Starting a rock band with your brother is a fantastic idea. Just ask Mark and David Knopfler, Ray and Dave Davies, Fred and Tony Doobie, Tom and John Fogerty. Or Liam and Noel Gallagher. What could possibly go wrong?
I was driving in San Francisco when a song came on unlike any I had ever heard before. The attitude, the aloofness, and the not-giving-a-fuck vibes were pouring out of the speakers, and by the time the first verse/bridge/chorus cycle was done, I was convinced that whatever I was listening to had to be that band that I had read about weeks back. Thus began a long and very rewarding relationship with a sound, an approach, and a way of looking at the world that has had a huge impact on me and helped shape who I am today … for whatever that’s worth. – Lars Ulrich.
Noel Gallagher was born in Manchester England on 29 May 1967. Gallagher had an unhappy childhood – he and his brothers were often beaten by their father, who was an alcoholic. Noel was followed five years later in 1972 by brother Liam. Their mother Peggy separated from her husband a few laters later. While I personally think the brothers Gallaher can rightly be called two of the biggest wankers in rock music, my feelings for them are somewhat tempered by the great affection for their mum I saw in the Oasis documentary Supersonic.
As you might expect from a couple of brothers five years apart raised by a drunk, the lads got themselves into trouble with the police on a fairly regular basis. Noel got tossed out of school for some infraction or another and at some point started playing the guitar, a gift from his mum who probably saw that he was headed for a life of perdition. It turned out that Noel had a songwriting gift and from then on “wanted to be Johnny Marr.”
By his own account in Supersonic, younger brother Liam had not much interest in music. Then, “during his teens, he suffered a blow to the head with a hammer from a student at a rival school, which he credits with changing his attitude towards music.
After this incident, he became infatuated with the idea of joining a band. He became confident in his ability to sing and began listening to bands like the Beatles, the Stone Roses, the La’s, the Who, the Kinks, the Jam, and T. Rex.
In the process, he became obsessed with John Lennon, and would later sarcastically claim to be Lennon reincarnated despite being born eight years prior to Lennon’s death.” The beginning of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is cribbed from “Imagine.” (I’d always heard the band had a Beatles fixation but interestingly this did not come up very much if at all in Supersonic. – ME).
Noel drifted off to become a roadie in a band about whom I know nothing called Inspiral Carpets. Meanwhile, Liam had realized he could sing and joined a band called Rain. Ironically, thanks to an Inspiral Carpets poster in the Gallaghers’ bedroom which listed the Oasis Leisure Centre, they changed the name of the band to Oasis.
Noel approached the group about joining with the proviso that he would become the band’s sole songwriter and leader, and that they would really work towards being successful. Noel’s direction seemed to be similar to John Fogerty’s – I’m in charge here, they’re my songs and keep it simple, stupid.
The combination of Noel’s largely upbeat songs with brother Liam’s snarly, almost whiny vocals made for a great noisy din. The guys were discovered at a gig in Glasgow in 1993 and were signed to a now-defunct label called Creation.
The band went into the studio with a shitload of great Noel-written songs and a ton of raw energy. For all that, they couldn’t get that raw sound they got on stage and eventually wound up playing “live” in the studio.
In August of 1994, the band released Definitely Maybe, not only one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard but also the album that just about single-handedly brought back guitar-driven rock in England. Together with their ultimate rivals Blur, this genre came to be labeled by the press as Britpop.
“Bring it On Down” wasn’t even THE hit from the album, doesn’t even kick if off. But it’s a fucking sledgehammer of a tune.
After the release of this album and the single “Supersonic,” the album went straight to number one in the UK Albums Chart and became the fastest-selling debut album in the UK at the time. I don’t recall this album having a big impact in the States at the time, perhaps mostly on alternative rock stations. Oasis were fairly popular over here but not the overwhelming social, cultural phenomenon they became in the UK.
There are so many good songs on this album you could literally just flip a coin. But I’ll go with “Live Forever,” and let Noel explain: “At the time . . . it was written in the middle of grunge and all that, and I remember Nirvana had a tune called ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’, and I was like . . . ‘Well, I’m not fucking having that.’
As much as I fucking like him, I’m not having that. I can’t have people like that coming over here, on smack, fucking saying that they hate themselves and they wanna die. That’s fucking rubbish. Kids don’t need to be hearing that nonsense.”
Liam and Noel, of course, got along famously usually referring to each other as cunts and hitting each other over the head with tambourines, guitars, cricket bats – whatever was handy. Noel even left the tour in America for a while, shacked up with a fan, and then came back.
Between the first and second albums, the guys gave drummer Tony McCarroll the old heave-ho. Noel said that he felt that McCarroll wouldn’t be able to handle the newer tunes. That sounds like bullshit to me. It’s not like they suddenly started doing prog-rock. I think it was just a personality thing.
At this point, the band got swept up in a press-created rivalry with Blur which eventually got real causing Noel to say – in the way that only a fucking wanker like him can – that he hoped members of Blur would “catch AIDS and die.” He apologized. Mum must have been proud.
In October 1995 the battling brothers released (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? “Gallagher’s compositions were more focused in balladry and placed more emphasis on “huge” choruses with the string arrangements and more varied instrumentation contrasting with the rawness of the group’s debut album.”
This album made Oasis – in a sense – the Beatles of their generation at least in the UK. According to Ulrich, “Wherever or whoever you were when it was going down, you felt it … in the streets, in the pubs, the music press, on the radio, in the gossip rags, the concert halls, and affecting everything from the way people dressed, the way they cut their hair, what football team they supported, the way people communicated, one’s accent … the list goes on and on. Everyone had an opinion. Everybody had a thought. Nobody ignored them. No one.”
In the States, this is the album that’s probably best known and probably where I came in. Back to that Beatle thing, “Wonderwall’s” title was influenced by George Harrison’s debut solo album Wonderwall Music. And again, for such an angry young man, Noel comes up with the most upbeat melodies and lyrics:
This album contains “Some Might Say,” which was Oasis’ first hit single. It’s hard to overestimate how perfectly Liam’s vocals go with his brothers’ songs. I remember watching the Bee Gees documentary and someone commenting on how only siblings can get to that place. In the documentary Supersonic, they talked about how Liam could usually just nail the songs within one or two tries, almost as if he’d written them.
Here’s the entire audience singing along. This may be at the gigantic Knebworth concert, not sure. That hands-behind-his-back thing is pretty much a Liam trademark:
I’ll leave you with probably my favorite Oasis ballad, “Champagne Supernova.” Paul Weller plays and sings backing vocals on this one. Beautiful chords:
The band continued along losing their original rhythm guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs. Zak Starkey became part of their touring band and actually recorded with them on 2005’s Don’t Believe the Truth. I had lost touch with the band but they lasted longer than I thought when in 2009, Noel quit and said he just could not work with Liam anymore
Both brothers have since launched reasonably successful solo careers and Oasis’s legacy as a great band is pretty secure. Liam and Noel are not currently on speaking terms. So it goes.