Tuesday 1 June 2021

OASIS: (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?


(#538: 14 October 1995, 1 week; 13 January 1996, 6 weeks; 2 March 1996, 3 weeks)


Track listing: Hello/Roll With It/Wonderwall/Don’t Look Back In Anger/Hey Now!/Untitled track (a.k.a. The Swamp Song – Excerpt 1)/Some Might Say/Cast No Shadow/She’s Electric/Morning Glory/Untitled track (a.k.a. The Swamp Song – Excerpt 2)/Champagne Supernova


Let me tell you why we make a fuss.


We are forced to make a fuss because it's the only way you'll listen to us.


Because otherwise people like me, who have been meticulously hacking away at the coalface of music writing for nearly twenty years - that's a generation - won't get listened to, or end up getting patronised or belittled, or are made to feel like Alison Moyet does in that song or Arabella Weir in that sketch - invisible.


Because you view us as low-level filth, the shit on the toes of your societal shoes.


All of you, from schooldays onward -  the down-the-nose sneering happened then, oh yes it did, the smug ones with the cosy detached houses in Douglas Gardens and Kylepark, those who probably have still never had to worry about a thing in their lives; oh look, they live in a tenement on the Main Street, they have to order school uniforms through the catalogue, haha fuck off you scumshite.


Yes, that wacky psycho Carlin and his weird books and weirder music, he's no proud son of the parish, he's going to end up in a bad way, he probably won't make it to twenty-five. From those who were already learning to drive aged sixteen because their parents had cars, I mean excuse me for being born! Not like all we proper middle-class types in the A stream who are being trained to run things, or the factory/office fodder in the B stream who will take our orders, or the no-hopers in C.


And it didn't end at school and still hasn't ended - everywhere I have tried to get in life has been systematically blocked by the privileged, by those who do not miss the merest opportunity to remind me that I am inferior and should bend my head. That includes empire-building former Eton head boys who begin a music blog and proceed, with their pals, to rub my nose in it, or, as has happened on more than one occasion (Resonance FM, the k-punk anthology), to pretend that I never existed.


If the shop isn't closed, rest assured that those who run things will rush to close it. A closed shop, everywhere I look. Whether in print or online, the same narrowing circle of names recurs over and over, like Chinese water torture, with all their long-standing mates applauding each other. That stands for music writing as much as anything else; the "pioneers" of the seventies and eighties have pulled up the drawbridge ladder behind them, to ensure that no further generations gain access to their fort, other than the compliant ones who get invited inside.

Lester Bangs wouldn't stand a fucking chance of getting anywhere now; who'd employ him these days? An individual voice? Perish the thought; it's not "house style," that supreme slayer of character and humanity.

I posted a 100-track, nine-and-a-quarter-hour-long Spotify playlist last week, outlining all the great music from 1977 that wasn't punk or new wave. To date the playlist has received thirteen "likes." Whereas those who are "better known" online post the most elementary of playlists and get a hundred likes an hour.

How much longer am I expected to fart against thunder?

But yes, I am apparently of the "lower orders." Didn't go to a public school. Went to Oxbridge, too (one of only two pupils in my entire time at school who made it - so at least one of us was serious about getting there, and it wasn't the one my best friend at school thought it was going to be), but that doesn't seem to have made any difference to my life, nor the prizes or scholarship and suchlike. More fool me for being a dullard and working and studying, when I should clearly have been spending my time networking with the "right" people.


So it is that people like me who don't all have it laid out for them have to try harder. We want it more. We want what you are withholding from us - does that sound pre-emptively familiar (see entry #540)?


It is a working class thing and as far as this piece of writing goes it's also a Northern Celtic thing. Because what do you do when all the doors are systematically slammed shut in your face on account of who you are and where you came from?


If you have it, you use what we in Glasgow call "the patter." That's what got me into Oxford (that plus, admittedly, some actual previous experience of university life, at St Andrews - it does help if you know the territory), not exam grades - they don't give a toss if you have three As and a B or three Bs and an A, they're interested in seeing how you're going to fit into their environment. It's all about the patter. You talk non-stop, off the top of your head, and express what is inside you. Not all that received crap you're expected to express. In other places they call it "chutzpah."


The Gallaghers, they have plenty of patter, and Christ how splendidly they use it (still). Won't let us in, Scene That Celebrates Itself? Fine...we'll just break the door down and upend your complacent little set-up. You music papers who sneered at us because your middle-class student demographic wants evasive artiness rather than direct communication - well FUCK you, you don't matter (never did - I remember the late seventies when they all wanted their arty pet mascot Howard Devoto to become a star, and how dare Gary Numan from Hammersmith overtake him on the outside populist lane!).


They sneered at the second Oasis album too, and no I'm not going to get all sodding Captain Hindsight revisionist and pretend to be all cleverly detached from the Morning Glory experience. They got the album title from the movie of Bye Bye Birdie, whose authors got it from Mary Lou Williams, but what is this, the ground floor of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?


Who couldn't identify with that cover, taken at about 4:30 a.m. in an empty Berwick Street, the sun rising and everything reeling with hope and promise? It felt, as did Oasis in general, like a fresh start (whereas the primary function of The Great Escape may perhaps have been to help bury the old order of things), a start which those whose profession is to hate "us" could never understand (see also the preferential treatment given out to Luke Haines, the Howard Devoto of the nineties).

Because the sunrise of Morning Glory rose over and cut through everything. It's no accident that the title track, "Champagne Supernova," "Roll With It" etc. sound like folk songs since that is basically what they are - updated, furiously compressed jigs. Theirs is a far more populist take on the we're-here-for-YOU contemporary folk groups like the Levellers or Carter USM, because these songs are really here for everybody, especially those who had long since stopped buying, or buying into, music.

The twelve songs on the main album - had it not been for Stevie Wonder's lawyers not unreasonably wanting a royalty share for "Step Out" (as with the Kevin Rowland/My Beauty/"Thunder Road" situation, this may have been the case of McGee's people simply neglecting to process the necessary legal paperwork) it would have been thirteen - are linked, for those with the open ears to listen, right from the beginning, when we hear Noel Gallagher practising his wah-wah guitar perched high on a wall outside Rockfield Studios in deep rural Monmouthshire (wonderwall - you see?) at about six in the (late spring, hence still cold) morning to an audience of bemused cattle, with accompanying birdsong and passing traffic; the odd tonalities you hear occur when he accidentally steps on and breaks his wah-wah pedal.

That launches straight into "Hello," and they are fully back, louder and less compromising than ever, singing about how they can't live in the shadows any more (there'll be more about that later on the record) with a demonic shuffle which puts the polite likes of the Wonder Stuff to frank shame. The maximalist compression which producer Owen Morris puts on the band's work as a whole tends to make their music come over as a flaming remnant of "rock" - it is all treble, with bass and drums mixed back to a semi-distant supporting role. This outlines the continuing influence of My Bloody Valentine and Loop on their rockier music. It is not quite rock, yet at the same time manages to exceed rock. The P Gadd quotation at the song's end - remember, this was a time when the not-yet-disgraced glam-rocker abided in the suburbs of National Treasure status - is merry, insolent and entirely fitting.

Then it's hit after hit after hit, as all the best albums are. "Roll With It", then "Wonderwall," then "Don't Look Back In Anger." That's a pretty unanswerable triptych which also covers the entire gamut of Oasis' approach; the upbeat(-ish) rocker, the pensive ballad, the anthemic singalong. Much Captain Hindsight X-ray vision has been applied to the meaning of "Wonderwall" - it's about Meg, it's about a one-night stand in Glasgow who insisted on giving Noel Gallagher a wishing stone (hence the song's working title for ages was "Wishing Stone"), it's about a Harvey-style non-existent friend to whom to turn in times of woe, it's about basic insecurity.

It actually doesn't matter what the song's about. What did matter was the aesthetic scythe that it cut through the iceberg of received opinion about pop. "Wonderwall" broached everybody's barriers, including mine. This was when the song and album were new and the wonder had not yet been ironed out by chronic radio overplaying. "I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now" touched people who didn't buy records or keep up with the charts or the music papers, particularly when sung by what sounded like the Incredible Hulk seeking reform. The voice is deliberately coarse, rough and unrefined - and there is a rare directness which this roughness conveys to the listener. It was like Johnny Rotten fulfilling his life's concealed ambition of going on Radio 4's With Great Pleasure and reading poems. The piano coda, which utilises no more than four different notes, is all that the song requires. What sounds like a 'cello is probably a mellotron or a Kurzweil string synthesiser (ironically, the latter set of keyboards was co-owned, as a brand, by Stevie Wonder). I note that the ending to this globally popular song deploys a Cocteau Twins guitar trope. Nobody felt the way they did about Oasis with anybody else on the scene, that was for sure.


As for "Don't Look Back In Anger," well, it is a portrait at one remove of what was commonly perceived as "post-war Britain" - but, then again, wasn't "Revolution 9"? It was, again, a folk song of succour for what was effectively a displaced generation; it was grand, not quite as predictable as you might recall - those strings are definitely Kurzweil flyers, while the song's frame of reference manages to encompass both John Osborne and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators - and finally rather moving; Noel sings it alone, as he was maybe always meant to, and niftily pricks any potential nostalgia balloon by pleading with his audience not to put their lives in the hands of a rock and roll band - what can we do, he seems to ask, when you look at how spectacularly all of our predecessors screwed things up? There are different interpretations of "Sally" and whom or what, if anyone or anything, she is waiting for (though Noel is adamant that it isn't the Sally of "Sally Cinnamon" by the Stone Roses, whose influence on this album is imperceptible), but anyone of an Irish upbringing will immediately know what standing up beside the fireplace and taking that look right off your face (so I can take your picture, young man) means.


That in turn leads me to think that "Don't Look Back," a song whose subject is pointedly about not living in the past, has some rather elegant red Beatle John herrings. What the song reminds me of far more securely is the "real" people's music of the sixties, which never really "swung" outside of central London, the sternly sexless but reassuring ballads of the likes of Jim Reeves and The Bachelors, the music which got deliberately phased out by 21st-century media (but which stations such as Boom Radio UK are currently attempting to rehabilitate). That music acknowledges, and speaks up for, a deep and long-enduring tradition (for many, including, I suspect, the Gallaghers' parents, the defining song of 1967 was not "A Whiter Shade Of Pale," but Frankie McBride's "Five Little Fingers").


How is "Don't Look Back" folk music? It isn't just because of its use as Daniel Craig crosses that bridge at the end of Our Friends In The North. In May 2017, following the Manchester Arena bombing, the song became a symbol of both remembrance and endurance. People started singing it together, spontaneously, in Manchester city centre. Half of Coldplay performed the song at the One Love Manchester concert a week later. It revealed itself as something deeper than some had assumed a generation earlier. The song, as with Oasis' best songs in general, had become embedded in the soul of Manchester. It was meant for the city's people and sung with and by these people.


As I intimated earlier, don't you fucking sneer at us.


"Hey, Now!" is an immense, slithering wall of post-MBV glide with great propulsion, if an inconclusive ending to side one ("Step Out," one of the band's best rockers, part "Uptight" and paer "Rosalie" by Bob Seger, no doubt via Thin Lizzy - who of Noel's generation of players didn't practise their guitar to the accompaniment of Live And Dangerous? - would have provided a real uplifting climax).


The ghost of a late sixties blues jam floats by momentarily in the middle distance, before side two commences with "Some Might Say." The song is monumental, and deliberately set out to be as such. Rather than reheating the dessicated leftovers of 1969 Abbey Road, the song actually represents the subtle triumph of shoegazing.


Its stalwart avalanche of largely hand-free guitars (assisted by a judicious use of echo and delay by Owen Morris) would not have been conceivable without the prior examples of MBV, Ride and the pre-“The” Verve. Over this seamless mineshaft of amethyst rock, Liam twists his vowels so ardently that they virtually become another layer of abstract sound to ride astride all of the others – so the purposeful nonsense of dirty dishes, sinks full of fishes and education in the rain make perfect sense, but so do the more telling words: “Some might say they don’t believe in heaven/Go and tell that to the man who lives in hell,” is an admirable spear of directness, and the fervent connection which the group still felt with their fanbase is celebrated in the socialist couplet: “Some might say you get what you’ve been given” (the latter half sung by Liam with genuine smouldering rage) “If you don’t get yours I won’t get mine as well.”


The song's speed is slow and authoritative, but as Liam turns from his itching dog to exchange chants of “You know what some might say” with Noel, as the latter’s lead guitar prepares to take off, the song moves into a blissful state of exultation which was sorely needed at this time – compare Ali Campbell’s indifferent “whoo!” near the end of Pato Banton’s “Baby Come Back,” a number one single a few months before "Some Might Say") with Noel’s gliding yelp of “Whooh!” here – and handclaps and snare drum smacks help the massed guitars to ascend into Hüsker Dü (via the Wedding Present – remember “My Favourite Dress”?) territory (the Americana reference is not gratuitous; the song was apparently inspired by Grant Lee Buffalo's "Fuzzy," which makes perfect sense - "We've been lied to"). A record worthy of proper awe, “Some Might Say” finds Oasis at their unassailable and justifiably insolent peak.


Having proved their point, Oasis now proceed to explore less obvious musical avenues. "Cast No Shadow" tweaks the "Wonderwall" template into picturesque lamentation, and since the song is dedicated to Richard Ashcroft, it fittingly sounds more Verve than The Verve. Once again, the words take precedence over any assumed meaning - they could be singing about any downtrodden working man who treads the lifelong avenue of painful compromise. Those who still hurt from Thatcherism and its consequences knew exactly what was meant by "As they took his soul, they stole his pride."

"Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say" - tell me about it.

"She's Electric," in contrast, is stupidly dopey and lovely. Is it a go at "the Blur song"? Perhaps, perhaps not - but its likeable cheer, its children's television paraphrases, its midpoint between "With A Little Help From My Friends" and "The Passenger" made one feel alive that shadily sunny Saturday morning of late 1995. Sunshine to chase away learned doom.

But then it is a direct plunge into the hallucinatory hospital nightmare ("need a little time to wake up", indeed) of "Morning Glory" itself, which again is an assemblage of various elements of The Sixties, particularly Vietnam, but which also, one-third of the way through, unexpectedly detours into an extended passage of rootless guitar noise which is a direct descendant of "You Made Me Realise." As with much of the album, I am surprisingly put in mind of R.E.M. (yes, I know, "The One I Love," but also "World Leader Pretend" and "Ignoreland"). Already, as some commentators noted at the time, U2 were now more palpable rivals for them than Blur could ever have been.

Slowly crawling out of this post-intensive care syndrome scenario (I experienced it three summers ago, so know precisely what I'm talking about), we encounter another fleeting glimpse of blues-rock, complete with agonised harmonica, before we settle most gracefully and gratefully in the bring-our-survivors-home finale of "Champagne Supernova." Or so we imagine, before guest "supersub" Paul Weller comes in and takes the song to a thunderous Crazy Horse climax before it subsides once more into satisfied silence. As for that couplet - if you'd ever seen Chigley, you would have known what "walking slowly down the hall" meant, while "faster than a cannonball"; well, isn't speed all relative when you're getting high? Millions of people singing it weren't bothered by the absence of wry lyrical curlicues - the song got into their gut. What the hell did "awopbopaloobop" etc. mean, other than, move over, it's our turn now?


And then, in 2014, the thing was deluxe-reissued with two bonus discs, one of which contained all the single B-sides and other miscellanea:


What's The Story) Morning Glory? - Back Cover - Michael Spencer Jones – The  Archivist's Gallery


Track listing: Talk Tonight/Acquiesce/Headshrinker/It's Better People/Rockin' Chair/Step Out/Underneath The Sky/Cum On Feel The Noize/Round Are Way/The Swamp Song/The Masterplan/Bonehead's Bank Holiday/Champagne Supernova (Brendan Lynch Mix)/You've Got To Hide Your Love Away

Honestly, if this had been released as a double CD album at the time, the record's impact would have been even more seismic than it was. I don't think anybody could have beaten it.

The first three songs were B-sides to the CD single of "Some Might Say." “Talk Tonight” is the most delicate and moving song Noel ever recorded, more or less solo and in one take (“Let me take my watch off”), singing a true story about how talking with a fan at her home in San Francisco after having walked out on the group in a suicidal fury saved his life, with its sublimely minimalist two-note electric piano solo and modest structural nod to "Ziggy Stardust." “Acquiesce,” recorded after Noel's return, features Liam singing lead on the verses and Noel on the choruses, exultant, forgiving and cocksure of the moment which they were just about to grasp (“We be-LIEEEEEEVE in one another!”) - it is the brightest and greatest song the band ever did. “Headshrinker” was one of the increasingly rare occasions when Oasis sped up and rock (and in so doing reveal their considerable debt to The Faces).


"It's Better People," with its sped-up "Wonderwall" pattern forming the foundation of a jubilant handclap of musical optimism, likewise wouldn't have been out of place in the more reflective corners of Ooh La La. "Rockin' Chair," the other B-side of "Roll With It," is a profound meditation of regret-filled departure that ranks with anything on the second side of Wake Up! - Liam sounds genuinely hurt in places ("I think you're rude") and this reluctant wanderer is dutilfully casting no shadows.

Then it's the "Don't Look Back" B-sides; "Step Out" finally finds a release, "Underneath The Sky" is filled with all the delicious chord changes and modulations you're too scared to consider, and their "Cum On Feel The Noize" is clearly symbolic, acknowledging their real stylistic forefathers, even though Noddy Holder was amused by the band's need to take the song one-and-a-half octaves down to accommodate Liam’s voice. That takes away Noddy’s multiple punctums of scream; contrast Holder’s sonorous “Baby baby BAY-BEEEEE-AH!” intro [and he was just warming up in the studio!] with Liam’s “am I bovvered?” mumble - and yet the latter is far more fitting to its times. Everyone in the office sings along at the end and we get some cod-Brummie bantz to see Britpop off.


Finally, the "Wonderwall" B-sides; "Round Are Way" (deliberately misspelt in tribute to Slade) is a swinging punch of a romp which is happily borne by Mark Feltham's solo harmonica and the enthuasistic ranks of distinguished British jazz musicians (at least one of whom had previously worked with The Beatles) who formed the horn section. "The Swamp Song," with Weller guesting on more back-to-basics harmonica, is the full-length version of the track whose snippets we have previously heard twice.

And then there is the phenomenal "The Masterplan" in which Noel gazes at "Hey Jude" and says, with confidence, we can have that. Always at his best when, ironically, pleading ("Please, brother, let it be" - and we know to whom he is singing), this is a majestically dolorous meditation on what-does-it-all-mean-basically (did you think Oasis didn't know their Chameleons?) and what-if-there's-no-masterplan? The voice itself disappears about halfway through the song, and the music then eddies with steady subtlety into an uneasy silence.

The remaining three songs are inessential but useful. "Bonehead's Bank Holiday" is the band's sole "Ringo" moment and remarkably turns out to be less than rubbish. Brendan Lynch softens out ands simplifies "Supernova" for the Late Lounge audience. Finally, Noel acknowledges John with a rough but heartfelt reading of perhaps the most coded of Lennon's songs.

The patter. Oasis, or the two guys up the front anyway, had the patter. There is a characteristic that I lack, which has led to my becoming perhaps the most obscure and least read of all music writers. A breezy, easy self-confidence, you might call it. As with the Gallaghers and their father, I had all of that beaten out of me at a perilously early age. The thing is, my father succeeded, whereas Gallagher senior didn't. So Oasis perhaps speak for the whole bloody lot of us. We listen to them still, turned Morning Glory fourteen times platinum (and it's still on the chart), because they made a fuss.

What does it take for you to listen to me?