This week, I’ve been listening to Oasis’s debut album “Definitely Maybe” from 1994. This makes the second Oasis I’ve done for this “great albums” project, the first being their second album, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” Coincidentally, that’s the same order I heard these albums in the 1990s. I believe “Wonderwall” introduced me to the band in 1996. Closely followed by “Champagne Supernova.” I remember a friend of mine complaining that Liam pushed his voice too hard in “Wonderwall.” I didn’t really know what that meant. I was reluctant to like them at first, but within a year I had bought both “Morning Glory” and “Definitely Maybe.” Both albums directly influenced stuff I was writing then, getting constant play in my walkman. Suffice it to say, I’m well acquainted with this album.
The third track on the album, “Live Forever” starts with a tom and kick drum pattern. It’s like a 30s jazz groove slowed down. A clean electric guitar strums a chord, then Liam sings “Maybe I don’t really wanna know how your garden grows ‘Cause I just wanna fly.” One of the most Oasis sounding lyric lines sung in the most Oasis way. If you want to jump Oasis with an early song that introduces the overall feel of the band, this song is not a bad place to start.Within 20 seconds, you have been introduced.
Furthermore, Noel Gallagher knowingly draws inspiration from a classis rock song: the opening line “Maybe I don’t really want to know..” mimics the Rolling Stones line “May the good lord shine a light on you…” from 1972’s “Shine A Light.” Undoubtedly, Oasis followed proto-britpop bands like Primal Scream who also referenced Shine A Light in their 1991 song “Movin’ On Up.” Noel and Oasis developed a reputation for knowingly and proudly borrowing from classic rock.
For chord progressions, the verses band plays I-V-ii-IV-V twice; the I-V-ii are played one chord per 4 beat measure, then the fourth measure has IV-V played half a bar each. For the first verse, the chords are strummed once at the start of each change. Then into the chorus begins constant strumming on the super-compressed overdriven electric guitar through Marshall amps loud and probably an Ibanez Tube Screamer. These studio recordings extensively layer guitars to create this wall of fuzzy strumming. This near-constant noise of distorted guitar chords fills much of the album. The chorus follows the same chord progression, except the first chord is no longer the tonic I, but rather the minor submediant vi chord.
Noel does something unusual with the lyrics of “Live Forever” by having every verse be the same but making the choruses different. Typically, especially in pop songs, the choruses are identical, potentially allowing for minor variation and the verses are each different. Here he turns that around. Each chorus ends with the “You and I are gonna live forever…” as a refrain to tie the song together, and also to the title of the song.
Oasis open “Digsy’s Dinner” with a hopping percussive crunchy overdriven electric guitar strumming. The song jumps at a raucious 140 BPM, with guitars, bass, and drums all heavily emphasizes the four downbeats of each measure, giving a little hop at the end of each bar. The bass also plays the eight notes, racing the rhythm along. This mood well suits the charmingly romantic and yet silly lyrics of the song.
The verses follow a I-III7-IV-V-IV-V-IV-V chord progression as Liam sings about inviting a girl over for tea and lasagna. He’s quite confident in his pasta, claiming that her friends “will all go green for my lasagna.” The choruses then jump into a vi-I-ii7-III7-I chord progression. Notice that in both verse and chorus, Noel makes use of a major III chord, which is typically a minor chord. Noel takes the same approach as in “Live Forever” by starting the chorus with the minor submediant vi chord. In addition to change in melody, the chorus sees the guitars play layers of constant strumming and arpeggios.
“Slide Away” starts with melodic picking on the overdriven electric guitar, layered with another guitar playing a lead solo, and yet another electric guitar strumming rhythmically. All the guitars overdrive their amps, allowing them to blend together into a massive force. This even while the playing itself is not particularly complex, the chord progression however is unusual.
The verses slide through a vi7-V-IV chord progression, repeated four times. Most pop rock songs will start on the tonic I chord, not the vi chord. What these verses do is give an illusion of resolving, but don’t provide a strong resolution. This creates the sense of longing and nostalgia that runs through the song.
After two verses, the band goes into a pre-chorus: V-IV-V-IV-V-IV-V-V. This repetition of dominant and subdominant chords tells the listener that the song is building up to something, and the ear hopes for cadence, which the band delivers. “Now that you’re…” and on the word “..mine” we finally hit that tonic I chord. The song feels grounded. And yet, the chorus doesn’t stay there long, going through V-IV- and back to the vi7, falling to a V, a II7 and IV. Again, we drift away from that grounded tonic.. until “two of a…” and on “kind.” back to the tonic I. Tying the meaning of the words to the feeling of the progression. This is home, this is the way things are meant to be.