NOW 33: Oasis – Live Forever

‘Oasis was like a Ferrari: great to look at, great to drive but it’ll spin out of control when you go too fast.’ – Liam Gallagher

‘I’m in charge and Liam gets pissed off about it.’ – Noel Gallagher

A song from an album released in 1994 makes the playlist for a compilation released in time for Christmas 1996. Why? Knebworth.

I was eight when Oasis played their shows in Hertfordshire to hundreds of thousands of people. When I was five, on May 31 1993, Oasis had played a gig in Glasgow at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut. Alan McGee was in the audience and signed them to his label, Creation Records, which had put out indie music by Ride, The Boo Radleys and Teenage Fanclub. They will always be associated with Oasis.

Noel was five-and-a-half years older than Liam, who joined a band with Bonehead, Tony and Guigsy then let his older bro into the band with his songs. It was a way, said Liam, to release the aggression the singer felt at his dad beating his mum, Peggie. He says this in Supersonic, the film about the early years of the band. Noel never put it in song: ‘You’re carrying that weight all the way through life’ if you write about domestic violence, which led to Peggie and her three sons moving elsewhere. ‘It made me withdraw into my own world and from that came learning to play the guitar.’

Fun fact: Alan White, Oasis’ second drummer, was the brother of Steve White, who used to drum for Paul Weller and indeed can be heard on NOW 33. The drummer who plays on Live Forever, Tony McCarroll, is buried in the video to the song. Noel grew exasperated with Tony’s poor timekeeping and threw him out just before the cycle for the second Oasis album began. This is exactly what happened with Arctic Monkeys, who changed their bassist between the first and second records.

Bonehead told the documentary that Liam ‘had a great haircut and a great walk’. Liam praised how ‘we had spirit’ to make up for the fact they ‘weren’t the best musicians’. I think the band sold a swagger and an attitude, like the best rock musicians. Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Arctic Monkeys: it’s attitude committed to recorded sound, and people want to buy it. Record companies buy into it and make a lot of money off the back of their attitude and the enthusiasm it spawned, which could be converted into t-shirt and CD sales.

Noel had said early on that he wanted to rid the world of ‘junk food music’ like Sting and Phil Collins. To that end, they avoided the acid house scene in Manchester, instead rehearsing and playing gigs to nobody, not even getting reviews, with their guitar-heavy sound. After getting deported from Holland, the country would know their name and their music just fine.

Live Forever is heard on Supersonic, the film, in an acoustic form. ‘This is happening,’ remembers Noel of the moment. In 1994, the band went to Japan and experienced what the Beatles had had in 1964 in America. Noel almost went home, ended up in the arms of a strange American girl and wrote Talk Tonight ‘a thousand million miles from home’. The song was ‘only’ a B-side, though Oasis were so prolific that they could collect their B-Sides on an album, The Masterplan.

Talk Tonight was one of the songs that was in the mix for what became (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. The debut album Definitely Maybe, from which Live Forever came, outsold Pavarotti and Prince, boast the band on the film. 25 years on, it still sounds awesome thanks to the production by their live sound engineer Mark Coyle, who had met Noel back when they were on the road with fellow Manchester band Inspiral Carpets.

I considered inducting both Oasis songs which appear on NOW 33: the 1996 number one hit and the anthemic Live Forever, which also made it onto NOW 99 25 years later. Chris Imlach persuaded me otherwise. ‘It’s the millions of people who sing them back to you that has made them extraordinary,’ Noel says of his songs. After the Manchester terror attack in 2017, he donated all the proceeds from the sales of Don’t Look Back in Anger, sung by Mancunians in tribute to those who had died, to the charitable fund. Though Liam attacked Noel publicly for not performing it at the memorial concert, Noel’s quiet donation more than compensated for it.

Time will tell whether Noel will become his generation’s Paul McCartney, a loveable treasure on the road in his seventies, or Noddy Holder, a man who pops up once a year to yell It’s Chriiiistmas with a hardcore following. Liam, meanwhile, is the last great rock’n’roll star, which is why Live Forever, with his vocal, has been inducted into the playlist.

Elsewhere on NOW 33, it’s 1996 and Oasis ushered in a lot of guitar-led pop music from old and new favourites: Pulp (Disco 2000), Supergrass (Going Out), Blur (The Universal), Paul Weller (Out of the Sinking, with the aforementioned Steve White on drums), Cast (Sandstorm, which I liked more than Don’t Look Back in Anger), Terrorvision (Perseverance, with lyrics about ‘whales and dolphins’) and Lush, with Ladykillers, a fantastic tale of a lady and her male friends in Camden, the epicentre of Noelrock.

By 1996, however, the music industry had swallowed Noelrock and its creators. On the Supersonic documentary the man Noel Gallagher called the ‘fifth member’ of Oasis, Mark Coyle, says: ‘It’s now in the hands of the industry. The spirit of the band disappears and it’s all about the money.’ Mark left the Oasis train fearing deafness. Meanwhile, Oasis were feted with BRIT Awards and the Gallagher brothers kept baiting the tabloid press with opinions. Liam complains on the film that people from the start of the band were ‘pushed out’. In 1997, without Mark or their colleague Phil Smith, the band torched their career with the cocaine-assisted Be Here Now and never recovered.

Back in the past, struggling for relevance in the new age, were Queen, who were five years away from jukebox musical immortality and kicked off NOW 33 with Too Much Love Will Kill You. There were also Meat Loaf, with Not a Dry Eye in the House, and Cher, with the rather fun song One By One written by Anthony Griffiths. Status Quo teamed up with The Beach Boys for a version of Fun Fun Fun, which is charming but unnecessary, while Etta James’s I Just Want to Make Love To You soundtracked a male model drinking a Diet Coke in a TV campaign which suggested that ladies in offices should have a ‘Diet Coke break’ at 11.30am. I have never willingly finished a can or bottle of it; I don’t like carbonated drinks.

Mike Rutherford of Genesis had another hit with his Mechanics with the ethereal All I Need is a Miracle, remixed for an era where his former bandmate Phil Collins was stuck in the middle of the road. The song incorporates three keys and is a very clever song that shows that top musicians who didn’t need the money were still giving fans what they wanted. I wonder how many Oasis fans who bought NOW 33 dug Mike & the Mechanics.

Perhaps they preferred dance music, rotating between the Britpop of 1996 and the dance music of the likes of Baby D (So Pure), Gat Décor (Passion), Gusto (Disco’s Revenge) and Deadzone (Little Britain), a majestic instrumental whose title was used in a BBC comedy series in the 2000s.

No Oasis fan would admit to liking Simply Red (Never Never Love), Gabrielle (the pop-soul of Give Me a Little More Time) or Lighthouse Family (Lifted, which sounded like commercial radio in the last five years of the 1990s). They might have ironically bought Walk Like a Champion, by Kaliphz and featuring Prince Naseem Hamed, a similarly loudmouth Northerner, or I Want to be a Hippy, the most popular gabba tune of 1996 by Technohead, which I always found too quick.

As for Spaceman by Babylon Zoo, the British public made it the bestselling song for five weeks in February. It was preceded by Jesus to a Child by George Michael and Earth Song by Michael Jackson, and was followed by Don’t Look Back in Anger and the final Take That single, a cover of How Deep is Your Love. Had every Take That fan moved on to fancying Liam and Noel Gallagher by February 1996, when the four called it a day (for the moment)? Even Robbie wanted to be Liam, as we will see next time.

Boyzone fans were buying Father and Son, a Cat Stevens catalogue song that Louis Walsh foisted upon his charges, which was kept off the top by Michael Jackson wailing about elephants and Abraham. Boyzone are on NOW 33, Michael (or ‘Wacko Jacko’ as he was known) is not. East 17 fans like me enjoyed Thunder, which included thundering sound effects. On Disc 2 Eternal have Good Thing while Louise had her second single In Walked Love. It helped her career that her boyfriend played football for Liverpool. After 20 years of marriage, Jamie Redknapp and Louise divorced in 2018. Their marriage has spanned the ‘celebrity era’, at the start of which Oasis emerged.

Smart pop music made its way onto NOW 33. Dubstar sang about the doorbell ringing while making a cup of tea on Not So Manic Now, while St Etienne had a hit with He’s on the Phone, ‘their biggest hit in Britain’ according to both the inlay booklet and the discography. The Connells sang ’74-’75, a song with a patina of nostalgia with a killer chorus and guitar solo, which followed Anywhere Is, my favourite Enya song purely because I discovered it on NOW 33.

Did any other group, even Queen, even Quo, have the bond Noel Gallagher talks about in the closing frames of Supersonic, the bond between band and fan, between a group of kids from Manchester council estates and kids from LA to Tokyo? Of those two shows at Knebworth in August 1996, he has the following profound statement, reflecting on the forthcoming Internet and the rise of celebrity culture:

‘It definitely felt like the end of something rather than the beginning of something…Two-and-a-half years from signing off to walking out on that stage is just magic…We were the last. We were the greatest. I don’t think anybody else is going to be as big as Oasis.’ – Noel Gallagher

‘We’ve definitely got a table up there with the big boys, whether they like it or not.’ – Liam Gallagher

Supersonic is out on DVD and on streaming services now

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