There are people out there who don’t like Oasis. Plenty, in fact. Some find the constant bickering between the Gallagher brothers tiresome, while others associate the band with the worst elements of lad culture, which also arrived in the early Nineties: the sexism, the boorishness, the lager lager lager. And there are those who simply don’t care for white, male rock music. But surely, even among the naysayers, there is no one who can deny that Oasis were staggering, swaggering, rock ’n’ roll stars.
It’s easy to forget what an impact they made when they crashed on to the UK’s music scene. One minute, the Top Of The Pops line-up was dominated by bands like Take That, 2 Unlimited and Ace Of Base. Then, seemingly from nowhere, five Manc lads strutted on to the stage, acting as if they’d always owned it and everyone else could piss off. Their early songs brimmed with self-assurance – Supersonic, Live Forever, Rock ’n’ Roll Star – and were all delivered with a snarl and a stare by singer Liam Gallagher. They knew from the start they were the biggest band in the world, and had nothing but contempt for the rest of us for taking so long to wise up.
As a teenager at the time, it was genuinely thrilling. Oasis, along with their Britpop peers – Blur, Suede, Pulp, and many others – felt like our music. These were our Beatles, our Stones, our Kinks and our Who. Finally we had bands to counter the claims of the elders that the old songs were the best. Sure, every generation feels that way, but I doubt the children of the Eighties ever truly believed, deep down, that Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet could lay a glove on their illustrious predecessors. But the Britpop bands produced a tsunami of tracks that still sound exciting three decades on. It felt like our lot just might be able to claim the musical crown for themselves. Especially with Oasis leading so assuredly from the front.
It wasn’t just arrogance and attitude which put them at the top of the pile, though. No amount of rock star posing can survive for long without the music to back it up. And Noel Gallagher, Liam’s older brother and Oasis’s chief songwriter, wrote some of the finest of that era.
Wrote – or borrowed? Because, brilliant as they are, there are few Oasis songs where the influences of decades past aren’t on display, and they are rarely all that well disguised. Noel was one of music’s keenest magpies, picking out the shiny bits he liked from others: a riff from T Rex, a melody from Stevie Wonder, and on Shakermaker, pretty much a whole song by The New Seekers – and everything slathered with a rich Beatles sauce. But the trick works if it’s done well, and in the band’s early years, Noel mixed his musical ingredients into something truly delicious.
Nowhere did he get the blend more perfect than Round Are Way, six minutes of raucous, rollicking rock ’n’ roll. ‘When people ask me what my favourite Oasis track is, I’ll often go for Round Are Way,’ says James C, which is praise indeed coming from the man behind the Oasis Podcast. ‘I absolutely love it: the horns, Mark Feltham’s harmonica throughout. It’s such a buoyant, joyous piece of music.’
That joy partly comes from a number of different sources. The lyric, an everyday tale of working-class life, is taken from the same page as Madness’s Our House.
The game is kicking off in around the park
It’s twenty five a side and before it’s dark
There’s gonna be a loser
And you know the next goal wins
‘It’s unlike anything else in their canon,’ agrees Richard Bowes, author of Some Might Say – The Definitive Story of Oasis. ‘Joyously naive but, rather than lamenting his upbringing, Noel was revelling in the simplicity of his home town youth life.’
The cacophonous brass towards the end brings to mind the Gallaghers’ beloved Beatles on tracks such as Good Morning, Good Morning or Got To Get You Into My Life. The band’s fondness for Slade is evident in the deliberately misspelt title. ‘And you can hear the influence of Everybody Needs Somebody To Love by The Blues Brothers,’ adds James.
To illustrate how consistently brilliant Oasis were in those early years, consider this. Round Are Way wasn’t a single; it wasn’t even an album track. It was a B-side on 1995’s Wonderwall single. On the same release was The Masterplan, a crowd favourite that would be the defining track for many bands. Many of their other great early tunes – Acquiesce, Underneath The Sky, Half The World Away, Rockin’ Chair – were given the same casual treatment. The question, asked to this day, is: why?
‘The simple answer is that nothing about Oasis was premeditated,’ explains Richard. ‘In the mid-1990s, during their imperial period, they were releasing high-quality songs at an incredible rate. Round Are Way, like The Masterplan, was just the latest song Noel had written, so it was immediately released as a B-side. Alan McGee, the owner of the band’s label, Creation Records, now states that it didn’t even occur to anyone that the songs would dry up. Noel Gallagher was a one-man song machine.’
While McGee’s confidence was understandable, it was also a little misguided. The Oasis back catalogue is the dictionary definition of diminishing returns. In 1995, the anthem-laden What’s The Story (Morning Glory) hit the heights of their breathtaking 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe. But from that point on, each album was markedly weaker than the last, that early vigour misplaced all too soon for meandering, over-produced albums that unfortunately make it easy for their many critics to deride them. Or, to put it another way: there’s not an album after 1995 that wouldn’t have been improved by having Round Are Way on it.
Oasis fans have often lamented this front-loading of quality in the band’s career. If only they’d kept a few of them back, they say, then they’d have produced even more classic albums. But that just wasn’t their style. Self-doubt, uncertainty, playing it safe… not the Oasis way. When you’re on top of the world, you believe it’s going to last for ever.
Oasis didn’t last forever, and nor did Britpop – but it was incredible fun while it lasted, for them and for us fans. The Nineties would have been a better place without the laddishness and the sexism but the decade – indeed, Britain’s glorious musical history – would be far poorer without Oasis.
James C is the host of the Oasis Podcast, released every few weeks and a must for any fan of the band, or of Nineties music in general. Episode 113 takes an in-depth look at the band’s B-sides @OasisPodcast