it up.
The brothers might be snotty, argumentative ruffians on the surface, but there’s an undeniable soulfulness there. Have a listen at the final two minutes or so when Noel, seemingly unable to contain himself, first, low in the mix delicately offering, “I wanna try now, I wanna make you mine now,” before he more forcefully declares, “I don’t know, I don’t care, all I know is you can take me there.” He wants to get the fuck out. It’s about escaping the trappings of the class system, doing whatever it takes to make an exit.
The placement of “Slide Away” is one of very few major mistakes on the album too – it should’ve been the final track. “Married with Children” is almost an apology in its wake, “sorry for being so serious, here’s a little ditty to make up for it.” Oasis would learn by the next effort, closing out (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? with the grandeur of “Champagne Supernova,” then become of victim of going to the well five too many times on Be Here Now where four tracks hovered around the seven minute mark and one crested to over nine minutes.
6. “Cigarettes & Alcohol”
Like a Hitchcock character, Noel plays the part of a master thief with convincing aplomb. This time it’s the grave of Marc Bolan that the T. Rex hit “Get It On” goes missing, recommissioned or “borrowed.” Lyrically, it’s the companion piece to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” in trying to elude a life where dirt under the fingernails is a constant. Fags and pints aren’t the only two vices, despite what Liam sings, worth living for; there’s the refrain again about spending “days in the sunshine,” and the notorious, “you might as well do the white line.” Cocaine – re-revisited.
7. “Bring It On Down”
Propelled by the discontent about being dealt the “underclass” card, this is the most driving track on all of Definitely Maybe. Even when it breaks down for a bit, McCarroll’s menacing drums hint at malice before Noel comes sliding back into a guitar solo. It’s by no means the most cohesive song, but the jutting musculature captures the rough and tumble life the band was living at the time.
Super catchy, almost like a jingle for a soft drink…oh wait – that’s exactly what it was. “Shakermaker” would’ve been much higher on the list had it not been a direct rip-off of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” released as a 1971 single by the New Seekers that tanked but was reconfigured for a Coca-Cola commercial that went on to become massively successful.
To further illustrate how shameless the band was, included on the three-disc deluxe edition of Definitely Maybe, released earlier this year, is a live version of “Shakermaker” from a 1994 in-store in Paris. Toward the end, Liam defiantly sings the lyrics from the Coca-Cola ad, changing, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” to “I’d like the buy you all the Coke.”
9. “Married With Children”
Not a bad song per se, but would’ve been much better placed as a B-side where it might’ve gotten more recognition. Noel Gallagher hadn’t yet gained the confidence to take on vocal duties on a full length record, leaving one more aspect that would draw more attention to it, especially how unsure his delivery was at that time.
10. “Up In the Sky”
The targeted musical objective here was to capture the essence of The Beatles somewhere between Rubber Soul and Revolver, but the abstract lyrics that loosely address someone who’s fallen out of favor with their high class peers, slipping down to the Gallagher level is just too upfront. And while being subversive was never Noel’s strong point, letting off the gas a bit would make more sense here.
11. “Digsy’s Dinner”
Even recognizing that this is a complete joke, a song about going to a mate’s house for lasagna for fuck’s sake, it just doesn’t work. Putting a song on a record as a goof is never a good idea (What up every single Offspring release ever?), but in retrospect, like the placement of “Married with Children,” it might be only to take a piss out the seriousness of the whole proceedings.