Manchester has borne many famous bands and musicians, but none have caught the attention of the public quite as much as Oasis. Hailing from Burnage in south Manchester, Noel and Liam Gallagher are as famous for their sibling rivalry as they are for decades of guitar music, defining a generation along the way. Although the band split in 2009 following a backstage fight, their extensive back catalogue continues to gain new fans. Here is a brief history of the band through ten of their most essential songs.
To begin your journey into Oasis’s back catalogue, the obvious starting point is with their first ever single. The opening lyric instantly explained the band’s ethos and captivated an audience who resonated with it: “I need to be myself/I can be no one else”. Bring it on Down was supposed to be the band’s first single, until Noel announced that he’d wrote a new song and they unanimously agreed to release it as their debut track. The lyrics are mainly nonsense with an obvious mention to the Beatles, who Noel often cites as a huge influence in the lyric “you can sail with me in my yellow submarine”.
Noel wrote Live Forever as a reaction to Nirvana and the popularity of grunge music in the early nineties. “Kids don’t need to be hearing that nonsense” he proclaimed after listening to Nirvana’s song I Hate Myself and Want to Die, writing an optimistic rock anthem with the exact opposite message. This was the song that convinced Liam to join the band and remains one of his favourite Oasis songs to this day.
Although Half the World Away featured on the band’s debut album, it gained traction and became an iconic part of the Oasis discography when it was used as the theme song to The Royle Family in 2006. Depicting the life of a lazy working-class family based in Manchester, the song fits perfectly in the opening and closing credits, Noel claiming that he now associates the song more with the show than with the band. When the series creator, writer and star Caroline Aherne sadly passed away in 2016, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds paid tribute to her by playing the beloved song at a cancer benefit event.
Noel has often stated that the common theme running through Definitely Maybe was escapism. Most of the songs featured on the iconic debut album talk about leaving Manchester and having a good time, taking drugs and drinking in the sunshine. Nowhere is that more evident than in the lyrics of their fourth single, where Noel shows his disillusions with the working class life with the words “is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for”.
Arguably the most iconic of all Oasis songs, Wonderwall is a true anthem that gets belted out during last orders and covered by buskers and karaoke fans alike. Although many Oasis fans regard Definitely Maybe as their most beloved album, this track off their second album is what cemented them as one of the biggest bands in Britain. The song is about an imaginary friend who saves you from yourself, although for years the media misinterpreted it as being written about Noel’s then girlfriend, Meg Mathews. Fun fact: the original title of the song was Wishing Stone.
An absolute masterpiece of a song, Don’t Look Back in Anger features some of the band’s most profound lyrics alongside one of the most iconic choruses of the past twenty five years. This was actually the first time that Noel had sung one of his own songs, although he initially offered it up to Liam to sing. Recently, the song has become an unofficial anthem for their home town of Manchester after a crowd somberly burst into song following a vigil for the victims of the recent terrorist attack in the city.
One of the key things to understand about Oasis songs is that, especially during their early years, their B-sides were just as well-received and iconic as their actual singles. One of their most iconic B-sides appeared alongside their first ever UK number one single, Some Might Say. Acquiesce (which means to accept something begrudgingly without protesting) is commonly misconceived to be about Noel and Liam’s relationship, but Noel says that Liam doesn’t even know what the word means! The song was wrote on a broken down train on the way to record Some Might Say after Noel heard someone mention the word in conversation.
Another iconic B-side, Noel Gallagher has frequently been quoted as saying that The Masterplan is one of the band’s best tracks. Written in a Japanese hotel room, the lyrics were inspired by the long corridors of the hotel, depicted a journey through life. Many Oasis fans cite this as their favourite ever song, and Noel himself has been said to regret delegating it to a B-side. The song featured on the compilation album, Stop the Clocks with a promotional video in the style of Greater Manchester-born artist L.S Lowry, showing the band walking past Johnny Roadhouse Music, the shop in Manchester where they bought their equipment at the beginning of their career.
A fan favourite, Gas Panic! perfectly represents a darker time for the band, when Noel was experiencing panic attacks as a side effect to the prescription drugs he was taking at the time. The lyrics tell the story of the devil taking over the soul of a person who then doesn’t remember who they are, perfectly in fitting with the experience of being addicted to drugs. The brothers clearly associate the song with drug-taking, as Liam often announces “this is one for the pot-heads” prior to its performance on stage.
One of the rare songs that features both brothers on lead vocals, Let There Be Love heralded praise from critics who declared that the band had returned to their original form. Noel famously declared that the song took him eight-and-a-half years to write, perhaps because the lyrics depict a dialect between two brothers, making this a very personal song.