Previously, I’ve written about many different albums, and in many cases, these albums have been both innovative and commercially successful. This article is about an album that was one of the most successful of the 1990’s, but unlike many of the albums I’ve previously written about, didn’t feature a particularly innovative sound. This album wasn’t a fusion of dance and rock, it didn’t rely heavily upon synths or samples, no, it looked to the past, and reinvented and revived interest in guitar bands. Released in August 1994, Oasis’ debut album Definitely Maybe was met with critical acclaim, and upon its release, was a huge commercial success. Suddenly, Oasis were one of the biggest bands on the planet. The question is, how did two brothers from Manchester suddenly become two of rock music’s biggest stars?
Oasis were originally called The Rain, and when they formed, consisted of Liam Gallagher, Paul McGuigan, Tony McCarroll and Paul Arthurs. Later, former Inspiral Carpets roadie, and Liam’s brother Noel Gallagher, was asked to join the band. As part of agreement regarding him joining, Noel demanded complete control of the group. Previously, he’d been an aspiring songwriter, and had amassed many songs. These would replace the material the band were previously using.
Creation Records signed Oasis in 1993, and towards the end of the year, a limited edition 12” single was released, for journalists and radio stations. Quickly, it was picked up by BBC Radio, who played the single nineteen times in the fortnight after the record was released. This was almost unheard of, for a record not yet available in record shops. By April 1994, their debut single Supersonic was in the shops. It was followed by Shakermaker in June 1994, which entered the singles charts at number eleven. Such a high placing on the singles charts earned Oasis their debut on Top of the Pops. Another two singles, Live Forever and Cigarettes and Alcohol, were released from the album.
Definitely Maybe was recorded between January and April 1994, at the Monnow Valley Studio, near Monmouth. Dave Batchelor was originally chosen to produce the album. Noel knew him from his days working as a roadie for Inspiral Carpets. Things, however, didn’t work out. The sound was deemed too clean by the group, not what they were wanting, or were about. After returning from a trip to Amsterdam, the grouped decamped to the Sawmills Studios in Cornwall. Instead of Batchelor, the sessions were produced by Noel Gallagher and Mark Coyle. Noel wanted to replicate the group’s powerful live sound. To do this, he decided to record everything together. He set about removing the soundproofing between the individual instruments and let loose. Still, this didn’t bring about the sound they wanted.
By now, Oasis realized that it was unlikely their record company Creation, would pay for the tracks to be rerecorded. Instead, Marcus Russell at Creation contacted Owen Morris. He was a former recording engineer, who was now a producer. After hearing the recordings from the Sawmills sessions, Morris was told to do what was necessary to rescue the sessions. One of the first things he did was to strip away layers of guitar overdubs. This had the effect of totally transforming the sound.
Before the release of Definitely Maybe, another single Live Forever, was released. This gave Oasis their first top ten single, and whetted the music buying public’s apatite for the album nicely. Due to Creation Records ongoing financial problems, a budget of £60,000 was all that was allowed to promote Definitely Maybe. This didn’t seem to matter, because on its release, it sold 86,000 during the first week of its release. Definitely Maybe debuted at number one in the UK album charts. It became the fastest selling album in British history. Having achieved commercial success, the album was also critically acclaimed. Music critics loved the album, and gave it glowing reviews. Since its release, the album has sold millions of copies worldwide. In the UK, it was certified platinum seven times over, selling over 2.1 million copies. This was Oasis’ best selling album in the US, selling over one million albums, reaching number fifty-eight in the Billboard 200. So what made Definitely Maybe such a good album, I’ll now tell you why.
Definitely Maybe opens with Rock ‘n’ Star, a song which when it emerges out of your speakers, is just a totally infectious, hook laden slice of good time guitar rock. From the screaming guitars that greet the song’s arrival, which combine with bass and guitars to provide what can only be described as a wall of sound. Liam’s vocal is sometimes sneering as he sings the lyrics, which he’d later live fully. He became the song’s rock ‘n’ roll star, lived the life and came out the other side unscathed. For just over five minutes, you hear guitars as the should be played, they scream, screech and produce some stunning solos. Towards the end, the sound verges on chaotic, as it screams and howls, feeback screeching, testing your speakers tolerance. Thankfully, chaos is narrowly avoided. Owen Morris has produced a huge sounding song that drives along, one that you can’t help but be enthralled by. Morris’ production brings out the best in the band, the result being one of Oasis’ best ever songs, one that still sounds as good seventeen years later.
Shakermaker begins with a guitar playing, the sound isn’t as full and crystalline clear, but still is just as loud. Quickly, this changes, and the rest on Oasis join in. Again guitars and drums play the biggest part in the sound. Guitars, like before are loud, screaming, drums are pounded, enduring severe punishment from Tony McCaroll. Feedback shrieks, and at the front Noel’s vocal is charismatic, he sings slower, his voice soaring, yet always in control. Unlike Rock ‘n’ Star, Shakermaker isn’t quite as hook laden. Instead, it’s a powerful and impressive sounding track. Here, it’s as if Oasis have decided to produce Manchester’s version of Phil Spector’s wall of sound. Their version is impressive, the result stunning. In Shakermaker, they’ve produced a track, that few of their peers could even think about producing.
Drums play at the beginning of Live Forever. It’s almost a subdued start. Little do you know what’s about to happen. Even when Noel sings, his vocal starts quietly. Quickly, though the song opens out. His vocal soars, around him song opens out, the arrangement gets fuller. Guitars join, they chime brightly, drums play behind them, and the bass sits way back in the mix. Noel’s lyrics are positive, about eternal life. Once the arrangement fills out, it’s a combination of soaring guitars, producing the most glorious sound. Their sound matches the positivity, and like previous tracks, it drives along, benefiting from a fuller arrangement. Like Rock ‘n‘ Roll Star, Live Forever has an anthemic sound to it. It also has a timeless quality. I’ve always though Live Forever is a great song, one of the album’s highlights. It’s a combination of great lyrics, played and sung brilliantly and arranged perfectly by Owen Morris.
Up In the Sky literally bursts into life when guitars open the track. When drums and Noel’s vocal join, the song sounds not unlike the Beatles in parts. The Beatles were a huge influence on the Gallagher brothers, and although they never produced a similar sounding song, elements of the track have similarities. For me, it’s the vocal and some guitar parts, that lead to this comparison. Overall, Up In the Sky is a brilliant slice of sixties influenced power pop. Guitars drive the track along, drums pound away in the background, and Noel’s vocal is strong and load, as it soars above the rest of the arrangement. Like the preceding tracks, the guitar playing is stunning, and was one of the things that made Oasis such a great band. It was Oasis that reinvented the popularity of the guitar band. However, with the ability to produce such a great track, they were peerless, most other bands were mere pale imitators.
Feedback screams, emerging from the distance, a bass plays, drumsticks are hit together, and the whirlwind that is Columbia is off. Guitars play, they growl, drums play and Noel sings. His voice seems slightly buried in the mix. It’s as if he’s being overpowered by the sheer power of the rest of the arrangement. When the rest of the band join on backing vocals, their voices are almost hidden. This is a shame because around them, the rest of the arrangement is unrivaled by its power. Columbia must feature the band at their loudest. The sound of the guitars literally overpower you. You can’t help but be impressed by the sound’s power. Later, when backing vocals momentarily emerge from the arrangement, they’ve an early 1970’s glam rock sound. My only quibble with Columbia would be to move the vocals slightly further forward in the mix. Apart from that it’s a good track, with an impressive, powerful sound.
Like Shakermaker, drums begin Supersonic, and like Shakermaker, guitars quickly join the frae. Supersonic showcases Oasis’s talents brilliantly, it shows what they’re all about. Here they take clever, witty lyrics, add Noel’s self assured, sometimes sneering vocal, add some brilliant guitars, pounding drums and bass. That’s the recipe for Supersonic. What follows masterful. During nearly five minutes, Noel’s vocal is one his best on Definitely Maybe. He sometimes sneers as he sings. At the same time his vocal is laden with character and confidence. Sometimes, this seems to border on arrogance, such is his confidence. Behind him, the rest of the band pull out all the stops. They produce one of their best performance. Everything seems just to come together, they sound like seasoned veterans, not debutants. Like before, the guitars sound crisp and clean as they soar, screaming and chiming. They’re accompanied by the rhythm section. Bass and drums fill out the sound. It’s the drums that play the biggest part in accompanying the guitars. Together, they’re responsible for the magnificent soundscape that is Supersonic. However, it’s Noel’s lyrics and vocal that add the finishing touches, and ensure that Supersonic is one of the most memorable tracks from Definitely Maybe.
At the start of Bring It On Down the sound begins hesitantly. That’s just momentarily. Then Oasis head off into a really rocky sounding track. It sets of at a furious pace, all howling guitars, crashing guitars and Noel’s powerful vocal. Sometimes, his vocal is laden with effects. Bring It On Down bowls you along in its wake, its power and intensity remarkable. It’s like controlled aggression, which Owen Morris has harnessed perfectly. In doing so, he was able to reproduce what Oasis’ live sound was like. If Bring It On Down was an example of their early live sound, then it must have been one of the best live shows around.
Probably the best known track from Definitely Maybe is Cigarettes and Alcohol. Since the first time I heard the track, I’ve always thought the introduction sounded not unlike Neil Young’s Motorcycle Mama. Maybe that’s just me, but there’s something about the guitar line that’s similar. Once the track starts, it’s Noel and Oasis at their best. You can almost imagine Noel strutting around as he almost spits out the lyrics, his confidence brimming over. Likewise, the rest of the band sound just as confident as they produce the best track on the album. A wall of guitars combine masterfully, producing a sound that howls, screams and shrieks. All of which sounds tuneful and brilliant. Drums provide the track’s heartbeat and deep down in the depths of the mix, the bass plays. Overall it’s a potent combination, and is both melodic and full of brilliant rhythms. Cigarettes and Alcohol is not only the best track on Definitely Maybe, but one of finest songs they recorded. You’ll only need to hear it once to realize why.
Digsy’s Diner is a very different track from other tracks on Definitely Maybe. Like several previous tracks, guitars start the song. These guitars have a choppy sound, and are accompanied by drums. Still the sound is loud and full. Occasionally, this fuller louder sound is bordering on frantic, and Noel’s voice seems overwhelmed by the power. One difference, is the brief appearance of a piano, which tinkles away. That’s the only different ingredient with the music. Still you hear the guitars, drums and bass, but here, the lyrics aren’t as strong as previous tracks. That and the vocal are disappointing. It isn’t that the vocal is bad, it’s just it’s overpowered by the rest of the arrangement. Having said that, it’s a decent track, just not up to the high standard of the previous tracks.
An track of epic proportions awaits the listener with Slide Away. Thankfully, it’s a return to form for Oasis. From the start, you realize a good track is emerging. Guitars play brightly, they’re slower, less frantic than on Digsy’s Diner. Drums are slower, and spacious. Even Noel’s vocal is better than on Digsy’s Diner. It’s clearer, stronger and here, it’s slower. His voice is really good, and is suited to the song. The guitars soar, they sound crystal clear, as they chime brightly. Although it’s a slower song, the arrangement is still quite full, though not as full as other tracks. As the track progresses, the sound increases. Towards the end, the arrangement gets fuller, and climaxes in a crescendo of screaming guitars and pounding drums. In the end, Slide Away was a welcome return to form after Digsy’s Diner.
Definitely Maybe close with Married With Children. It’s a very different track to the rest on the album. On this track it’s just Noel singing backed by guitar. His voice us much quieter, gentler as he sings the lyrics. The lyrics are just as good, and the first time I heard this track it came as a nice surprise. To me, it showed a very different side of the band, and was a good way to end a great album.
When I started writing this article and realized that it was seventeen years since Definitely Maybe was released, i found that hard to believe. In the seventeen intervening years, a lot has happened. Oasis released six further albums, the best of which was (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, their second album, released in 1995. In 2009, Oasis split up, in acrimonious circumstances. Since then, solo albums have been made and released. However, it would be hard for either Gallagher brother to top Definitely Maybe, a brilliant debut album. Definitely Maybe was packed full of great music, songs that had guitars at their heart, songs you could sing along to, and songs that seventeen years later, sound just as good. It was also an important album for music. Suddenly, guitar bands were back in fashion. Leading the way were Oasis. In all honesty, they were peerless, and even the arrival of Britpop, didn’t stop the Oasis juggernaut. Quite the opposite, Oasis’ career at the top outlasted any of their Britpop rivals. During an eighteen year period, they produced seven albums, two of which Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, are among the best albums released in the past twenty years. Anyone who hasn’t heard Definitely Maybe should buy it, it’s one of the best debut albums you’ll hear. To keep it company, why not buy (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, another great album, where Oasis developed and refined their sound, producing just as memorable album as their debut. Standout Tracks: Rock ‘n’ Star, Live Forever, Cigarettes and Alcohol and Slide Away.