Twenty years ago Oasis were at King Tut’s and in the process of becoming famous. Louder Than War’s Katy Georgiou looks back at just what it was that made them great.
‘This is history! Right here, right now, this is history!’, Noel Gallagher once shouted out to a 125,000+ crowd at Knebworth.
Just three years earlier, Oasis were playing to a handful of people at Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, unaware that metres away, a young Alan McGee was sipping his double JD about to make them a record deal. Twenty years on from King Tut’s, Alan is returning to the music industry with a new record label. As things come full circle, what better time than to look back on one of his most successful signings, and reflect on 10 of the things that made Oasis stand out.
1. Liam and Noel
Even now, we’re obsessed with these two. ‘Noel is the talented one’, some say, ‘Liam is the proper rock star’, chant others. But deep down we know that without each other to feed off, they would never have got to where they are now.
Liam’s frontman swagger worked well alongside Noel’s strategic brain. Liam’s emotive vocals carried the sentiment behind Noel’s lyrics beautifully. Together, their voices meshed. And the brotherly love that connected them together for so long is ultimately what made that band so interesting.
While off-stage, they appeared two big-mouthed (but misunderstood) lads, onstage, they were two kindred spirits who carried a narrative of shared pain and hurt behind them that resonated with a generation. Liam’s enigmatic surrealism was a humorous, curious contrast to Noel’s down-to-earth, acerbic wit.
There would have been no walkouts were it not for the tension between them. And no bust ups, means no news stories. The reality of the sibling rivalry, the honesty of it, the lack of pretence in trying to hide it, the relatability of it to others was refreshing and human, and ultimately what endeared them to so many.
It’s easy to take sides. We know the arrests, the drugs and the rock star antics would have amounted to nothing were it not for the love affair we had with Noel’s songs that gave our lives meaning. But the truth is, the anthems wouldn’t have packed as big a punch were it not for the intensity of Liam’s snarl, stare and swagger on stage that got people talking, and Definitely Maybe might well not have seen the light of day if Liam hadn’t started the band first.
‘We need each other, we believe in one another’ Noel sang on Acquiesce – the same song they sang together so beautifully at Maine Road in 1996, before Liam stormed off stage moments later when Noel said he got the opening to Whatever wrong. A reflection of their tumultuous relationship at its best.
2. The B-Sides
If there was one thing Noel had a knack for, it was writing brilliant B-sides, often better than the A-sides. Noel now curses the fact he didn’t save most of these for the third album, but truth is, he was that good a songwriter that he could afford to churn them out a dime a dozen with carefree abandon.
Who knows what spirit or drug he was possessed by at that time, but from Fade Away to Talk Tonight, there was a deeper side to Oasis that always came through in those songs.
Back when iTunes and Mp3s simply didn’t exist, it was an exciting part of the ritual to queue up for an Oasis single, unwrap the Cellophane and place the CD in the player in anticipation of the B-Sides that you knew you would love before you’d even heard them. And for many years, they didn’t disappoint.
It’s hard to believe that The Masterplan – the one song that probably captured the most profound statement of the spirit of what Oasis were about so perfectly – was plonked as an ‘extra’ track 4 on the CD version of Wonderwall. And how even now, some of the best B-sides Oasis ever did still remain a mystery to anyone who isn’t a die-hard Oasis fan – Take Me Away, for example, such a touching acoustic number, with an atypical country-twang and silky-smooth vocal from Noel, never even made the Oasis’ B-Side compilation – an indication of just how many great B-sides there were.
3. Their unapologetic attitude and self belief
‘We’re not arrogant, we just believe we’re the best band in the world’ Liam told us in the early days.
It’s an interesting debate – at what point does confidence become arrogance? But it’s what really made them stand out above the rest. Their ability to believe in themselves and encourage others to do the same was infectious and unique.
While many bands were graciously accepting awards, Oasis felt they deserved them – an alien and unsettling concept from a country that prides itself on polite modesty, and one that challenged our belief systems of the time.
Some called it arrogant, but the fans always knew – if you don’t love yourself, nobody else will.
4. Their ‘do it yourself’ ethic and down to earth spirit
Even at the very height of their fame, sipping champagne with prime ministers and holidaying in Mustique, Oasis didn’t hide behind five-foot walls of security and bodyguards.
To the end, they opened their hearts to fans, never compromised their integrity and walked the same streets we walk and kept true to the people. It shows a strength of spirit and resilience in the band members that was truly admirable, and gives every reason to suggest that they were good role models.
5. Their prolific hardworking ethic
For three years from 1993-1996, Oasis put out singles and toured relentlessly, and it paid off.
It’s hard to believe they had five singles and a debut album out in the same year, and then were straight back in the studio to record Morning Glory the following year.
By the end of 1996, they had gone from playing to a handful at King Tut’s to playing to 250,000 people over one weekend at Knebworth. That’s not bravado.
6. The way Noel played homage to his idols by ripping them off
The unmistakeable T-Rex opening riff on Cigarettes and Alcohol, the carbon-copy Imagine piano refrain at the beginning of Don’t Look Back in Anger, and the blatant rip off of I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing on Shakermaker: the boldness with which Noel emulated his heroes was cheeky, but genius.
Noel played with fire when it came to songwriting, but somehow you could never hold it against him, because he always managed to take those old songs and make them uniquely ‘Oasis’. Far from feeling like a rip off, it made us want to listen to those old songs and rediscover all the greats that Oasis shed new light on.
Many debate whether that’s genius or stealing, but that’s a fine line that not many can master.
7. Liam’s voice
When Liam was in his prime, his vocals were unrivalled by anyone. His ability to roar out lyrics while still sounding sweet like an angel was a marvel, and the way he articulated the feeling behind Noel’s words was at times truly heartbreaking and sensitive for a man so often slated for his hard-man exterior.
Many bands tried to emulate the style, but unsuccessfully. That lean forward, hands-behind-back, tambourine and ‘sunshiiiiiiiiiine’ snarl trademarked Oasis.
Bonehead said it beautifully once; ‘When you think of Oasis’ sound, it’s Liam’s voice’. If anyone else had sung Roll With It, it just wouldn’t have been the same.
8. Their anthems
Few other bands have ever been able to achieve the same hands-in-the-air anthems that Oasis were so famed for. They became a soundtrack to our lives, and the ability they had to get fully grown men arm in arm during a gig was a goose-bump inducing spectacle that remains unique to this very day.
Ask anyone what their favourite Oasis song is, and it’s like asking a parent to choose their favourite baby. Depending on what kind of mood you were in, you could find an Oasis song to match it, and just when you thought you had heard it all, along they would come with a better song that wrenched your heart and left you more in love.
It’s the stuff that built the fanbase, and why people remain fiercely loyal to this day.
9. The acoustic interludes
In the Morning Glory era, for every swaggering gig that Liam commanded, there was a half hour interlude, where Liam would walk offstage, and Noel would sit on a stool with a spotlight on him to sing acoustic renditions of Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger before anyone had heard them yet on record.
For that half hour, the stadium would be fixated on Noel in silence, a magical moment that fuelled the energy in the room.
That symbiotic contrast between Noel and Liam’s energy onstage will forever be etched in the memory of those lucky enough to have been there when that kind of magic was happening.
10. Their ability to affect a generation
Twenty years on, new Oasis fans are being born by the minute. There was something about the can-do positive attitude oozing out of the songs and through the band that was infectious, and it genuinely changed peoples’ lives.
Ask Miles Kane, Carl Barat, Glasvegas and Kasabian what made them want to pick up a guitar, and Oasis will always get a mention.
‘We will not be a footnote, but a footprint in the history of rock n roll music’ Noel defensively ranted in the weeks following Be Here Now’s release. Thankfully, their self-belief, talent and hard work paid off to make sure that those words became a reality.
All words by Katy Georgiou.