I spend a lot of time in this blog exploring things I enjoyed in the 80s. I never set out to do that, it just kind of happened. Today I'd like to look at my favorite band for the second half of the 90s and many years after:
Here's all you need to know to get through this blog:
- Oasis was a rock band active from 1991 to 2009. This corresponds almost exactly to when I graduated high school and when I started dating my eventual wife.
- They hit it big in the USA but were much bigger in the UK and Europe.
- The two mainstays were Noel and Liam Gallagher. In the early days Noel wrote all their songs, but their later albums have contributions from everyone in the band, particularly Gem Archer (formerly of Heavy Stereo), Andy (formerly of Hurricane #1) and Liam (author of an astonishing body of quotable remarks.)
I'm not going to get into any more biographical detail or music scene context than that. Instead, I'll do my usual schtick: Favorites, Ranked Least-to-Most shtick with pretend-math to back it up and lots of biographical asides.
Let's start with some of that. My near-constant companion in the 90s was my dearly departed friend Klum, subject of a few blogs round these parts.
|And many more to come, I'm sure.|
His Oasis fandom was legendary. Klum and I were living in Dayton in the mid-to-late-90s and were probably the city's biggest Oasis fans. I got him into the band, so I guess this means at one time I was Dayton, Ohio's biggest Oasis fan, but it didn't take long for me to fall into a distant second place.
It was Klum who got all the CD singles and the albums on vinyl and all the special editions of Q or Mojo, it was Klum who broke every bit of Oasis news to me from 1996 to the band's break-up in 2009, and it was Klum who sent me CD-Rs of Beady Eye and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds with exactly-reproduced album covers before I even realized they'd come out. You get the picture.
|For me, the two topics are indivisible.|
Quick housekeeping: I'm including the B-sides for each album's singles as part of that album. This led to some interesting statistical anomalies which I'll save til after the countdown, but it helps explain why three of my favorite Oasis albums take the last 3 spots. Of course, they're all favorites.
Ready? Let's roll.
It opens with the one-two punch of "The Hindu Times" and "Force of Nature," two of my all-time favorite Oasis/rock-and-roll-in-general songs, and then breaks into Gem's "Hung in a Bad Place," the soundtrack to the best Victoria's Secret ad ever made.
That opening drumbeat of "Force of Nature" was originally meant to be a sample of "Nightclubbing" by Iggy Pop, but apparently there was some kind of hold-up or they wanted too much money, so Noel looked up the model of drum machine used for the original recording and went and bought one. Nice workaround.
And "Songbird" and "She Is Love" are great tracks, as well. That's five great tracks out of eleven - not bad. It shakes out where it does here on account of its B-sides.
Oasis was known for the quality and variety of its B-sides in an era where the concept of singles/ A-sides-and-B-sides was anachronistic. By the time of Heathen Chemistry, though, the B-sides were thinning out.
Some of them (like "Thank You for the Good Times") are decent, but the rest - "Just Getting Older" (sounds like REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling" run through a Noel Gallagher Simulator to me), "Idler's Dream", "Shout It Out Loud" - don't do much for me. The only other B-side ("(You've Got) The Heart of a Star") goes on way too long. If Noel had ended it after that unexpected little accordion/bagpipe sounding melody - it should be synched up here - it'd be classic. Unfortunately it does not, and it all gets a bit tedious.
Let me get this out of the way, too - for some schlep like me to nitpick Noel's songwriting is the height of ridiculousness. That said, Noel can sometimes linger too long at the party with some of his tunes; practically every one of them could be shorter. "(You've Got) The Heart of a Star" is a good example of this.
Also a good example of his predilection for parentheses. Sometimes they add something to the title, such as "(Probably) All in the Mind." That suggests a double read, or ambiguity. Not so much with "(You've Got) The Heart of a Star; (what's the) point of the parentheses around "You've Got?"
|(I Mean) Really.|
DIG OUT YOUR SOUL
Oasis's last album is a damn strong affair. If you told me it was their best, I really couldn't argue. It's fantastic.
My favorite tune is probably "The Shock of the Lightning" or Gem's "To Be Where There's Life." Or perhaps "Waiting for the Rapture," which hits some listeners' ears as being too derivative of "Five To One" by The Doors. And while I can understand thinking of the Doors tune when you hear this one, the bass/drum combo supposedly being swiped is not the sort of thing anyone can lay authorship claim to. It's like trying to copyright the key of E or something.
That said, "(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady" is probably a little too much like Tommy Tucker's "Hi-Heel Sneakers" even if the chords are totally different. The chords are more like "Honey Pie" from The Beatles. Maybe. It brings the Beatles to mind for me more than Tommy Tucker is all I'm saying. Cool tune any way you slice it. (Again with) the parentheses, though.
As for the B-sides:
They're not bad, just there's only three of them. The best of them is probably "I Believe In All," for my money, although "Boy with the Blues" has a nice production sound that brings to mind Alone with Everybody-era Richard Ashbury. (i.e. awesome.) Space Klum says:
DON'T BELIEVE THE TRUTH
This album really has no business being as good as it is. It comes charging out of the gate with "Turn Up the Sun," which has a nice Doves-y quality to it. That works for me because I love those guys.
Then comes "Mucky Fingers." I've been working on this blog off and on for a few weeks and I think every day I've been doing it I've listened to this track. It's risen from a 4.5 star to a 5 star on my spreadsheet as a result. Which actually effs up these rankings, but I'm going to conveniently overlook that rather than re-work anything.
What an unsung tune, though. Jesus, we're an ungrateful goddamn species. Noel used to be a lazy lyric writer in my opinion, but somewhere around Heathen Chemistry he turned a corner. This one to me is just damn great. Chapeau to Dave Sardy of Barkmarket for the production. (Remind me to tell you stories of out-all-night rides home listening to Barkmarket sometime.)
Then comes "Lyla", and I always think Liam's singing "She's the queen of all ice cream" instead of what he actually sings ("she's the queen of all I've seen"). What a fist-pumpingly awesome bit of Oasis here. And then after three awesome tracks, the cheeky bastards throw four more of their very best work at the listener ("The Importance of Being Idle," "The Meaning of Soul,""Guess God Thinks I'm Abel," and "Part of the Queue") before ending with three not-so-stellar tracks. Who cares, though, when your first eight tracks are as good as this? Don't Believe the Truth is Oasis' Brave New World.
|As for the B-sides...|
Two B-side gems, though: "Eyeball Tickler" (more songs about cocaine!) and "Pass Me Down the Wine."
STANDING ON THE SHOULDER OF GIANTS
are clowns that caper in their sawdust rings?"
The above lyrics, from the album's first single "Go Let It Out," prompted no shortage of speculation from Oasis fans at the time. It was such an un-Noel lyric. Surely he had to crib it from somewhere? When asked in an interview he laughed and admitted he had, but from a public domain poem written by a 19th century American, Robert Lee Sharpe. Which then raised the question, uh, Noel, what the hell are you doing reading 19th century American poetry? I can't seem to find this exchange but I recall his answer was something like he'd been given the book of poems for Christmas by a relative, "a what do you get the man who has everything sort of thing." That always cracks me up.
It's also a great line. "Go Let It Out" is great populist rock and roll all around. During the live version on Familiar to Millions, a (likely inebriated) Liam sings it "that are like you and moi" for the "ordinary people that are like you and me" part, really dragging out the moi in his sneering fashion. Good stuff.
For some reason people don't rate this album as one of their best. I think it's because of the circumstances around it - this was their transitional record between the old line-up (Guigsy and Bonehead) and the new (Gem and Andy.) Not me, though. There are some clunkers ("Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is," "I Can See a Liar," "Roll It Over) but the rest is damn strong. Non-Oasis fans might recognize the opener as Brad Pitt's boxing intro music from Snatch.
The night this came out, Klum had a listening party (of sorts) at his place (of sorts) and then I drove home through a snowstorm and cranked it again. It was probably a night I should not have been driving, but when I hit "Gas Panic!" on side 2 in the thick of that nor-easter on Rte 295, it was Top 5 Epic Driving Moments of my life.
Of the six B-sides to choose from, three are fine but not personal faves (their version of "Helter Skelter," and two Noel originals, "One Way Road" and "Carry Us All," which is more or less a less successful version of "Flashbax") -
|"'Flashbax'?!" interjects Space Klum. "That's my favorite!"|
"I know but wait until we get to Be Here -."
"McMOLO!" (sound of drum set turning over followed by mad cackling and chain-rattling)
and the remaining three ("Let's All Make Believe" - somewhat appropos this week in the USA - "(As Long As They've Got) Cigarettes in Hell" - great song but again with the parentheticals! - and "Full On," another song about cocaine. But what a track! This is back when Noel shrugged off writing second verses for songs and just repeated the first. Who cares, though - are huge faves.
(WHAT'S THE STORY) MORNING GLORY?
Speaking of parentheticals... I love how there's a question mark at the end of "Morning Glory?" That is pure grammar confusion. Without the parenthetial, it's not a question, so why put it in parentheses and keep the damn question mark? I'm convinced this sort of thing cracks up Noel to no end and that's why we see it. Noel's given hundreds of interviews; I'm sure the answer's back there somewhere. If not, something to ask him at the next big party at Paul Weller's house. I'm sure my invite's on its way.
As a stand-alone album, this is probably my least favorite Oasis record, despite having two of my favorite songs by them ("Morning Glory" and "She's Electric.")
|Here is a picture of your humble narrator engaged in a "Morning Glory" singalong at my buddy Umaar's going away party. One of his many going away parties; his middle name is "Aloha." We were having a great time. Klum's there in spirit.|
The real strength of this album/era is the B-sides:
"Bonehead's Bank Holiday" - which Klum and I sang at the top of our lungs one night after shutting down the bar, prompting an angry exchange with our neighbor, an otherwise very nice redheaded girl whom Klum might have berated as "Strawberry Shortcake" during said tirade. The next day we felt bad and bought her a bottle of wine and she was really cool about it. Later still, Klum banged her, I think. Hey it happens, kids. Sooner or later Klum banged everybody. That's probably still true in the Great Beyond. - "Rockin' Chair," "Round Are Way," "Step Out," and head and shoulders above them all, "Headshrinker," among the fiercest vocals Liam ever recorded.
BE HERE NOW
Commonly known as Oasis' "cocaine album" - i.e. the one where there was too much money, too many drugs, and too much fame - Be Here Now is actually a pretty great record. (I'm kind of an apologist for cocaine records - Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, AC/DC's Flick of the Switch, any of Sabbath's multiple cocaine albums, etc.) Sure every song ends with two or three minutes of unnecessary swirly feedback and there are some clunkers ("Magic Pie," "Stand By Me," "All Around the World," though some fans consider these all-time classic Oasic tunes and more power to them/ you / everyone.) But the title track is great ("Wrap up cold when it's warm outside / your shit jokes remind me of Digsy's"), and "The Girl with the Dirty Shirt" is underrated.
The real magic, though? You guessed it:
"The Fame" - ("blowing through you like a hur!i!cane!") - "(I Got) The Fever" - do I even need to say it? The other parenthetical curiosity this time around is the last track of the Be Here Now album, "It's Getting Better (Man!)". That one cracks me up - "Going Nowhere," and two exceptional covers of Bowie's "Heroes" and "Street Fighting Man" by the Stones. All of these tunes (maybe not "It's Getting Better (Man!)" deserve hyperlinks, but I don't want to overload you. (Too late, most likely.)
And yes, Space Klum - "Flashbax." Which incidentally has now taken on new meaning since he caught the last train out. This whole album/ era, though, was when we were living in Dayton and living and breathing Oasis for so much of it. When I want a solid blast of Klum (gross) I'll throw on Be Here Now. That was true even when he was corporeal.
The high ranking for this was determined mostly by my love of the B-sides, but there's no arguing this is one hell of a classic rock album of the 90s or any decade. Some tunes (like "Shakermaker" or even "Rock and Roll Star," though if Klum saw me write that he'd be blowing up my phone with all-caps profanity) haven't aged as well as some of the others ("Columbia," "Supersonic," or my personal favorite off the record, "Digsy's Diner." That song just puts a smile on my face. I have no idea what "lasagnaaaaaaa" refers to; I'm just going to assume drugs.
And the album ends with "Married with Children," a perfect ending note for this collection of songs. Noel and the gang are very good with album-side-order. And album-order in general. Each album of Oasis' career makes perfect sense as a follow-up to the previous, and Definitely Maybe is a sensibly reckless debut for the band they'd become. I think once he referred to somebody's fourth album as a "great fourth album, specifically." I love rock-think like that, and I do the same sort of thing when trying to figure out a band's discography. Of course, in the old days when it usually took a band a couple of studio-supported albums to find its sound, that used to mean something different than it does now.
"I hate the way that you're so sarcastic
and you're not very bright
You think that everything you've done's fantastic -
Your music's shite,
it keeps me up all night, up all night..."
One of the tracks, "Up in the Sky" was also recorded as an acoustic version for one of the B-sides. I may prefer it. I've been going back and forth on this since the 90s and I don't see it ending anytime soon.
Other B-sides of this era that I've yet to get sick of: "D'yer Wanna Be a Spaceman," "Listen Up," and "Fade Away." That last one was later re-recorded with Kate Moss and Johnny Depp joining Noel in the studio. Just another day in the life. The original Liam-vocal version is the superior version, though, by far.
|"Dream it while you can / |
maybe someday I'll make you understand."
Also contributing to Definitely Maybe's taking the top spot are the "Whatever" single with its great B-sides "Half a World Away" and "(It's Good) To Be Free". I'm also including some of the other non-album tracks from around this time, like "Let Forever Be", Noel's collaboration with the Chemical Brothers, or Liam's and Noel's contributions to the Songs of The Jam tribute album ("Carnation" and "To Be Someone", respectively.)
Chronologically speaking, it's totally incorrect to group these last three songs together in the Definitely Maybe era; they all came out in 1999. But they'll always be associated with Definitely Maybe for me, as I had them on the same mix tape. Completely arbitrary, I agree - like everything else in this post. Or life in general.
~There you have it. Dear God I hope no one tried to click on every one of those links, but hey, as of Armistice Day 2016, they're all active and there when you need them. Go forth and preach the gospel. Before I call it a day, here are some special treats as derived from the spreadsheet I created for this post. (Methodology: I assigned a rating of 0-5 points for each song on each album/ era. I also added a Klum Factor Rating of plus or minus a point here and there - the kind of personal touch that distinguishes Dog Star Omnibus from all competition!)
The above rankings were how everything shook out by adding the album's total and its b-sides totals together.
Album with the highest average of 4-star-plus songs - Don't Believe the Truth
Album with the highest Klum Factor - Be Here Now
Singles-era with the highest average of 4-star-plus songs - Also Be Here Now.
Favorite Gem song - Either "Hung in a Bad Place" or "To Be Where Life Is".
Favorite Andy song - "Step Into My World." Too bad that was for Hurricane #1 and not Oasis. I linked to it above, but here it is again. I love that track.
Favorite Liam song - "Songbird" or "Soldier On". Maybe "Pass Me Down the Wine." Maybe "Love Like a Bomb."
Favorite B-side - Much tougher. Almost all of my favorite Oasis tunes are their B-sides. I've linked to most of them above. My least favorite B-side is probably "Idler's Dream."
Favorite cover song - NME says it's "I Am the Walrus," and while that's a charmingly unhinged cover of that classic, I'm going to have to go with "Heroes."
Favorite song to hear Klum sing in his Arnold Schwarzennegar voice: "Stay Young." And man, the lyrics never survived the attempt, nor stayed in the PG or even PG-13 (or even NC-17) range. They are far too controversial to reproduce here, or probably anywhere. But awesomely funny. Much like the man himself. (The awesomely funny part, at least.)
Here's to you, Oasis. And to you, Spaceghost Klum - you'all always live forever in these tunes for me personally. Hope you enjoyed all the Oasis talk and that hyperlinks work wherever you are. (The internet in general, I guess.)
|Klum's wearing the Oasis shirt I got him from the Tour of Brotherly Love here. Also pictured: Mike Haeflinger - go download his new stuff, it's free, and he's great.|