It’s likely, halfway through 1994 as one continued the incessant touring trail after finally completing work on his band’s debut album, and the other came to an agreement which would see him adopt the mantle of leader of the Labour Party, that Noel Gallagher and Tony Blair had never even heard of each other.
However, just three short years later the pair would meet inside 10 Downing Street with a handshake and a glass of champagne for an image which now – in all its superficiality – suitably defines an era. By then Noel Gallagher was rich, successful and exhalted. Tony Blair, equally, had just been carried to power in the UK on a landslide, himself now carrying the hopes of a nation blossoming with colour after a generation of grey Tory decline. Or so went the narrative anyway.
Their meeting was the appropriately bizarre hedonistic tipping point of Britpop – that intangible, loosely defined media invention with which Oasis are now so intrinsically tied. Britart and Cool Britannia had themselves been gobbled up by the tabloids in its wake. “Revolution!” they cried. “London swings again!” Yet now, like the Sex Pistols did a decade on from the Summer Of Love, we must surely look back through gritted teeth knowing that, just like Johnny Rotten in 1977, for the majority it was essentially ‘Bollocks’.
Even before that Blair/Gallagher summit was held most of the main protagonists had already come to realise as much. The tabloid press – Dr. Frankenstein to Britpop’s monster – decided enough was enough. Blur were about to re-emerge from their ridiculous Benny Hill cartoon ‘Country House‘ selves with bags under their eyes, a moody camera filter and a far darker story to tell on ‘Beetlebum‘. The gloomy Wigan stroll of Richard Ashcroft and The Verve‘s ‘Bittersweet Symphony‘ would be the diametric anthem for 1997’s summer, ‘Urban Hymns‘ the instant post-Britpop bible. Oasis’ timing was less savvy; the insane riot of ‘Be Here Now‘ arrived right in the eye of a backlash storm, soundtracking a mindset which had already pulled out of the station. It would be another year before Noel Gallagher finally boarded up Supernova Heights and went cold turkey on Billy Connolly videos.
All of which, incredibly twenty years on, makes ‘Definitely Maybe‘ retrospectively more important than ever – and why this article chooses to get those Britpop footnotes out of the way at the earliest opportunity.
Oasis’ debut album transports us back to a time before the British Heavyweight Championship bout, before any outside forces could exert an influence, before Spinal Tap-esque line-up changes, when the band were a crystal clear vision of the surroundings in which they had grown up. We find Oasis at its purest, even its most innocent, certainly its best. Setting a new standard for their contemporaries, and daring them to match it.
Here was a band who never really belonged and who never really wanted or knew their place in the glittering world of the music industry; influence from the sixties, sound from the seventies, philosophy from the eighties. So it was that in their unquenchable and unashamed desire for success and rock star cliché, they were almost hair metal – much in common with what Nirvana had aimed to permanently blow out of the water just as Oasis were coming in to being.
Yet in approach and aesthetic the Oasis of 1994 could be described as the final true British punk band. Staunchly working class, they embraced and championed a D.I.Y ethic to their musicianship which gave countless young Britons a belief that yes, they could do it too. Consequently almost overnight the live music scene exploded in the UK and a thousand new bands were formed in garages up and down the land. It is an impact which still ripples to this day and which, as ‘Definitely Maybe’ is passed down on CD, tape, vinyl, mp3 or whatever form best pleases from parent to child, older to younger sibling, friend to friend, will carry on forever.
And in Noel Gallagher’s sometimes nonsensical but often inspired lyrics, Oasis were subconsciously tied to the down and out Lancastrian poets which had led post-punk and new wave before them. Thumb through ‘Shakermaker‘ and behind the aped Coca-Cola melody are constant references to a private past, be it prepubescent toys or the local record shop which helped to shape a musical path. ‘Up In The Sky‘ is a basic but furrow-browed attack on the establishment, ‘Supersonic‘ – on the LP in virtual demo form – is so earthy in its genesis that it speaks of a bothersome dog which frequented the studio the very night the song was completed. In one white-hot line on ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol‘, where he ponders whether it’s, ‘Worth the aggravation/to find yourself a job/when there’s nothing worth working for’, Noel almost accidentally lent a voice to his own disenfranchised generation, of which Oasis were soon to be sultans.
Like all classic debut albums ‘Definitely Maybe’s opening gambit sets out a master plan. Tonight, and every night, they’re Rock ‘N’ Roll Stars; living, breathing all we naively believe that to stand for. Long before record deals Rock ‘N’ Roll Stars on the dole queue, Rock ‘N’ Roll Stars stuck on their father’s construction site, Rock ‘N’ Roll Stars playing to an empty room in Leeds save for a confused patron behind the bar.
Its genesis goes even further back, to a teenage Liam Gallagher eyeing up the moves of The Stone Roses‘ Ian Brown, discovering a dormant love for music he just had to act upon. ‘I can do that’, whispered the unshakable ego of one with a truly great frontman about to burst out from within. It goes back to Noel Gallagher, the best songwriter of his era locked inside a British Gas warehouse, foot in plaster, passing the time by quietly, acoustically, sculpting the bulk of a landmark album. To Liam’s audition in his future bandmate’s front room, apparently singing like an angel. And eventually to when the brothers, trapped together by a shared bedroom throughout their childhood, were once again brought together by a shared dream of one day not being here but being there. Of too much confusion. Of nothing being the same.
Bullying their way on to a bill in Glasgow they had no right to be on, Oasis brought Creation Records boss Alan McGee under their spell. With the patriarch they needed in their corner by the start of 1994 the band were in Monnow Valley, but all was not well. Leaking through the studio walls was the visceral engine which had in a single night won them a record deal on a wing and a prayer. With the gang, used to being stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the front line of battle here separated and individual, recoiling in unfamiliar territory, what their inner circle had come to know as Oasis drifted softly into the overcast, wintry Welsh skies.
At the third time of asking engineer Owen Morris – perhaps the only man to ever make sense of Oasis in the studio – brought the months of aborted sessions together. If it was just simple brickwalling, it worked. The power now so synonymous with ‘Definitely Maybe’ was captured. It’s a power which bellows from the funnels of a no-frills rhythm section comprising Guigsy and much-maligned drummer Tony McCarroll, whose basic style proved not enough for the future, but perfect for this album, adding more to that authentic punk ethos.
Further ahead the speed-bag guitar playing of Bonehead, all expressionless, chord crunching magnetism, brought the rock to Noel Gallagher’s roll. But the real instrument of note is the voice; Liam Gallagher’s stunning blend of emotion and intensity, perhaps the only singer in existence who could ever have kept up with the relentless noise of the band he fronted.
Liam Gallagher is the sound, face and beating heart of ‘Definitely Maybe’. The living embodiment of its attitude and its prevailing message that anything is possible. The man who, still to this day, lives for the stars that shine and who needs to be himself, ‘cos he can’t be no-one else. On ‘Slide Away‘ he’s never sounded better, coursing with spine-tingling fervor.
On ‘Live Forever‘ his delivery grants the song its legendary status. Ah yes, ‘Live Forever’ – ‘the song that changed everything’ and indeed the sharpest example of that intense combination of songwriting and showmanship which, in equal measure, made Oasis what it was. Take the singer away and we still undoubtedly have a special song on our hands, but perhaps nowhere else is it better fitting to pause and reflect on just how crucial that vocal fairy dust was to his older’s brother’s craft.
Despite spending most of its life as a study in infectious, naked rock ‘Definitely Maybe’ is nevertheless notable for occasional variety; lurching from one end of the scale and the full on urgency of ‘Bring It On Down‘, barking at all the uninvited guests who stay till the end, to the other and the surprisingly jaunty nature of ‘Digsy’s Dinner‘, whose tongue-in-cheek piano tickling and playground verse is saved from oblivion by another life-affirming chorus, and finally to the disillusioned lament of ‘Married With Children‘; Liam Gallagher showing off more depth in bringing everything back full circle to a Manchester bedroom and the earliest 1993 sessions.
On the coat-tails of three preceding singles, each surpassing the last, ‘Definitely Maybe’ became the fastest selling debut album in history upon its release at the end of August 1994. It sparked many an imitator, an army of feverishly loyal fans envied even by the Kippax and, above all, a meteoric rise to global fame for Oasis. A year later ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?‘, record breaking nights at Earl’s Court, at Knebworth, at Maine Road. Aborted US tours. Break-ups, walk-outs and reconciliations. Britpop and all that.
‘Definitely Maybe’ barely had time to breathe before the headlines and urban legends were being written. Already there had been Wibling Rivallry, high jinks on ferries to Amsterdam and punch-ups in Newcastle. Liam Gallagher revealed himself to be the full package. Not only the voice, but the charisma, the mayhem and the looks of a genuine star. British rock’s last. His true calling found. “Music, music music,” Noel Gallagher pleaded, but despite the almost-equally classic LP which followed it, and the legendary concerts which cemented their legacy, Oasis was a band destined to eat itself in a gorge of success, debauchery and notoriety which for an all-too-brief period only the Fab Four could relate to.
Now, two decades on, everyone has their own opinion. Twenty years of trials, tribulations and fall-outs barely scratched at here has long since clouded any subjective judgment on the brothers Gallagher. At this anniversary time then, with ‘Definitely Maybe’ receiving an extensive reissue (the two immediate successors will soon follow under the banner ‘Chasing The Sun’), it’s as good a point as any to take stock and pick through the cobwebs of time, gazing with fresh eyes upon what ‘Definitely Maybe’ actually is, and why it made Oasis heroes.
In doing so it reveals itself to be an album of the kind we will not see again, painting a picture of the culture those five bandmates knew and grudgingly loved. A world now largely shut off – even scorned at – by the music degree clique which today painstakingly, obsessively fights to mould public opinion. It doesn’t glorify their world but begs to be released from it, yet the constant narrative and unrelenting positive vibes reveal a deep affection – as if they knew the album was their ticket to a new life and were already dwelling on that reality via a homesick, rose-tinted postcard home.
‘A working class hero is something to be’, John Lennon sardonically once said. But for Oasis it really was something to be. And for all those qualities, ‘Definitely Maybe’ has a universal appeal which transcends any political or class lines. Everyone has something they want to run away from, everyone occasionally daydreams of a different reality and, above all, anyone can be cast under the spell of a young band playing damn good rock and roll.
Strip away layer upon layer of history and what we’re left with is an album packed full of timeless anthems. Packed full of hope, of escapism, of unrivalled dynamism.
What we’re left with, is the greatest debut of all time.