“HOW CAN YOU REMASTER SOMETHING THAT’S ALREADY BEING (sic) MASTERED. DON’T BUY INTO IT. LET IT BE”, tweeted Liam Gallagher upon news of the 20th anniversary re-release of Oasis’ debut album Definitely Maybe.
As the iconic British rock masterpiece becomes the first of a trilogy of Oasis albums to receive a revisit – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and Be Here Now being the others in the ‘Chasing The Sun’ series – Graeme Marsh takes a look for himself despite Gallagher’s advice…
In 1994, grunge still ruled the airwaves with Nirvana at the forefront but April 5th marked the beginning of the end when Kurt Cobain was tragically found dead in his Seattle home. The same month saw Britpop muscling its way to a bigger presence within the market with Blur’s third album Parklife shooting to the top of the UK album chart, as well as a host of copycat acts taking advantage of the shift in power back to British guitar bands.
April 1994 also saw the first single release by Manchester newcomers Oasis – Supersonic – albeit to mild acclaim, reaching a modest Number 31 in the singles chart. More importantly at the time though, this record marked the first step on a remarkable path that led to the notorious media-stoked duel between Damon Albarn’s quartet and the five from Burnage fronted by battling brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher, the undoubted commercial pinnacle of the Britpop era. Although to this day it’s still hard to classify the rockier sound of Oasis as pop at all, it was certainly popular.
Depending on how dedicated a music listener you were in the early to mid-‘90s, there were a number of significant landmarks in the early career of Oasis that would have first caused you to sit up and take notice. Surely by April 1995, a year after their debut single, the whole world was aware of who they were as they reached the top of the UK singles chart for the first time with Some Might Say. Before that, a December 1994 release saw them hit Number 3 with the non-album single Whatever, the first Oasis single to rely heavily on strings, and the subject of a future (successful) lawsuit by Neil Innes that claimed the song ‘borrowed’ a melody from his song How Sweet To Be An Idiot. But ‘real’ music fans were already well aware of Oasis.
Originally a quartet featuring no Gallagher brothers whatsoever – The Rain, a band named after a Beatles B-side – Liam was approached to replace original singer Chris Hutton; he duly accepted and a name change followed soon after, the exact details of which are remembered differently by various members of the band, the others in question being Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, Tony McCarroll and Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan. Liam’s older brother by some five years, Noel, had been through a number of jobs. At the time he was working for the Inspiral Carpets as a roadie and, upon seeing his little brother’s band, he spied an outlet for the many songs he had written. The Inspirals’ sound engineer Mark Coyle was already something of a fan, having been hugely impressed by Noel’s songs. And so it was that the band’s first settled line-up was complete.
The story of how the band landed their first recording contract is well known: Alan McGee, boss of Creation Records, stumbled across them by accident as they appeared way down the bill at a gig at Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in 1993. Despite being “drunk and drugged”, McGee offered them a contract after they had finished; it was duly signed just days later.
When Creation sent out a white label demo version of Columbia, they were shocked when BBC institution Radio 1 playlisted the track; it was an indication that McGee had been spot on and that this band were destined for far greater things. Work immediately began on the debut album, the band hooking up with renowned producer Dave Batchelor. But things didn’t go well. The album was subsequently completely re-recorded at a remote studio in Cornwall by Coyle at great expense to Creation, remixing then being undertaken by Owen Morris as the sound was fine tuned – rescued, even – after the re-recording also fell short of the desired standards.
An original cassette of demos was recorded by Coyle (eight songs in total) and labelled the “Live Demonstration” tape before the McGee chance encounter and a reproduction of the original cassette is available as a limited edition extra within the new box set. For those less quick off the mark, a number of demos are scattered amongst the two bonus discs released, a number of which were B-sides anyway, and it’s these that reveal a fascinating fact – Liam didn’t always sneer like an arrogant bastard. Sounding more like a boy than a man, it’s almost as if someone else is on vocal duties such is the difference in his voice to what we’ve been accustomed to. At some point – it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly – the transformation from boy to man occurred and suddenly the band had the vocal attitude that their already incredibly confident and swagger-filled sound required.
From the original white label Columbia demo, to early versions of Definitely Maybe favourites Cigarettes And Alcohol, Rock ‘n’ Roll Star and Married With Children, the album is well represented by demos. On top of these, there are further demos included in the shape of Fade Away, Alive, Strange Thing and Cloudburst, with the latter surely the one that got away, a track that fans still struggle to understand how its brilliant guitaring failed to make the album in the first place, settling instead for a place as an extra track on the original Live Forever 12” version.
Meanwhile, back in 1994 a head of steam was building as single after single raised the band’s profile at every turn. After Supersonic, Shakermaker just failed to reach the Top 10 in the UK singles chart settling at 11; in August 1994 they went one better with the band’s first true classic, Live Forever, before the defining moment arrived as Definitely Maybe was unleashed on the 30th of the same month.
It exceeded all expectations, becoming the fastest selling rock debut of all time, shifting 86,000 copies in its first week, a record that lasted less than a year as Albarn’s then partner Justine Frischmann and her band Elastica landed the first ‘Britpop’ blow.
August 1994 spawned several other huge album releases: Manic Street Preachers‘ The Holy Bible, The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Stoned And Dethroned, Portishead’s Dummy and Jeff Buckley’s Grace all burst forth during a productive month whilst The Stone Roses enjoyed their Second Coming in December, finally free after years of legal wranglings. In other news, Billy Idol was admitted to hospital after a drug overdose, Wet Wet Wet had recently bored the public senseless with the Number 1 that remained at the top of the charts forever – The Troggs song Love Is All Around – and in the US, Woodstock ’94 was held as a 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock Festival in 1969.
But Oasis’ debut remains the biggest landmark of the year and fully justifies its lavish re-release, 20 years on. As well as the two bonus discs bursting with treats – B-sides and extra tracks on one disc along with a second comprising of unreleased demos, out-takes and live recordings – a copy of the remastered album is of course included and it sounds just as vital as it did when the original hit the shelves.
The B-sides are all accounted for and presented close to chronological order. Sad Song, a track first heard on the double LP version of the album as an extra is here, as is Take Me Away, B-side of Supersonic. D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman? is included, one of the original songs that made Coyle’s demo that subsequently became the B-side to Shakermaker. Listen Up, Fade Away and the final version of Cloudburst all make the cut (if there was a cut at all) as does the single that bridged the gap between the first two albums, Whatever, along with its B-sides (It’s Good) To Be Free and Half The World Away, future theme tune from BBC sitcom The Royle Family.
Oasis have always been a tantalising live act and it was capturing this sound that led to so many problems with the original album recording. It’s this power and, to quote Liam, “tight as fuck” performances from the rhythm section, that are plainly evident from these early shows at Manchester Academy, Glasgow Tramshed and a live Paris in-store appearance, with the Paris version of Live Forever even providing a chuckle, being sequentially announced five times, presumably by each member of the band.
Sadly, there is only one alternate version of Live Forever, the in-store Paris version being the one included. There’s also a few other smatterings that are likely to have been included for completeness only, including a low-key acoustic version in a Tokyo hotel room of Half The World Away where Noel sounds like he’s practicing more than anything and a bizarre ‘strings’ version of Whatever – and by strings version we mean that’s ALL there is – just strings.
As with all remasters, it’s hard to tell much difference unless you compare like for like, but who in their right mind is going to play the original version of the album followed immediately by the remastered version? Needless to say though, in this case after the traumas of the early recording complications there is a definite ‘cleaner and crisper’ sound on the new version. Does it detract from what the band were trying to create in the first place? Possibly. But it’s the extras tracks that fans should be buying the album for, the unreleased efforts in particular; whether there’s much in the way of longevity there, it’s hard to say – past the essential, top quality ‘throwaway’ tracks that suffered from being mere B-sides with not only Cloudburst but Alive, Fade Away and Listen Up all being worthy of greater recognition.
So where now for the Gallagher brothers? Well, Liam recently sparked a Twitter frenzy when he cryptically sent five separate tweets spelling O-A-S-I-S that had excited fans expecting a reformation announcement, with Glastonbury headliners still incomplete at the time. Their joy was shortlived, however, as it was more of a hint that he and Bonehead were about to pay a surprise and unannounced visit to the ‘Chasing The Sun’ exhibition in Shoreditch, a collection of rare photographs, memorabilia and the like from 1993-97 with the full-size recreated front room of Bonehead’s home being the star attraction. This enabled fans to recreate the iconic album cover for themselves as Bonehead generously provided several original features including ashtrays, sofa cover and fire surround. Sadly, Bonehead declared that they didn’t get to see the exhibition after being mobbed by startled fans, a far cry from just last year when his side project with Vinnie Peculiar – Parlour Flames – toured low key venues, including the tiny Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in Brighton, to a handful of punters in support of their excellent debut album.
Is a reunion ever likely? At this moment in time, no, but there have been several hints at such a possibility in the future, although Noel recently stated in a Talksport interview that he was enjoying the peace and quiet that is never the case when his noisy younger brother is around. Then, of course, which ex-members would play in a reformed Oasis? As for Liam, apart from Beady Eye duties his main ambition at the moment would seem to be convincing Manchester City’s Premiership winning manager Manuel Pellegrini to adopt him, such is his love for the Chilean. Perhaps he should take a listen to the remastered edition of Definitely Maybe after all to remind him of just how great this band were. Come on Liam, you know it makes sense…
The 20th Anniversary Remastered edition of Oasis’ Definitely Maybe is out on 19 May 2014 through Big Brother. More on Oasis here.