In the mid-to-late 1990s one could frequently hear Oasis referring to themselves as “the greatest/biggest band in the world” but was that true?
Well… definitely, in the sense that the records were selling in bucket loads, the shows were sell-outs, the headlines were frequent and Liam and Noel Gallagher were seemingly omnipresent.
No one can deny that.
But was Oasis actually a “band”? (shock reaction…)
This may well amount to nothing more than semantics, but I always felt a little doubtful during the late 90s whenever I heard it called a “band”, I mean, Oasis was all about Liam and Noel… wasn’t it?
One can argue, quite legitimately I think, that Oasis was always two destined-to-be solo artists squeezed into one entity, which, against and perhaps because of all the odds, was able to reel out the hits and achieve success.
This analysis is played out and proven by the fact that they are two solo artists nowadays, still having the hits and selling the records.
The Beatles carried on as solo artists, as the whole world knows. But they all did, all four of them and when they were in The Beatles all four of them contributed significantly (albeit to varying degrees) and so there is no doubt that it was a “band”.
Similarly, the other act Oasis liked to be compared with, The Rolling Stones, irrespective of line-up changes, was “a band”, made up of essential constituent elements, demonstrating a distinctive style of musicianship.
The problem is, if you’re going to compare yourself to these giants, to compete at this level, you better be good. Better than good.
Comparisons between The Beatles and Oasis in terms of the magnitude of their cultural impact or their musical output were and always will be, absurd.
Cream was a band, made up of three geniuses, whereas arguably, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was all about the guitarist, despite containing some superb musicians and really, the clue is in the name.
I suppose my contention is that the term “band” implies some kind of recognisable mutual input from all its members and maybe… just maybe, the Oasis of the late 90s didn’t have that.
Ironically, when it first started being noticed nationally, it was probably more of a “band” than it would later become.
Definitely Maybe sounds like a record by a “band”, however far from the truth that may be.
I am not disputing its status as a hugely significant record.
Moving aside from that for a moment and judging it purely on the sound, three main points occur to me.
Firstly, the songs are well-written, largely masterpieces, some of which lean heavily on influences here and there, but essentially a consistently great selection of properly-structured tunes.
Secondly, the songs are given a turbo-boost by the delivery of the vocals, a weapon few before or since have had the advantage of.
Lastly and very importantly, the record is given an air of unity by the fairly undynamic, yet completely uncompromising production, which packed a monster punch in 1994 and still does today.
So, that first album owes much of its success to the characteristic input of three people.
Noel and Liam Gallagher and producer Owen Morris.
Remember, we’re talking about a masterpiece here.
Would The Beatles’ Revolver be the massively significant milestone it is had it been only Lennon, McCartney and George Martin’s work that we hear?
Granted, it would go some way, but I’m getting off the point…
Also, great and timely as Definitely Maybe is/was, it still doesn’t bear comparison to a record like Revolver because it does not advance or innovate the way that record does.
Rather, it rejuvenates and kickstarts what Noel and Liam always like to call rock’n’roll, or guitar-driven music – “rock” if you like.
It does, as a result of the three elements identified above, have an attitude like few have ever had.
I was in a pub once in a northern region of the UK and Definitely Maybe was in the juke box and I played every single track one after the other.
Some bloke I’d never met in my life came over, pint-in-hand, when we were around Supersonic territory and addressed me directly, demanding to know “Did you put this on?”, to which I replied in the affirmative.
He took a large gulp and said, “Good man. I love this album. It’s got balls.”
There you go. Just one experience which confirms I think what most people believe about Oasis’ debut.
Good, well (or at the very least, loudly) produced songs, aided by swagger and bravado, which was to propel Oasis through most of the rest of the decade.
By the time their soon-to-be ubiquitous follow-up album was spinning in juke boxes, Oasis really had just become Liam and Noel… or Liam versus Noel, in the eyes of the press at least.
As their antics were magnified it threatened to eclipse the music… and then it did, which is a pity, because, contrary to popular peddled wisdom, the third album is not always the completely overblown mess that some critics, including the songwriter himself, suggest.
But by the time Be Here Now had come out, the Liam/Noel media obsession was at its zenith and even the comparatively anonymous “rest of the band” were starting to tire of it.
If it was a “band” at the outset, it quickly became about the songwriter and the main singer, and by 1997 Oasis was more of a movement or scene of its own – a media-driven hysteria machine.
After the madness of the 90s had subsided and media interest had moved on, Oasis did actually morph into something more like a “band”, with more dynamic production and more group input.
Technically by the time Heathen Chemistry hit the shelves, it was probably the best it would be as “a band”.
Its live shows were as powerful as they had ever been.
But it wasn’t “the biggest band in the world” anymore, because the media storm had largely calmed down.
When asked to describe Oasis in the mid-90s, Noel is known to have answered, seemingly glibly or arrogantly, “me”.
This kind of thing doesn’t support the concept of a “band” very well either and probably needled his brother more than anything else.
However, it is true that he was writing all the songs, heavily involved in the production of the records, playing all the gigs and exercising a lot of control within the chaos, which led to him being nicknamed “the chief”, while Liam belted out the vocals and sparred with the press.
In conclusion I think we can safely say that Oasis was the biggest genuine and legitimate musical phenomenon of the mid to late 90s in the UK, but whether it was a “band” in the truest sense of the word during that time… a grey area?
What I am convinced of though is that Oasis happened at a time when it was sorely needed.
The “band” – call it that if you insist, I’m just teasing really (after all, they did all perform) – put out some classics and the much-imitated but never-bettered Definitely Maybe is one of the rock and roll guy’s favourite albums of the last 30 years.