God bless the Gallaghers, A-students of rock history who knew their B-sides. Oasis singles are like mini-mixtapes, throwing in demos and live takes and remixes. Almost like Whoo Kid’s 50 Cent mixtape series, without the skits and gunshot transitions.
Take Me Away/I Will Believe (Live)/Columbia (White Label Demo)
Lyrics are not Noel Gallagher’s strong suit – “I’d like to be under the sea/but I’d probably need a phone.” But here’s the thing – it works. Noel’s songwriting is a good lesson for writers and artists. Don’t overthink, borrow what you need, be confident in your own voice. Of course it helps to have great songs and a crazy younger brother with a rock star attitude.
D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?/Alive (8 Track Demo)/Bring It On Down (Live)
And already we have a song formula – 7th chord riff, cribbed vocal melody, nonsense lyrics. “Shakermaker” is the most egregious of the Definitely Maybe tunes in this sense, but it might be my favorite. It just has a goofy charm, an absurd semi-blues with a Coke jingle melody. “D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?” is goofy too, with an acoustic slide riff like side two of Led Zeppelin III. “Alive” doesn’t sound like Oasis at all, all guitar arpeggios and an airy vocal melody. It’s okay but forgettable, unlike Noel’s best work which is immediate and undeniable. Glad they ditched the “Alive” formula after this.
Up In The Sky (Acoustic)/Cloudburst/Supersonic (Live April ’94)
“Live Forever” is an anthem, the sound of a club band with their sights already set on stadiums. I love Noel’s quote on its composition: “I remember Nirvana had a tune called ‘I Hate Myself And I Want To Die’ and I was like, ‘Well I’m not fucking having that.'” Nirvana has not aged nearly as well as Oasis for just this reason, and “Live Forever” is closer in spirit to Biggie’s “Juicy” than grunge or alternative rock.
Cigarettes And Alcohol
I Am The Walrus (Live)/Listen Up/Fade Away
Is it my ima-gin-a-shyun or does “Cigarettes And Alcohol” sound like T Rex fronted by John Lydon? Yes the biting is shameless this time but I’d actually say this is the first essential Oasis single. The B-side “Listen Up” is one of my all time favorites , a superhooky outcast anthem. I really hear “Listen Up” as a songwriting leap for Noel, moving from the pub rockers of the debut to the epic anthems of the (What’s The Story)Morning Glory? The live “I Am The Walrus” is a bit unnecessary but admirable how they turn it into a riffy singalong. Here’s a picture of the band in late 94 – where they’ve been and where they were going.
(It’s Good)To Be Free/Half The World Away/Slide Away
A stand alone single/EP, this one is a gem. “Whatever” is another instant classic anthem, feeling effortless and timeless all at once. Though we can quibble with the production: Oasis was always produced and mastered at full throttle, sometimes to the detriment of the subtleties of the songs. “Whatever” is more cacophonous than it should be, with lead guitars and drums fighting for space with a string ensemble. “(It’s Good)To Be Free” and “Half The World Away” are both keepers, as if the band was preparing their next album and their first b-sides collection.
Some Might Say
Okay let’s address an issue that will soon become a big problem. Noel Gallagher can write brilliant hooks and choruses, perfect for two-to-four minute pop songs. But at five plus minutes, these same songs tend to grate. Oasis were just not skilled enough to justify these song lengths – they were a competent band with outstanding songs. But these recordings are packed with piled on riffing and soloing to the point of bursting. The B-side “Acquiesce” is a fan favorite, one of the most famous flip sides in rock history. The B-side wins again, as Chuck D would say.
Roll With It
It’s Better People/Rockin’ Chair/Live Forever (Live at Glastonbury ’95)
“Roll With It” will always be remembered as an L for the boys. This is the one that went up against Blur’s “Country House” in the hyped up Battle Of Britpop. Even if Oasis won the album war, Blur took that singles battle. “Roll With It” just feels like a few disparate song ideas crammed together, a decent tune without any other purpose. Same for the B-sides – the craft is there but perhaps not the wit.
Round Are Way/The Swamp Song/The Masterplan
I can’t listen to “Wonderwall.” It’s dead. Long ago I drove away watching it being devoured by packs of zombies. Too bad, because it is a good song. Or was a good song. “The Swamp Song” is a pointless instrumental and “Round Are Way” should be “Round Our Way.” Proper grammar guys. But the elegant anthem “The Masterplan” is evidence of Noel’s songwriting peak in this era. You have to admire the audacity – another single with a stone classic buried on the B-side.
Don’t Look Back In Anger
Step Out/Underneath The Sky/Cum On Feel The Noize
This song has really aged gracefully – it goes to the gym, keeps a good diet, dates people half its age. I didn’t see this one coming, as it sounded too retro to me at the time. Like an old Bowie glam anthem with a new coat of paint. But I admit it’s a bloody great tune; where “Wonderwall” got swallowed up by instant fame, “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is more of a cult hit single, spread by word of stadium singalongs. The B-sides are all aces too: “Step Out” sounds like a sitcom theme song, “Underneath The Sky” is a road life outcast anthem, and the Slade cover “Cum On Feel The Noize” reclaims it from the terrible Quiet Riot version. Extra points for the Beatles White Album session reference on cover art.
Tedious. This song was all over radio and MTV at the time and it was fucking ponderous man. Divorced from that overexposure, it’s a good tune but still a bit overblown. Album ending tracks always predict the future and unfortunately for the boys this will hold true. Next up is Be Here Now.
Setting Sun w/ Chemical Brothers
Setting Sun (Radio Edit)/Buzz Tracks/Setting Sun (Instrumental)
I’m counting this as an Oasis single because it rules. Drug culture drives youth culture and in turn popular music, and “Setting Sun” with the Chemical Brothers was right in tune with drug culture in the late 90s. Trust me.
D’You Know What I Mean
Stay Young/Angel Child (Demo)/Heroes
Be Here Now was a bloated beast, succumbing to the worst Oasisian tendencies. Bad timing too – a formless, meandering album released the same year as Radiohead’s OK Computer, Spiritualized Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, and the Verve’s Urban Hymns. By contrast Be Here Now sounded lost and out of step.
“D’You Know What I Mean” was the perfect introduction too – a basic rock tune stretched out to nearly eight minutes and drowning in guitars, strings, and an airplane sound effect intro. Worst of all, the song really has nothing to say. Here’s an idea: if you’re going to release an eight minute single with airplane sound effects, how about having a point? The B-side “Stay Young” is better than half of Be Here Now and actually does have a message as simple as it might be: “Hey, stay young and invincible.” It’s a great little pop tune, concise and well produced – the opposite of Be Here Now.
Stand By Me
(I Got)The Fever/My Sister Lover/Going Nowhere
“Stand By Me” feels like midtempo Oasis-by-numbers. But I love the B-sides. “My Sister Lover” almost sounds like a feminist anthem: “Faith in the lord is something I could never have/Faith in my sister is gonna set me free.” Noel really can write great lyrics, simple and direct and relatable and humane. Maybe they don’t read like a great poetry and often they rely on simple rhyming crutches, but the songs connect with the audience. “Going Nowhere” is an older tune but it feels like the morning after the Be Here Now cover – how are we gonna get this Rolls Royce out of our swimming pool?
All Around The World
The Fame/Flashbax/Street Fighting Man
Noel’s Icarus moment, when his Beatles aspirations got the best of him. But this is the sort of big reach that separates Oasis from the pack. They were swinging for the stars and they hit a long foul ball. I hated this song at the time – too many key changes, chantalongs, and a delusional sub-Subarmine video. ’97-98 was a Wu-Tang era for me, I didn’t have time for this bullshit. But the B-sides “The Fame” and “Flashbax” are classics. And I don’t mind “All Around The World” these days, a testament to the infectious Gallagher audacity.
Don’t Go Away
Cigarettes And Alcohol (Live)/Sad Song/Fade Away (Warchild Version)
Another formulaic ballad with the supercringe lyric “Forever and a day” in the chorus. This single probably should have been “My Big Mouth,” though it didn’t matter much because Be Here Now was dead in the water by this point. The B-side Noel-sung version of “Fade Away” is definitive one, at least until the 2007 live acoustic performance later released as The Dreams We Have As Children. Yes that album was named for this song and yes it rules.
Go Let It Out
Let’s All Make Believe/(As Long As They’ve Got)Cigarettes In Hell
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants is my favorite Oasis album. The more carefully constructed psychedelic sound feels more focused and vital. The overdubs make sense, adding atmosphere and dynamics as opposed to brickwalled guitars. “Go Let It Out” is retro breakbeat Beatles complete with mellotron and one of Noel’s best melodies. “Let’s All Make Believe” is a stunning little song too – an eerie ballad with a cynical but I’d say realistic message. Topical too: it’s about the uselessness of idealistic words in a patently unjust world. Check out the demos from this era – Noel had enough tunes for solo double album and he’s been going back to this well ever since (“Revolution Song” from 2014’s Chasing Yesterday).
Who Feels Love
One Way Road/Helter Skelter
This one is way retro with droning vocals and late 60’s touches complete with sitar-sounding riffs. I can see how this didn’t catch on as a single but I still like it. “One Way Road” is a moody rocker that hints at early sobriety, again more like a Noel solo tune than Oasis. The really insane thing about this single is that Noel sings “Helter Skelter.” Why didn’t they drag Liam out of the pubs for that one?
Sunday Morning Call
Carry Us All/Full On
Noel has disowned this song for good reason. It sounds forced, with all the familiar little tricks like a key change leading into the singalong chorus. “Carry Us All” is like a more understated rewrite of “The Masterplan.” And again “Full On” needs Liam on vocals. I wish “Gas Panic!” had been the final single from this album – a more distinctive tune that eerily captures drug paranoia. Nonetheless, Standing On The Shoulders was not as well received and with the loss of the rest of the band, it was time for an Oasis reboot.
The Hindu Times
Just Getting Older/Idler’s Dream
“The Hindu Times” righted the ship commercially but I’m not a fan. It’s a bit generic, nothing Hindu about it and it’s not really with the Times. The accompanying album Heathen Chemistry is by far their worst. The band itself has gotten better with the additions of Gem Archer and Andy Bell, along with a more democratic songwriting workload. But nothing grabs you and the album is largely forgettable. I love the B-side “Just Getting Older,” though that dates back to the last batch of demos.
Stop Crying Your Heart Out
Thank You For The Good Times/Shout It Out Loud
A stately ballad with a simple uplifting message. “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” evokes a warm feeling despite its clunkiness. Best not to deconstruct it but just dig the vibe if you can. Andy Bell’s “Thank You For The Good Times” is good enough for an A-side, let alone the album proper. Why did it get left for a B-side? Heathen Chemistry needed all the help it could get.
Little By Little
She Is Love/My Generation
Terrible. “Little By Little” is so clearly constructed as The Big Ballad that I can’t take it seriously. “She Is Love” is slight and “My Generation” should have been a live recording.
(You’ve Got The)Heart Of A Star/Columbia (Live)
Even worse. In fact this is the worst Oasis single of all time. I actually think Liam wrote some great tunes during the run (“Guess God Thinks I’m Abel,” “I’m Outta Time,” even “Little James”) but this is not one of them. But ” (You’ve Got The)Heart Of Star” is a great little lost classic, a throwback to Noel’s effortless command of melody.
Eyeball Tickler/Won’t Let You Down
2005’s Don’t Believe The Truth was a good return to form, nothing new but basically a better version of Heathen Chemistry. “Lyla” mines “Street Fighting Man” for a stadium ready single. Gem’s “Eyeball Tickler” and Liam’s “Won’t Let You Down” are just sort of there, a competent retro sound but nothing more. Beady Eye here they come.
The Importance Of Being Idle
Pass Me Down The Wine/The Quiet Ones
Best Noel song in years – yes it’s Kinksy but it’s got so many great touches that it’s purely Oasis. “I begged my doctor for one more line/He said, ‘Son, are you crazy?'” Yup, that’s Oasis. And to continue the game of ‘spot the Beatles reference’ – dig the “Mr Kite” piano turnaround. “Pass Me Down The Wine” is a good pub folk tune.
Let There Be Love
Sitting Here In Silence(On My Own)/Rock & Roll Star (Live)
A rare Gallagher duet, like a ballad version of “Acquiesce.” “Let There Be Love” and “Sitting Here In Silence(On My Own)” both rip off Lennon piano riffs, although the latter song feels more Neil Young than Beatles. This illustrates their impasse – Oasis were never revolutionary, but by 2005 their act just felt too regressive and devoid of inspiration.
Lord Don’t Slow Me Down
A stopgap single to accompany a documentary of the same name. I like this one – it has the same Velvet Underground stomp as “Mucky Fingers” from Don’t Believe The Truth. Two versions are available but it’s worth tracking down the rare Liam vocal version.
The Shock Of The Lightning
Falling Down (Chemical Brothers mix)
Dig Out Your Soul was another departure into psychedelia after two straight rock albums. And just like Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants I dig it despite a few weak tracks. In fact side one is one of the best runs in the Oasis catalog, even if side two is one of the weakest. “Shock Of The Lightning” doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it sounds noticeably more modern than the last few rounds of singles. Sure it’s a bit of a Strokes rip off but Noel’s at his best when he’s stealing from somewhere.
I’m Outta Time
I’m Outta Time (Remix)/The Shock Of The Lightning (The Jags Kooner Remix)
Liam’s finest song is of course a Lennon pastiche. But there’s an elegant economy to “I’m Outta Time,” an epic ballad that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The remixes on all these singles are awful – just throwing in different beats and sounds for the hell of it. What’s the point? If it’s not Pete Rock, I’m not interested in remixes.
Those Swollen Hand Blues/Falling Down (Remixes)
A more refined version of “Setting Sun,” which itself was an update of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It always goes back to the Beatles. “Falling Down” looks toward Noel’s solo work – less guitars, more of a psychedelic pop sound. I love the lyrics too, evoking personal failure or the crushing weight of nationalism. The B-side “Those Swollen Hand Blues” has cool junkie ballad vibe (and it connects with the end of Don’t Believe The Truth‘s “Mucky Fingers” so they work nicely together if you’re making a personal Oasis mixtape.)