The history of Oasis in 12 songs

(Image credit: Michel Linssen/Redferns)

Will they? Won't they? As talk of a potential Oasis reunion reaches something like critical mass, again, some might wonder exactly what all the fuss is about, particularly since Liam Gallagher and Noel Gallagher both seem to be perfectly happy in their post-Oasis careers. But if there's one thing which unites the permanently warring siblings it's the sure, certain and inarguable knowledge that Oasis was special.

Here's the story of the band in a dozen songs spanning its 18-year existence.

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1. Rock 'n' Roll Star

Famously, in May 1993, Creation Records boss Alan McGee, back in his hometown of Glasgow to see family, caught Oasis playing third on the bill to 18 Wheeler, and offered the band a record deal on the spot. Noel Gallagher, already wise to the weapons-grade bullshit spouted by cocaine-fuelled music industry types thanks to his apprenticeship as a roadie for Inspiral Carpets, made sure that McGee left the venue with a copy of Oasis' eight-song Live Demonstration cassette, so he wouldn't forget the band's name when he sobered up. With all due respect, Strange Thing or Cloudburst on that tape would never have secured the Mancunian quintet worldwide record deals, but side B, song 4? That's the good stuff.

Imagine fronting a gang of older lads who look like they've stepped off a building site in their work clothes and delivering the line, “Look at you now, you’re all in my hands tonight” with utter conviction to audiences you could comfortably fit into a Ford Escort while third on the bill at JBs in Dudley, The Duchess Of York in Leeds, or Hull Adelphi: then try to imagine watching anyone but a 21-year-old Liam Gallagher, then still living with his mum Peggy on a Burnage council estate, singing this and actually believing him/her/they.

Gallagher The Younger quite correctly identified Rock 'n' Roll Star as “the most arrogant song ever” and as track 1, side 1, on Definitely Maybe, it is the most perfectly cocky introduction to a debut album that would change literally millions of lives. The Instagram/TikTok generation call this "manifesting", back in the '90s it was known simply as "dreaming", but no dream ever sounded more like destiny.

2. Live Forever

“I’ve pretty much summed up everything I wanted to say in Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, Live Forever, and Cigarettes & Alcohol,” admitted Noel Gallagher as Definitely Maybe was filed in record racks across the UK ahead of its August 29, 1994 release. "After that I’m repeating myself, but in a different way.” 

Rock 'n' Roll we've already discussed, and Cigarettes & Alcohol is the most fabulously 'zero fucks given' song on an a collection which is, at heart, a punk rock album, albeit the most fearlessly optimistic punk rock album in history, but it's Live Forever which is the most Oasis song ever written, and Noel Gallagher's definitive statement.

Written as a response to (incorrect) music magazine rumours that Kurt Cobain was intent upon naming Nirvana’s third album I Hate Myself And I Want To Die, Live Forever is all about widescreen dreams, unshakeable self-belief and BDE swagger, a transcendent anthem which encapsulates everything about early Oasis. If you don't 'get' Oasis after listening to Live Forever then you never will - and that's fine, you do you - but if you know, you know. 

3. Half The World Away

Coming in the wake of four superb introductory singles - Supersonic, Shakermaker, the aforementioned Live Forever and Cigarettes & Alcohol - Oasis' first non album single, released on December 18, 1994, was a bit... whatever. Until you listened to its B-sides.

Noel Gallagher's prolific songwriting talents had already allowed Oasis to casually toss out songs - Fade Away, Listen Up, Alive - as bonus tracks on singles when other bands would have killed to showcase them as A-sides. But listening to the B-sides of Whatever is the moment where you imagine Gallagher is starting to take the piss, for It's Good To Be Free (check out the live White Room version) is a banger, and the beautiful, brilliant Half The World Away moves the dial from 'grandstanding' to 'shithousing'... not least because Noel, not Liam, at the time the world's most compelling vocalist, sings it.

I mean, seriously now, behave. 

That Half Away The World was subsequently used as the theme tune to The Royle Family only served to copper-fasten its iconic status, and place it alongside Pulp's Common People as an alternative British national anthem, one that actually resonates with the majority of its citizens.

4. Talk Tonight

Without Melissa Lim, this list would end here. Rather ungraciously, in the Oasis documentary Supersonic Noel Gallagher claimed to remember neither Lim's name, nor what she looked like, admitting that the time was “a bit of a blur”, but the San Francisco native's entry into Gallagher's life stopped him walking away from Oasis during their very first American tour, following what he considered to be a disastrous crystal meth-fuelled gig at LA's legendary Whisky A Go Go club.

Having been hit by a tambourine thrown by his little brother at said gig, a furious Gallagher collected his passport and $700 from tour manager Maggie Mouzakitis, made a phone call to Lim, pushed a note under Mouzakitis' door to say that he was leaving, then caught a flight to San Francisco to meet Lim, who he'd first met at Oasis' show at the city's Bottom of the Hill venue four nights earlier.

“He was very upset,” Lim told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2016 . “I took him in, fed him and tried to calm him down. He wanted to break up the band... I wasn’t going to let it happen on my watch.”

The story is told, partially, in Talk Tonight, which Gallagher recorded solo in Austin just weeks later, after his return to the fold. The song's chorus runs “I want to talk tonight/ Until the morning light/ ’Bout how you saved my life” and elsewhere Gallagher sings, “All your dreams are made of strawberry lemonade, and you make sure I eat today. You take me walking to where you played when you were young.”

"Everything was different after that," the band's sound/recoding engineer Mark Coyle admitted in Supersonic. "And we all had to be different. Because if you're not with him, you're going home." 

PS. Go listen to that Whiskey A Go Go gig sometime: it's feral. And that was Oasis at their worst.

5. Acquiesce

"Because we need each other. We believe in one another."

In the sleevenotes to The Masterplan, Oasis' outstanding B-sides compilation album, we're informed that Acquiesce, contrary to all speculation, isn't about the relationship between Liam and Noel Gallagher. Aye, right, dead on, if you say so Our Kid.

That Acquiesce was 'relegated' to the B-side of the infinitely weaker Some Might Say is, frankly, unbelievable: you'd have to have ears fashioned from Bagpuss' pelt not to hear the gulf in class between the two songs, not least when it comes to the soaring, sublime switches from Liam's verses to Noel's chorus. 

When Oasis played two nights at Maine Road, then the home ground of their beloved Manchester City, in April '96, they chose Acquiesce as their set opener. The nerve! The chutzpah! Liam sings flat - whatever - and it's still electrifying. Heroic. 

6. Hello

Hello is by no means the best, most significant, or most important song on (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, but it's on this list for a simple reason. If you were an Oasis fan in 1995, and had heard the Mancunians preview their second album with the decidedly mediocre one-two of Some Might Say and Roll With It, you would have been forgiven for having a crisis of faith over what lay ahead, particularly if you also found time within that to question The Chief's wisdom in spunking so many killer songs on B-sides. But Hello, the album's lairy opener, was the moment you knew that everything was going to be alright.

Yes, with retrospect, the Gary Glitter echo is deeply unfortunate. But the Paul Calf-echoing "I've got a feeling you still owe me, so wipe the shit from your shoes"?

Come on. 

The lyric sheet will tell you that Liam is singing "It's good to be back" at the song's climax, but if you're listening properly, all you'll hear is "Let's fucking 'ave it, again."

7. Wonderwall

Is anyone unfamiliar with Wonderwall? Anyone? Anyone at all? Okay, good. Next!

8. D’You Know What I Mean?

Another album opener, another beast of a song.

Famously, Be Here Now, is Oasis' 'cocaine album', although, frankly, if you think every Oasis album wasn't a cocaine album, you weren't paying much attention. Whatever, the implication here is that Be Here Now was over-blown, long-winded, and full of its own self-importance, which is a totally accurate assessment. But in the case of opener D’You Know What I Mean?, the more relevant epithets are 'epic', 'massive' and 'monstrous', ie, it sounds the way you would hope one of the biggest rock bands in the world should sound, brash, bold and louder than bombs.

Explaining some of the thinking behind the song's swagger, Noel Gallagher stated, "We were a bunch of scruffs from Manchester and we're going out in a Rolls-Royce." Old school rock 'n' roll indulgence may be a bit déclassé in 2023, but sometimes you just have to sit back and gawp in wonder at the excess, and this is one such instance.

9. Little James

Now, wait, calm yourselves, we're not suggesting that this is one of Oasis' greatest songs: we're not complete idiots. But in terms of the Oasis story, Little James is a landmark moment, being the first Liam Gallagher-penned/non-Noel Gallagher penned song to feature on an Oasis album, specifically Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. 

Rather sweetly, the song was written for Gallagher's former stepson, James Kerr, the son of Liam's ex-wife Patsy Kensit and Simple Minds vocalist Jim Kerr: a shame then, that's it's such a soppy, sappy, wet tissue of a tune, with lyrics - "Live for your toys / Even though they make noise / Have you ever played with plasticine / Even tried a trampoline" - that make Noel Gallagher's rhyming couples read like Jean-Paul Sartre.

Noel, to be fair, was encouraging of his brother's efforts, saying, "It's good, it's very catchy... Now he knows he can do it, good luck to him." But in opening up his band's songwriting, Noel opened up Oasis' own Pandora's Box...

10. Stop Crying Your Heart Out

Take a look at the songwriting credits on Heathen Chemistry: OH, FOR FUCK'S SAKE NOEL, LOOK WHAT YOU'VE STARTED!

Yep, with Noel G having opened the door to other writers - Liam, specifically, on Standing on the Shoulder of Giants - suddenly everyone in Oasis wanted in on the act (or in on the songwriting royalties, at least). To be fair, given that Andy Bell had written for Ride, and Gem Archer had a modicum of success with his previous band Heavy Stereo, you can easily imagine why they listened to Little James and thought, 'Right, fucking hell, if that's the standard now...'

Now go look at the the songwriting credits on Heathen Chemistry again. Notice anything? Here's a clue: the only good songs are all Noel Gallagher's songs. And Stop Crying Your Heart Out, the very obvious highpoint, is so far and above everything else on the record that you have to imagine that Noel Gallagher was trying really, really hard not to sound too smug when he presented it to the band. "Mind if I try one of mine lads?"

"Heathen Chemistry had a couple of good tunes," Noel recently told NME. "Little By Little and Stop Crying Your Heart Out, the rest of it is a bit ‘meh’."

File under: sit down, shut up. 

11. Lyla

So, following on from the last set of notes, wherein it may have been implied that letting every fucker write songs for Oasis was The Beginning Of The End - which it kinda was - in the interests of fairness, we should state here that 2005's Don't Believe The Truth is [insert Larry David impression] pretty, pretty good.

Andy Bell's Keep The Dream Alive is excellent, Gem Archer's A Bell Will Ring is decent, and the Archer/Liam Gallagher co-write Love Like A Bomb is catchy, sunny and fun, with some nice Beatles harmonies. Well done everyone.

Again, though, The Chief's compositions shines brightest, with Mucky Fingers, The Importance Of Being Idle and Part Of The Queue hinting that Noel's songwriting was heading in a more experimental direction. Lyla is more typical Oasis, but it's also arguably the band's last true banger, with a chorus just made for festival headline screamalongs. 

12. I'm Outta Time

Again, with hindsight, Dig Out Your Soul is probably most significant for foreshadowing What Noel Did Next, but let's give props to Liam here, because the rather lovely I'm Outta Time is not only the best and most poignant song on Oasis' seventh and final record, but also the album's most-played song on Spotify.

After this, you can understand why Liam felt pretty bullish about the prospect of post-Noel, post-Oasis life. That hasn't stopped him bugging the shit out of Noel about getting the old gang back together, obviously, but then, Gallaghers gonna Gallagher, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.