Twenty years have passed since Oasis released (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
Which means that 20 years ago, you and I were listening to Champagne Supernova for the first time and had probably never even heard of a Wonderwall.
These were the mid-1990s and the last year’s of John Major’s government before Tony Blair and New Labour swept into Downing Street. The reigning Premier League champions were Blackburn Rovers and Britain’s very own Frank Bruno was boxing’s Heavyweight Champion of the World.
This was a time before iTunes vouchers. It was a time when people actually thought about the music they gave as a gift. A time when music piracy and copyright theft amounted to copying a few CDs and cassettes from your mates, one tape at a time.
Those were the days when we played every track in an album in order and learned every word of every song on that bit of plastic we’d bought from Woolworths for some extortionate price. In fact, this was a time when HMV, Woolworths and Our Price took up acres of your local shopping centre and Amazon was still just a fairly long river with a jungle round it.
This was a time when Britain’s biggest band, Oasis, releasing the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut “Definitely Maybe” could still sample Gary Glitter on the album’s opening track with complete innocence.
(What’s The Story) Morning Glory? sold 347,000 copies in the UK in its first week alone and has since sold an estimated 22m records worldwide (God only knows how many blank cassettes were sold in October 1995).
The album reached the top of the charts across Europe and no 4 in the US, meanwhile singles Wonderwall and Champagne Supernova reached no 1 in the States. Yet the story persists that “Oasis failed to break America” despite chart success and the influence the band had on acts including Ryan Adams, The Strokes and The Killers.
The real question must surely be, what on Earth were the Hungarians listening to in 1995 where the album peaked at just 32 in the charts?
Some Might Say that Oasis’ swaggering, staggering confidence coincided with the beginning of a kind of English renaissance.
“You’ve gotta roll with it, you’ve gotta take your time, you gotta say what you say, don’t let any f*cker get in your way.”
To many, the Gallagher brothers spoke to and for a generation. If Definitely Maybe spoke to our dreams of Rock ‘n’ Roll stardom, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? showed us the top of the mountain and how to climb it.
Every generation thinks they were the first to invent youthful rebellion. Every 15 year-old thinks he’s the first teenager ever to throw up on his Dad’s shoes. Your parents thought it, your grandparents thought it, Henry VIII definitely thought it. One day your own kids will remind you how old and feckless you’ve become.
In the mid-1990s, youth culture was given a different name, “lad culture” and Liam’s confrontational swagger was imitated in sixth form common rooms across the country. So-called “lads and ladettes” arrived swigging from a bottle of Hoopers Hooch around the same time as a growing feeling of English identity was coming to fruition. In the wider media, the mid-90s was a time for TFI Friday and for “reading” so-called lad-mags Loaded and FHM. Oasis were a lightning rod for the attention of a country who were about to see Paul Gascoigne and the England team mimic a drinking game when celebrating a goal at Wembley.
Others didn’t care too much for Noel and Liam Gallagher. “I like the music, I just can’t stand the northern twats,” being a fairly common feeling expressed; largely in response to a media who had cast the Burnage born brothers as a dysfunctional Royal Family for those who’d already chosen sides in the battles between Charles and Diana.
Sales of canvas Adidas trainers and bottle green duffle coats went through the roof, sales of tweezers fell through the floor. Years later, Liam Gallagher would cut out the middle man by launching the Pretty Green fashion label.
If Definitely Maybe had to some extent been a word of mouth hit, by the summer of 1996, Oasis at the peak of their power would play 2 nights at Knebworth House, each to an audience of 125,000. If the fact that a quarter of a million people had attended those concerts on the other side of the A1 from Stevenage, was not staggering enough; the most startling statistic must surely be that 2.5m people applied for those tickets. Imagine that? Oasis made 2.5m people contemplate spending an evening in Stevenage.
Cool Britannia and the notion of Britpop were about to break into the battle of the bands between Blur and Oasis, bringing Britain as close as it had been to civil war since the 17th century. Of course that was a complete load of bollocks. It has always been possible to love Blur AND Oasis, just like you can love The Rolling Stones AND The Beatles.
Later on in the decade, honing that new ballsy confidence of English expression, the swaggering, staggering v-sign; Ginger Spice and her Union Jack dress exploded onto Planet Earth. Nobody said it was all going to be good did they?
The 1990s were a time when there was a scene in Manchester, a scene in Liverpool a scene in Sheffield and an Ocean Colour Scene from Birmingham. The BBC were only just allowing people to speak with regional accents apart from clipped Home Counties tones. Music was accelerating as well as reflecting social change. For a while at least, as far as the media were concerned, there was life outside of London in the towns and cities of provincial England.
The influence of Oasis is not just seen in music of bands as diverse as Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian, it is seen in fashion, film, art and perhaps even politics.
Some Might Say Oasis were merely a Beatles tribute act, that Noel Gallagher ripped off riffs and chords from everyone from Stevie Wonder and Neil Young to Gary Glitter. To some extent, they are right, though he who thinks he is without influence is a fool. As Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso or Steve Jobs once said, “a good artist copies, a great artist steals.”
Noel, Liam and Oasis incorporated the ideas of others into their work but above all, what they brought was confidence, flair and a touch of the maverick. Better musicians have been and gone, Wonderwall has been covered by better vocalists, yet we have forgotten them all. Who wants to imitate Coldplay?
Oasis split in 2009 when Noel left the group citing irreconcilable differences between him and Liam and the band shows no signs of a reunion despite how commercial that venture would be.
Whether you loved or loathed Oasis, you had an opinion about them. Nobody was ambivalent to the music.
Twenty years on, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? still sounds like a great record and is commonly voted in the higher reaches of polls of the UK’s top albums, with singles Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back In Anger, Some Might Say and Roll With It regarded as anthems of the time.
Where were you while we were getting high?