How To Understand Oasis in 15 Songs

Oasis is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most polarizing groups – depending on who you ask, either the platonic ideal of rock stars, with the classic albums, songbook, and attitude to cement their place in the pantheon of greats; or two egomaniacal, bad-behaving brothers with a Beatles fetish who love themselves (and their straight-up rip off songs) a little too much.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Their first two albums, Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? are two of the founding documents of what came to be known as Britpop – for this reason, they get most of the ink.

But the band possesses a far more interesting and varied catalog than given credit for. At times brash, nonsensical, triumphant, sensitive, excessive, and profound – and sometimes all those things at once – Oasis is far more than two must-have LPs. Their catalog is ripe for (re)discovery almost 10 years after the band parted ways, in 2009. These 15 songs (click here for the Spotify playlist) get to the root of what one of rock’s all-time biggest bands was all about.

“Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” – The Mission Statement, pt. 1

from Definitely Maybe

The first song on their first album, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” is Oasis’ mission statement. It’s an escapist fantasy that anyone who has ever felt trapped – in their city, their job, their life – has played out in their head while listening to their favorite band. The trick is Oasis dragged that daydream into reality, willed it into existence, and lived it out on stage and off. It was, in their live sets, either the perfect opening salvo, or the ideal capper to the shared, shout-along joy of their shows. Songs like this made them the rock ‘n’ roll stars they sang about, leaving people spellbound in their wake. Is there a more perfect, triumphant summation of rock stardom than “Look at you, now you’re all in my hands tonight”, sung to a stadium?

“Acquiesce” – The Best of the B-sides

from Some Might Say (single); The Masterplan

1995-era Oasis was a well-oiled machine. After appearing seemingly overnight to become one of the biggest bands in Britain, the band entered the studio to make their second album: the massive worldwide hit, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Noel Gallagher, the band’s main (and at the time, only) songwriter and lead guitarist, was on a once-in-a-lifetime roll, backlogging so many album-worthy tunes that he released them as b-sides, ala fellow Mancunian legends The Smiths. “Acquiesce” is one of those songs, included on the Some Might Say single and b-sides compilation The Masterplan. It’s one of the rare tunes to feature both brothers on vocals, and it absolutely soars – an ode to the bond of friendship (or brotherly love?) that is not only their best b-side, but quite possibly their best song.

“Columbia” – Psychedelic Oasis, pt. 1

from Definitely Maybe

The late 80s and early 90s were a heady time in the UK: acid house was taking over Britain and the world, and so-called Madchester, home to New Order-bankrolled club The Hacienda, was one of its epicenters. Bands like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were marrying the ecstasy-fueled danceability of that scene to more traditional guitars-drums-bass lineups, providing a fresh take to soundtrack the so-called Second Summer of Love. It rubbed off on Noel and co., surfacing in “Columbia”, a loud, three-chord psychedelic rush of a song the polar opposite of their stock-still stage presence. They never got quite this danceable again.

“Slide Away” – Anthemic and Bittersweet

from Definitely Maybe

Another contender for the best Oasis song, “Slide Away” is big tune that supposedly wrote itself when Noel picked up a guitar sent to him by famed Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. It’s long, but never overstays its welcome, growing in feeling and intensity over 6 minutes and 32 seconds. It also contains some of Noel’s best lyrics, encapsulating one of Oasis’ more underrated qualities – their relationship with the bittersweet, marked by a tension both soaring and sad.

“Talk Tonight” – The Best of the Acoustic Noel B-sides

from Some Might Say (single); The Masterplan

The story goes like this: after a disastrous, (accidentally) crystal meth-fueled first performance in Los Angeles, marred by mismatched setlists and a meltdown between the brothers Gallagher, Noel disappeared. Without telling management or his bandmates, he flew to San Francisco, where the band had played a few nights before at Bottom of the Hill, and wound up on the doorstep of Melissa Lim, who he had met at the show. She took him in for a few days, convincing him that leaving the band would be a mistake. Noel recognized she was right and returned to the band, who went on to reach world-conquering heights, but not before he wrote a song called “Talk Tonight” about the experience. One of Oasis’ most nakedly emotional songs, it displays Noel’s underrecognized sensitivity, and is the best, and best-loved, of a subgenre of Oasis tunes – acoustic Noel b-sides – that dot the band’s output.

“Don’t Look Back in Anger” – The Quintessential Oasis Anthem

from (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

“Don’t Look Back in Anger” stands alone as Oasis’ most anthemic song in a catalog filled with them. It’s also fuel for the band’s detractors, who characterize the group as nothing more than musical magpies – hard to argue with, in this case, as the song features an opening piano riff echoing John Lennon’s “Imagine”, an overall feel copped from “All the Young Dudes”, and a title riffing on a song from David Bowie’s Lodger. But like most of Oasis’ work, the song is greater than the sum of its parts, with qualities very, indescribably them. Led by Noel on vocals, its chorus is one of the band’s best – sung back by crowds in stadiums around the world, it is a singularly transcendent piece of music. It took on even greater poignancy as a rallying cry following the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.

“Wonderwall” – The Hit Americans Know

from (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

One of two Oasis songs (along with “Champagne Supernova”) that the average American knows, “Wonderwall” is maybe the band’s most famous song, period. A massive worldwide hit, it accelerated Oasis’ ascent towards Biggest Band in the World status. It may be ubiquitous to the point of annoyance now, but it is worth taking a step back and enjoying it on its own terms. It was a hit for a reason, featuring a great melody, perfectly vague-but-relatable lyrics, and strong production, all bolstered by classic pop song construction.

“All Around the World” – Maximum Bloat, Maximum Beatles

from Be Here Now

When it came time to follow up Morning Glory, Noel Gallagher found himself suffering from a bout of writer’s block. He found inspiration by revisiting material written before Definitely Maybe. “All Around the World” is one of those songs, stored away by Gallagher for a time when they could make a recording grand enough for his vision.

By 1996, Oasis was the biggest band anywhere, capable of selling out two nights at Knebworth for 250,000 people (with enough demand for tickets that they could have played there a whole week). It was the pinnacle of the band’s success, and the residual inflated egos, carte blanche from the record company, and various substance-based trappings of fame informed the recording sessions for the band’s third album, Be Here Now, of which “All Around the World” is the centerpiece.

The song is emblematic of both the band’s love of The Beatles – with an “All You Need is Love”-styled chorus and heavy orchestral flourishes – and the cocaine-driven visions of grandeur that dominate the album. Like every song on Be Here Now, it is far too long (and even has an instrumental reprise), but it’s kind of perfect in its own, overblown way – a singular slice of Noel’s ambition, with a very-Oasis message: everything’s gonna be all right.