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definitely? maybe ! certainly !!

definitely? maybe ! certainly !!

Norman Warwick learns about their legacy

Print media is a disappearing breed, it seems, and on line media has become a prime source of news and views from everybody to everybody else. If you want to know about music news you might be tempted to look back fondly on publications like NME and Melody Maker. When we launched Sidetracks & Detours as a daily arts-related blog in 2019 we did so as a not-for-profit blog, thinking we might simply be able to fill a gap in the market for those who weren´t sure of how to access news and views about their favourite, musicians, dancers, sculptors, painters and potters and venues and events. What we realised very quickly was that we couldn´t compete with the wealth of news providers, from other blogs, and informed business groups, regional cheerleaders for jazz, classical and all other genres of music and arts.

Had I ever dared to dream of what number of readers we might by now have acquired I should be turning cartwheels at six figure weekly readership, but the truth is we are  (I and a handful of trusted correspondents) making more sound than we ever thought we would, but we are in fact an indefinable hum in the white noise of the media industry.

What the music media has perhaps lost in independence it has gained in bigger graphics, louder headlines,  and slick marketing.

Corporate newsletters, often aimed at making regions more accessible, more profitable, enjoying a bigger footfall have somehow retained a sense of objectivity even whilst selling their wares.

A perfect example of what I mean was writ large in one of last week´s I Love Manchester newsletters, as they celebrated 30 years of The Oasis album being part of our playlists. They told us how the album came about, the sibling rivalry and mutual admiration between the group´s two leading members. They described a Manchester united and the city it had now become.

Whatever else I Love Manchester achieved with this article, they swelled my heart with pride, even as I consider the piece and wondered how I have been left so relatively untouched and unscathed by Oasis.

Is it ´cos I´m over seventy ?

Does their first nationally successful album remain one of the great rock and roll albums of all time? Definitely ? Maybe??

The newsletter described  the album as Pure youthful exuberance and raw energy. Like the CD was struggling to contain the music.

That fearless optimism, the swagger, defying the grungy tastes of the Mid-90s. Maybe things were going to be alright? And even if they weren’t you could party through them.

A breath of fresh air that pretty much swept away the nation. A nation that at the time, needed a bit of hope.

Definitely Maybe, the debut studio album by Oasis, released by Creation Records on 29 August 1994. Thirty years ago.

Noel Gallagher on lead guitar, backing vocals and chief songwriter, Liam Gallagher on lead vocals, Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs on rhythm guitar, Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan on bass guitar and Tony McCaroll on drums.

But of course, you know all this.

Liam Gallagher is back in town this week and next for five riotous nights at the Co-Op Live. Minus a Noel, but possibly with a Bonehead  – and hopefully with a few more mystery guests too.

So why does it still matter 30 years on? What is the record’s legacy?

Despite the bands meteoric rise to superstardom, things didn’t all originally go to plan.

The band booked Monnow Valley Studio near Rockfield in Wales during late 1993 to record the album. They teamed up with producer Dave Batchelor, whom Noel Gallagher knew from his time working as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets, though sessions didn’t work out as planned.

The sessions at Monnow Valley were extremely expensive, and as they proved increasingly fruitless, the group began to panic.

Speaking at the time, Bonehead said: “Noel was frantically on the phone to the management, going, ‘This ain’t working.’ For it not to be happening was a bit frightening.”

Batchelor was fired, and Noel tried to make use of the music already recorded by taking the tapes to a number of London studios.

Tim Abbot of Creation Records said while visiting the band in Chiswick, “McGee, Noel, me, and various people had a great sesh, and we listened to it over and over again. And all I could think was, ‘It ain’t got the attack.’ There was no immediacy.”

The rough and ready sound of the band live had been lost in the mastering.

Liam Gallagher would say years later that the recordings at Monnow Valley were also haunted by the presence of a “ghost”. OK Liam.

The band headed south for some inspiration.

In January 1994, the group set about re-recording the album at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall, where sessions were produced by Mark Coyle.

Again, more bad luck as they just couldn’t capture their signature sound.

Interestingly, a version of Colombia from the Sawmills Studio sessions is one of the first teaser singles to be released for the Definitely Maybe Deluxe 30th anniversary edition.

It is Available to Pre-Order on Deluxe 4LP, 2CD, Coloured Vinyl, Cassette, Digital.

In desperation, Creation’s Marcus Russell contacted engineer and producer Owen Morris, who eventually worked on mixing the album at Johnny Marr’s studio in Manchester.

He recalled that Marr was “appalled by how ‘in your face’ the whole thing was” and would question Morris’s mixing choices, such as leaving the background noise at the beginning of Cigarettes & Alcohol.

Inspired by Phil Spector’s use of tape delay on the drums of John Lennon’s song Instant Karma! and Tony Visconti’s use of the Eventide Harmoniser on the drums of David Bowie’s album Low, Morris added delays on the drums, which make the simplistic drum beats of Tony McCaroll into serious grooves.

Tape delay was employed to double the drums of Columbia, giving the song a faster rhythm, and tambourines were programmed on several songs to follow McCarroll’s snare hits.

Morris completed his final mix of the record on the vintage Neve console during the bank holiday weekend in May in Studio 5 at Matrix Recording Studios in London’s Fulham district. And they had their sound.

Definitely Maybe was an immediate critical and commercial success in the UK, released on 29 August 1994.

The album sold 100,000 copies in its first four days.

It went straight to number one in the UK Albums Chart and became the fastest-selling debut album in British music history at the time; it went on to be certified 8× platinum by the BPI for sales of over 2.4 million units.

It outsold the second-highest album (The Three Tenors in Concert 1994, which had been favoured to be the chart-topper that week), by nearly double.

It also was successful in the United States, being certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The album went on to sell over 8.5 million copies worldwide.

It is the only Oasis album to completely feature all five original members. Alan McGree from Creation Records would later say that only the original five ‘had it’.

Drummer Tony McCarroll was ejected from the band in early 1995, but he would still partially appear on their second album on the track Some Might Say.

Melody Maker gave the album its star rating signifying a “bloody essential” purchase, and its critic Paul Lester said, “Of all the great new British pop groups, Oasis are the least playful, the least concerned with post-modern sleights of influence … Definitely Maybe is ‘What the World’s Been Waiting For’, a record full of songs to live to, made by a gang of reckless northern reprobates who you can easily dream of joining … If you don’t agree it offers a dozen opportunities to believe that 1994 is the best year ever for pop/rock music, then you’re wrong”

Keith Cameron of NME called Noel: “a pop craftsman in the classic tradition and a master of his trade” and believed that “the only equivocal thing about Definitely Maybe is its title … everything else screams certainty … the fact is that too much heartfelt emotion, ingenious belief and patent songwriting savvy rushes through the debut Oasis album for it to be the work of a bunch of wind-up merchants … it’s like opening your bedroom curtains one morning and discovering that some f—er’s built the Taj Mahal in your back garden and then filled it with your favourite flavour of Angel Delight”.

Oasis signed to independent record label Creation Records in 1993. (see cover)

The limited-edition 12″ single Columbia was released later that year as a teaser for journalists and radio shows, and was unexpectedly picked up by BBC Radio 1, who played it 19 times in the two weeks after its release. It was creating huge waves in the business before Definitely Maybe would even drop.

The band’s first commercial single Supersonic was released on 11 April 1994.

Supersonic was released just six days after Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide. This marked a clear change in how music was going to sound for the next few years as the band approached their zeitgeist.

The following week, it debuted at No. 31 on the British singles chart.

Supersonic was followed by Shakermaker in June 1994, which debuted at No. 11 and earned the group an appearance on Top of the Pops.

The release of Definitely Maybe was preceded by a third single, Live Forever, which was released on 8 August 1994 and became the group’s first top ten single.

Cigarettes & Alcohol was released as the fourth single from the album in October, peaking at No. 7 in the UK, which was then a career high for the band.

Noel said Slide Away was considered as a fifth single but he ultimately refused.

The continuing success of Oasis partially allowed Creation to ride out a period of tough financial straits; the label was still £2 million in debt, so Tim Abbot was given only £60,000 to promote the upcoming album.

Abbot decided to place ads in publications that had never been approached by Creation before, such as football magazines, match programmes, and UK dance music periodicals.

His suspicions that Oasis would appeal to these non-traditional audiences were confirmed when the dance music magazine Mixmag, which usually ignored guitar-based music, gave Definitely Maybe a five-star review.

The best band in the world was the biggest band in the world: The album’s success wasn’t just critical; it was commercial as well. It quickly became one of the fastest-selling debut albums in British history.

Oasis’ s confident sound and rebellious attitude resonated with a wide audience, helping them gain a massive following both in the UK and internationally.

Antidote to grunge: Released during a time when grunge was waning, “Definitely Maybe” offered a fresh, commercial sound that contrasted sharply with the introspective and often melancholic tones of grunge. Oasis’s unabashed desire for success and legendary status marked a shift in the rock landscape. It’s okay to listen to optimistic music, and hey, it can even be cool too?

Ambition and bravado: The album’s themes revolve around becoming the biggest rock stars, a prophecy Oasis fulfilled. This ambition and bravado are what make “Definitely Maybe” the band’s best record—it captures the process of striving for stardom, unlike their later albums that reflect on the consequences of fame.

Cultural and musical positioning: Oasis positioned themselves as inheritors and promoters of the British rock canon. They embraced the rock ‘n’ roll tradition, creating music that resonated with the public by tapping into the familiar and beloved (plagiarism is a bandied about term these days, after all..) elements of rock history.

Irresistible and energetic: The album is characterised by its high energy, catchy melodies, and straightforward rock ‘n’ roll ethos. It’s purposely about nothing but rock music, and this simplicity makes it both irresistible and enduring.

Defiance and attitude: The Gallagher brothers’ defiant attitude and disdain for anything pretentious or overly intellectual add to the album’s appeal. Their straightforward approach to rock ‘n’ roll and rejection of deeper meanings align with the album’s ethos of being purely about the music.

It saved Creation Records: Released in August 1994, “Definitely Maybe” redefined the parameters of indie rock, filling the void left by bands like The Stone Roses and providing Alan McGee’s Creation Records with a world-class act, so they could finally pay the bills.

Timeless tracks: Songs like Rock’n’Roll Star, Shakermaker, Supersonic, and Columbia demonstrate the band’s ability to penetrate deeply into the public consciousness. Tracks like Live Forever and Slide Away are emotionally resonant and showcase Noel Gallagher’s knack for writing timeless anthems. Rock ‘n’ Roll Star still gets the crowd going even today.

Hope when it was needed: When Definitely Maybe was released, Britain was living under the 15th year of four consecutive Tory governments and, by the beginning of 1994, the nation had pretty much had enough. Labour were riding high in the polls and John Major’s government was in the toilet. There was a feeling change was on the horizon.  In the middle of 1993, they had produced a demo cassette with an artwork that depicted the Union Jack going down a plughole. Asked about the image, Liam Gallagher replied that, “It’s the greatest flag in the world, and it’s going down the sh***er. We’re here to do something about it.”

The cover was designed by Microdot’s Brian Canon, whose history and work is uniquely intertwined with Oasis. He designed the album covers for the ‘golden year’s of the band, including Definitely Maybe, What’s The Story (Morning Glory) and Be Here Now.

Here’s what Brian had to say about the shoot that day.

“This is a bit that people can’t understand when that picture was taken, they’d only had one record, nobody knew who they were, they weren’t the big stars they are today. It wasn’t like, oh my goodness, It’s Noel and Liam Gallagher.

“It was more like, well, it’s a shoot let’s go and do it.

“There was a feeling from the band that they knew how good the record was going to be, and they were right.

“Don’t believe a word you read about them, that they are maniacs, or whatever. Well, actually. (laughs). When we were working, we got the job done. It was actually a pretty uneventful day. We just headed down to Bonehead’s house in West Didsbury, and that was it.

“We headed over to West Didsbury to snap them and that was it. Stratford Avenue I think.”

The cover is full of symbolism.

The photograph on the front cover of the album was taken by rock photographer Michael Spencer Jones in guitarist Bonehead’s house.

The image was inspired by the back cover of the Beatles’ 1966 compilation LP A Collection of Beatles Oldies, and, in the positioning of Liam on the floor, by a visit Spencer Jones had made to the Egyptology section at Manchester Museum.

Spencer Jones asked the band to bring objects of personal value to them to the shoot.

The television is showing a scene with actors Eli Wallach and Antonio Casale from Sergio Leone’s film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

There is a still of actor Gian Maria Volonté from another Leone film, A Fistful of Dollars, is visible on the television on the back cover.

According to Spencer Jones, this was Noel’s favourite film.

A picture of footballer Rodney Marsh playing for Manchester City is propped against the fireplace, with George Best seen in the window (made at Bonehead’s request, a huge United fan.)

A gatefold sleeve of Burt Bacharach, one of Noel’s idols, is also shown leaning against the side of the sofa on the lower left-hand side of the cover.

Bonehead’s Epiphone Riviera, which he used on every Oasis recording and gig during his tenure in the band, is propped against the wall.

Some writers believe that Oasis were trying to pay homage to the album cover of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma album by placing Bacharach’s picture in the same prominent position used for the soundtrack of Vincente Minnelli’s film Gigi on Ummagumma.

Definitely Maybe has rightly so, received widespread critical acclaim and played a key role in revitalising British pop and rock music in the 1990s.

It remains a high watermark for the band, with What’s The Story (Morning Glory).

Critics loved the album for its optimistic themes and its rejection of the negative outlook found in much of the grunge music of that era.

It’s seen as a cornerstone of the Britpop genre and frequently appears on lists of the greatest albums of all time. So where does it rank in totality?

In 2006, NME conducted a readers’ poll where “Definitely Maybe” was voted the greatest album of all time. Spin included the album in their 2015 list of “The 300 Best Albums of 1985–2014.”

Rolling Stone ranked the album at number 217 on its 2020 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

In 1997, “Definitely Maybe” was named the 14th greatest album of all time in a “Music of the Millennium” poll by HMV, Channel 4The Guardian, and Classic FM.

In Channel 4’s “100 Greatest Albums” countdown in 2005, the album was placed at No. 6. In 2006, NME placed it at No. 3 on its list of the greatest British albums ever, behind The Stone Roses’ debut and The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead.”

In a 2006 British poll by NME and the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, the album was voted the best album of all time, with The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” finishing second.

Q magazine placed it at No. 5 on its greatest albums of all time list in 2006, and NME hailed it as the greatest album of all time that same year.

It’s hard to overstate how important and wonderful this album was at the time of its release, and remains today.

With its infectious melodies, unabashed ambition, and rebellious attitude, Definitely Maybe quickly became one of the fastest-selling debut albums in British history, catapulting Oasis to superstardom and revitalising the British pop and rock scene.

30 years later, it still sounds as great as when it was released.

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