With the success of What’s the Story (Morning Glory) having catapulted them to the forefront of pop music in the mid-1990s, Oasis had high expectations to match their growing fame. Most groups don’t start off with two well-received LPs, but Definitely, Maybe (1994) and What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? (1995) were loved both critically and commercially. All signs pointed to Be Here Now, their 1997 album, being something quite spectacular.
What followed was not the completion of a musical trifecta, but the implosion of the vision many had for the band. Be Here Now, running well over an hour, was criticized for being a bloated and overwrought. Oasis, who were once the Most Important Rock Band in the World, trudged on for the rest of their career, never matching their early glory. (Personally, the much-despised Heathen Chemistry remains my favorite record of theirs, but very few will agree with me on that one.) Four studio outings after Be Here Now, Oasis broke up. The discography we’re left with is one most perceive as unevenly weighted: aside from the first two releases, most will argue, all there is to the group’s music is a bunch of Beatles-aping anthems indistinguishable from each other.
While Noel and Liam Gallagher’s love for the Fab Four is a little more than obvious, to dismiss an entire body of work with a lazy tag such as that is too reductive and easy for a critic to do. I would join the majority in the opinion that Oasis’ earlier stuff was their best, but I don’t think their later records are all dreck.
August marks the 15th anniversary of Be Here Now’s release. In light of this, Sound Affects will publish two List This pieces examining some of the overlooked parts of Oasis’ career. This first list considers their b-sides, in my opinion where some of their strongest material can be found. Most music groups nowadays don’t release CD singles, at least on a major level; a resurgence of this has been seen on independent labels, especially with 7-inch vinyl records. Yet Oasis kept putting out singles all throughout their career, spawning some pretty memorable tracks that unfortunately many Americans didn’t get to hear. (The majority of these singles were released solely in the UK.) For those of you not acquainted, here are ten of their best B-sides.
(B-side to “D’You Know What I Mean?”)
The seven-minute long “D’You Know What I Mean?” was an odd choice for the first single off Be Here Now, as its falsely epic structure is a microcosm of what most people disliked about the album. This demo of “Angel Child”, a pretty straightforward acoustic track sung by guitarist/chief songwriter Noel Gallagher, was the highlight of the CD single. What’s remarkable is how enchanting it sounds in this rudimentary form; demos tend to sound pretty lo-fi, but the guitar production here is crystal clear. It makes one wonder what this would have sounded like in a completed version.
(B-side to “Go Let It Out”)
“Go Let It Out” had the unfortunate burden of being the first single from Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, which followed Be Here Now. Given the latter’s middling press, hopes of a bounce back were no doubt present. But while Giants didn’t get horrible reviews, it certainly didn’t reclaim Oasis’ mid ‘90s golden years, and “Go Let It Out” ended up being a pretty underwhelming a-side. However the second b-side to the single, “Let’s All Make Believe”, in the grand scheme of things is one of Oasis’ better cuts, one that should have been included on the LP. The cynical chorus lyric, “Let’s all make believe / That we’re still friends / And we like each other” can’t help but echo the consistently erupting sibling rivalry between the Gallagher brothers.
(B-side to “Roll With It”)
Sure, Oasis has one too many anthems in their catalog (they were quite the rage back then), but they are quite good at writing the sort of brotherly love-based stuff that’s bound to get people singing arm-in-arm at a big stadium show. “It’s Better People” has a straightforward message (“It’s better people love one another / Because living your life can be tough”), but it’s sold convincingly by Noel’s great vocal delivery. It’s understandable why the band excluded this from What’s the Story (Morning Glory)?, as the flow of that record is excellent as is, but this ditty stands out well on its own.
(B-side to “Wonderwall”)
If there’s one single where it’s difficult for the b-sides to match the lead song, it’s without doubt “Wonderwall”. Oasis’ signature song remains popular still after all these years, but remarkably some of its b-sides have aged just as powerfully. The Socratic aphorism that makes up the chorus (“All we know is that we don’t know”) is one that’s been heard many times before, but it’s delivered with real power here. This song would later become the title for the 1998 b-sides compilation The Masterplan, one of the few ways most American listeners would be able to hear most of Oasis’ non-album tracks.
(B-side to “Whatever”)
Serving as a bridge between Definitely Maybe and What’s the Story (Morning Glory?), the non-album single “Whatever” is noteworthy for bringing us this plaintive strummer. While some of its musings aren’t really believable (“My body feels young but my mind is very old”—really, Noel?), it’s poignant, and even when it’s not believable it’s genuine.