Definitely A Classic
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:5 August 2019
“Tonight I’m a rock ’n’ roll star”. Rarely in the history of rock has a band laid out its wares so powerfully as Oasis did on the opening cut of their debut album Definitely Maybe.
Having signed to the Creation label in 1993, the Manchester band—constructed around brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher—had released three successful singles before the album hit the stores. And hit them it did, charging to the top of the UK album charts and selling a shedload. Although performing modestly in the US charts, Oasis’ first salvo still shifted a very respectable 1 million copies in America while it was certified platinum in Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well. Not bad for beginners, eh?
Enough about the moolah, what about the music? Opener “Rock ’n’ Roll Star” smashes out with powerful guitars over a rock solid rhythm section. Liam sings the melody in his whiney snarl and by the time the one-line chorus hits we believe that tonight, these guys really are rock ’n’ roll stars.
But it doesn’t let up. Singles “Shakermaker” and “Live Forever” follow up with more high energy rock delivering insanely catchy tunes. On the 2 LP vinyl version, this makes for one hell of a first side. “Shakermaker” deserves special mention because it is an early example of the love of the Gallaghers for The Beatles. Channelling some mystery tour magic, the song unfolds steadily, excitingly… evoking but never aping the Liverpool masters. It’s just fab.
When a band achieves success as rapidly as Oasis, there’s bound to be a backlash, yet focussing on that would miss the point. At the time, British pop/rock music was reinventing and refreshing itself; shaking off eighties doldrums like a dog coming out of the sea. Oasis, Blur, Suede, Pulp… bands competed, jostled and clambered over each other in a hugely influential reboot of popular music. And Oasis were the stars, swaggering with the arrogance and immaturity that accompanies a sudden avalanche of fame.
All of that ambition, aggression and angst is in the grooves of Definitely Maybe. “Supersonic” surges but serenades. “Cigarettes & Alcohol” (a song showing a clear debt to T. Rex) celebrates the everyday drugs that provide escape from the numbing banality of urban working class life. “Slide away” has what songwriter Noel has claimed is brother Liam’s best ever vocal (and who are we to argue?). Plus the vinyl has a bonus track previously only available on Japanese versions, the acoustic “Sad Song”.
Even the album cover is iconic. The band are in the lounge of guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, surrounded by objects meaningful to each member. Photographer Michael Spencer Jones suggested they bring the personal totems: we have the Burt Bacharach poster from Noel, Bonehead’s soccer photo, and of course cigarettes and alcohol. Although apparently the red wine is in fact diluted Ribena as claret doesn’t photograph well. Hm. If you say so.
So there you are. A blast of Britpop from 1994 that has retained enormous listenability and energy. Definitely Maybe. Simultaneously of its time and a lasting classic.
© 2019 Bruce Jenkins