Oasis’s “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”

Cover of Morning Glory by Oasis

This week, I’ve been listening to Oasis’s second album “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” from 1995. I graduated from high school in Ohio while Oasis were in the studio recording these tracks. The CD hit records stores only four months later, in October. In the United States, we were almost completely unaware of Oasis, having missed their first album. Some of us may’ve caught the video for “Morning Glory” on late night MTV that winter. And then the single “Wonderwall” was released. By the spring of 1996, “Wonderwall” seemed to be everywhere. Soon after, we also fell in love with “Champagne Supernova.” I bought the CD by the end of April, and these songs were a major part of my 1996 soundtrack.

All of this tremendous music was hitting our ears, along with stories of the sibling band members, Noel and Liam Gallagher. There were stories of rock n’ roll drug use, fighting between brothers, and public cocky braggadocio. The press made a big deal out of their claims they were going to be bigger than The Beatles, which seems a bit of a turn on Lennon’s claim about the Beatles vs. Jesus. Noel was full of great lines for the press like, “We’re not arrogant, we just believe we’re the best band in the world.” He also pointed out that if you say something enough times, a lot of people are going to start believing it.

Wonderwall

The third track “Wonderwall,” proved to be Oasis’s biggest hit and most lasting song. They obviously knew they had something with it, as the first track “Hello” starts with a tease of the “Wonderwall” riff. Originally the song was named “Wishing Well,” but was changed to a reference to George Harrison’s first song album “Wonderwall Music“. This song received a lot of play in 1996. In most cases, this would burn me out on a song, but “Wonderwall” is just tremendously good. The feeling comes across as hopeful in contrast to the slower tempo and minor key.

The verses follow a i-III-VIIsus4-IVsus4 chord progression. The highest two notes on the acoustic rhythm guitar remain the same throughout. The rest of the guitar strings are playing a more simple i-III-VII-iv progression, but those suspended fourths (and the raising of the minor iv to a major IV) happen by virtue of those high strings. This plus the strumming pattern (not too unlike “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Radiohead’s “Just“) make the rhythm guitar immediately distinctive. And I’ve always loved how the drums come in half a measure after the second verse starts. That’s brilliant, and derived from the style of Ringo Starr.

The obtuse lyrics relay the feeling of things going badly, but having a relationship with somebody who could turn things around. The verses consist of four lines followed by a two line refrain. The first four follow a ABCB rhyme scheme, and sometimes the second line rhymes with the final line of the refrain. Every verse ends with “I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.” This refrain expresses directly and beautifully something that many of us have felt at one time or another. Surely, accomplishing that is one of the keys of great songwriting. If you write a great line like that and it holds up to repetition, why not make it a refrain?

Today is gonna be the day
That they’re gonna throw it back to you
By now you should’ve somehow
Realized what you gotta do
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now

Some Might Say

“Some Might Say” kicks off the second half of the album with some T-Rex inspired overdriven guitar. Oasis slam this electric Bolan riff into a wall of bright 90s guitar rock. Tony McCarroll’s drums stomp and smash, with cymbals crashing on the second and fourth beat throughout the chorus and much of the song. Bass guitar rolls along supporting the bottom end without competing with the guitars. Layers of distorted guitar creating a harmonic rich rock haze while the echo drenched vocals deliver the anthemic melody. There’s no denying the Beatles influence, in fact Noel Gallagher constantly did the opposite, perhaps overstating it, but with all the 90s noise here, the melody is rather Paul McCartney.

Champagne Supernova

“Champagne Supernova” stands as one of the greatest album closers of all time. It starts with water sound effects, joined by long notes played on a melodica by guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs. Single notes played on guitar ring out like bells. An acoustic guitar gently strums an Asus chords with a descending bass note: A-G-F#-E. Another epic anthem, “Champagne Supernova” has an overall wistful feel fought by hopeful rises for the chorus. It’s a disconnected sort of sad longing, a desire for something more without really caring so much.

Each verse consists of two sets of three lines: a couplet followed by a single line refrain. So we end up with a rhyme scheme of AAB CCB. With the one exception, the refrain is always the question, “Where were you while we were getting high?” Its not clear who is better off. Is the speaker missing the absent other, or are they wondering what better thing they could be doing? Because, this hanging out getting high with the promise of being caught beneath landslides doesn’t seem like a good time.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?
Where were you while we were getting high?
Slowly walking down the hall
Faster than a cannonball
Where were you while we were getting high?

I would personally consider this the best song on the album, with “Wonderwall” being a close second. It takes the listener on a journey, with rising chorus, soaring psychedelic rock solos, swirling reverb, dancing drums. The ambivalent emotion comes across perfectly, some could hear desperation, sadness, longing, triumph, listlessness, hope, aspiration. A wide range. Noel Gallagher is a master of writing well-formed ambiguous obtuse lyrics that present first with style and later develop meaning through absorption. He creates that which is relatable through allusion and illusion.

John Lennon’s “Imagine”

Album cover for John Lennon's Imagine

This week, I’ve been listening to John Lennon’sImagine” from 1971. “Imagine” was Lennon’s second solo album after leaving The Beatles. My friend Mike Frost in High School listen to this CD a lot. He frequently played “Oh Yoko” for me, because it was my favorite. That was a couple decades ago, so I’d actually forgotten much of the album.

I was at first excited to get back into it, but on the first day I was underwhelmed. It seemed this album was overrated just because it was by John Lennon. The overly long “I Don’t Want To Be a Soldier” and the generic blues of the cheeky “It’s So Hard” failed to impress me. I mostly skipped the song “Imagine” simply because I’ve heard it a million times. Shame actually, because it’s an amazing song.

At the end of the week I was still saying the album was overrated, but realized upon reflection that I was wrong. The majority of the album is very good, even if there are some duds. It was actually difficult to narrow down which song I would focus on here. I opted to exclude “Jealous Guy” even though it is a beautiful tune; I also did not include Oh Yoko!” despite that fact I’ve loved it for years. Much of what I’d have to say about it can also be said about “Crippled Inside”

“Crippled Inside” dances like a jaunty country-western pace on a vaudevillian stage. The song opens with finger-picked dobro guitar with slap-back delay, somewhat consistent with the delay Lennon often uses on his vocals. After that melodic intro, the guitar is joined by drums, honky-tonk piano, upright basses, acoustic guitar and slide dobro.

The verses follow a I-I7-IV-IV7-I-VI7-II7-V-I progression; simplified this is a I-IV-I-VI-II-V-I. The bass walks down that VI7 – II7 change to descend with the lines “One thing you can’t hide”, which is answered with the gently ascending “Is when you’re crippled inside.”

Each verse has the couplet refrain rhyming “hide” and “inside”. The first two lines of both verses rhyme “hymn/skin” and “face/race” and the third line has a long I vowel (“tie” and “die”) for a slant-rhyme with the refrain “hide/inside” rhyme.

The melody lines of the vocals are continued by trills on the piano and slide guitar. These keeps a constant flow going through the track while maintaining that country-western feel. I really love the sound of that dobro and piano combination.

The vitrolic track “All I Want Is Some Truth” jumps into Lennon protesting hypocrisy, politicians, critics, and bigotry. Or really, just about anything that grinding his gears. They’re well-written, pointed, lyrics; though, I can imagine an on-the-street interview with a young person on the streets in 1971: “Why you are gathered here today?” ” I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic psychotic pigheaded politicians. All I want is the truth; just give me some truth.” And that’s part of why the song is so perfect for it’s time. I also really like Lennon’s vocal delivery, which has the same bitterness to it as the words.

The music however gets tiresome as it repeats the same short phrases over and over. The vocals are really what carry this song, with the accompaniment providing a beat and mood. That’s the basic job of accompaniment, but I feel it should provide more. The best part is the slide guitar, which was played by former Beatles bandmate George Harrison.

George Harrison also plays on the best song on the album that’s not “Jealous Guy”: “How Do You Sleep.” It seems odd to me that Harrison would play on a McCartney diss track. While it’s wholly inline with Lennon’s personality, it doesn’t seem like Harrison’s style.

As with the rest of the album, we’re hearing traditional rock instruments: drum, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric piano, and vocals. There’s also some unobtrusive strings providing background padding, and occasionally between vocals lines giving some Indian motifs. For the most part, these instruments are with very minimal effects. There’s a little overdrive and reverb, plus some tight delay, but otherwise a very clean sound.

Again, one of the best parts of the song is Harrison’s guitar playing. You can watch him play in recently released outtake footage on Youtube. The bass played by Klaus Voorman, especially during the chorus, gives the song great movement and bounce. Each of these instruments are interacting with each other in a united conversation. The conversation goes back and forth, each reacting to the other.

There are some incredible tracks on this album, but overall I think it is a little week, especially in the middle. It opens with three great songs and closes with three great song, then there’s four songs in the middle that I could mostly do without. Oh well.

The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul”

The Beatles' "Rubber Soul" album cover

I dedicated this week to listening to The Beatles‘ sixth album “Rubber Soul” from 1965. Of course, I’m well aware of the Beatles. My tastes, especially since a teenager, was for their later work from 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper” on. I thought I wasn’t quite so familiar with “Rubber Soul,” but some of my favorites are on this album as well. With so many great songs, it’s difficult to choose only a few songs to focus on.

One of the most noticeable things about “Rubber Soul” on a whole is the hard-panning. During this period, albums often saw both a mono and a stereo release. The mono mix was given more care and attention, often bands like the Beatles were present and involved in the mono mix. The stereo mix was considered by some to be unnecessary, a slight variation of the mono, or worse, a gimmicky trend. 

I’ve seen two main reasons given for the Beatles stereo mixes using hard panning (each track (instrument) is completely in the left, right, or center.) Limitations of the studio equipment provided the first reason. Up until the late-60s, mixing consoles had a three-position switch for panning: Left-Center-Right, or LCR.

Another reason came from concern of playback equipment and what might happen if the stereo record was played on mono equipment. This second reason lead to the Center position being avoided. One “Rubber Soul” everything is either Left or Right. So, if the two channels were summed together as mono, the mix levels would be preserved.  That separation ccan sound nice in a room with wells-spaced speakers; However, it’s a very strange feeling in headphones to have the center be a void and everything is right in one ear or the other.

The album’s second track “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” is a slower folk-rock song in ¾ time with Indian influence. Not only incorporate influence from music of India, it was also the first rock song to feature an actual sitar rather than just imitating the sound with guitars. George Harrison had a genuine interest in Indian music and culture, which had an influence on much of his work.

Lennon’s lyrics about a less-than-satisfying love affair perhaps don’t reflect any sort of connection to the Indian flavor. Though there is a sense of exotic strangeness to the girl’s house, which can be like being a stranger in a foreign land. Apparently the last verse is about burning her house down, but it’s so vague it’s difficult to say. Though, knowing that Lennon has used the phrase “Norwegian wood” to refer to cheap wood paneling helps a little.

And when I awoke I was alone

This bird had flown

So I lit a fire

Isn’t it good Norwegian wood?

The intro and verse probably have no real chord progression, but rather stay in the I chord continuously. At the very least a chord progression of I-v7-IV is implied by the melodic riffs. In this way, the accompaniment further imitates drones heard in Indian music. The sitar plays a riff in the left channel, which doubles the melodic portion of finger-picked acoustic guitar in the right channel. The same melody is almost completely followed by the vocal melody.

I have loved the Beatles “Nowhere Man” as long as I can remember, so definitely since I was a young child. It’s one of those songs that can be appreciated at any age. Gershon Kingsley recorded a great instrumental version of the song using Moog synthesizers that I have adored since first hearing it about 15 years ago. I love the sounds Kingsley has designed for the song, but I also really like the melody of this song. Again, the focus of most Beatles songs is the melody and the accompaniment supports that melody. 

The Beatles keep the instrumentation pretty simple on this track. In the left channel, we have drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitar. The acoustic guitar strums through a I-V-IV-I-ii-iv-I-I chord progression for the verses and iii-IV-iii-IV-iii-ii7-ii7-V7 for the chorus. I especially like that sound of the iii-IV-iii-IV part of the chorus. Still, though this is not a common chord progression, the acoustic guitar strumming pattern definitely is. The bass guitar, as I’ve noticed in several Beatles songs, plays the most interesting part of the accompaniment. McCartney gives the music a groovy counterpoint to the vocals. 

The electric guitar in the left channel mostly plays small melodic riffs during the short pause between verses. Another electric guitar in the right channel plays a solo after the first chorus. Backing vocals are also in the right channel, going ‘ahhhh, ahhhh, la la la’ during the choruses and doubling the lead vocal during verses.

I recognized during the week that one of my favorite tracks “I’m Looking Through You” sounds the most like a Monkees song, and I do love the Monkees. The bit after the chorus gets my attention. Right after they sing “I’m looking through, you’re not the same!” The organ and electric guitar pick up in energy getting a little louder and driving. The organ hits two chords along with the guitar and then guitar continues with a pattern of rapid notes. This interaction adds great energy to the song.

The percussion for the song consists mostly of Ringo tapping his fingers on a box of matches. There’s a few instances of tambourine, which seem to have perhaps been played in the background and picked up by another microphone. During the post-chorus sections, Ringo also plays a minimal but effective pattern on the drum kit. 

“Rubber Soul” deserves more praise among Beatles albums. I liked this album far more than “Revolver.” But, I also like “Abbey Road” more than “Sgt. Pepper“. Anyway, this was definitely another great album and one I’m glad I’ve gotten to know better. I’ll continue listening to this one for years, I’m sure.