Photo courtesy of Will Fresch/Wikimedia Commons
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of “Definitely Maybe,” my favorite album ever. This isn’t to say that Oasis’s debut is the best album ever, but it is the one which most spoke to me.
I was a relatively late-comer to the Oasis party. I didn’t listen to this album in its entirety until I was 20, and it was nearly old enough to get its driver’s license. I had heard Oasis singles beforehand, but this album was the turning point for what became an obsession for me throughout my 20s and into my 30s. While I had listened to plenty of music before that point, “Definitely Maybe” informed my opinion of everything I heard going forward. Including, of course, the remainder of the Oasis discography.
Even among most people who identify as Oasis fans, the standard line on the band is that they had two great albums and then started to lose the plot. But while the band was never again as popular as they were in 1996, they released five more good-to-great albums, and more than the strength of their best songs, the consistency of their entire catalog is why I classify Oasis as my favorite band. In total, Oasis released 138 songs. Here is a ranking of the best 25, from worst to best.
Editor's note: Picks 26 through 138 can be read on John's personal blog.
25. "(It’s Good) To Be Free" (from “Whatever” Single): Possessing one of the meatier Oasis guitar solos and a charmingly simple lyrical premise (I listened to this song on the last day of multiple college semesters and last days of jobs), this B-side manages to overcome the fact that it’s slightly undercooked production-wise, and somehow makes this a positive. Liam Gallagher barely sounds like he cares singing this song, but that’s the whole point of it! Also, it has, without a doubt, the greatest Morse code and accordion solos in Oasis history.
24. "Guess God Thinks I’m Abel" ("Don’t Believe the Truth"): Liam has denied the obvious biblical connotations of the song’s title and how it ties in with his famously tempestuous relationship with his older brother and bandmate, Noel. This helps give the song, which is the back half of an incredible one-two punch along with “The Meaning of Soul” on “Don’t Believe the Truth,” a certain mystique. Whether you interpret the song as Liam comparing himself to somebody famously murdered by his brother, or as a simple song about a decaying relationship, it’s simple and heartbreaking, but never bitter. As Liam conveys during the song’s sudden volume uptick, the singer here is at least trying to be the good guy.
23. "Force of Nature" ("Heathen Chemistry"): After briefly borrowing the drum intro from Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing,” this Noel Gallagher song quickly becomes my favorite Oasis song that I’m not actually sure is any good. But there’s something irresistible about the song’s bluesy, borderline-country guitar riffs, occasional piano-stomping and angry, swaggering, if somewhat obvious at times, lyrics. And while I normally want Liam singing, particularly on songs I would ever call “swaggering,” Noel’s is exactly what this song needs.
22. "Bring It On Down" ("Definitely Maybe"): A pivotal argument in favor of “Definitely Maybe” being, at its heart, a punk album, “Bring It On Down” is the album’s fastest song, allowing Liam to explore the more Rotten-esque side of his John Lennon-meets-Johnny Rotten vocal stylings, while Tony McCarroll, a drummer whose roots were clearly, firmly inspired by punk, is the ideal fit for this Noel-penned ode to being the outcast/underclass.
21. "Eyeball Tickler" (“Lyla” Single): While “Part of the Queue” is perfectly fine, I would have substituted it out in favor of “Eyeball Tickler” on “Don’t Believe the Truth” without blinking. This B-side manages to be a looser, more overtly punky song than most of the pop-oriented album material, but it still manages to fit that album’s tunefulness. Written by Gem Archer, his songs tended to emphasize the sound of Liam’s voice more than the words coming out of Liam's mouth, and the whole thing sounds so intense that I’ve never bothered to learn the lyrics. Something about “listen to the monkey” – who cares? It rocks.
20. "Bag It Up" ("Dig Out Your Soul"): Arguably, the best moment from the band's final album is this song's ferocious guitar intro. In conjunction with the verses, primarily sung by Liam with ample Noel harmonization, "Bag It Up" sounds angry and, for a band that ended its prior album with “Let There Be Love,” like a band that wasn’t looking to get soft as they got older. The one issue with the song is that it drags on for a minute too long, seemingly looking for the appropriate time to end, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Bag It Up” comes out of the gate like it’s in a drag race.
19. Let’s All Make Believe" (“Go Let It Out” Single): The best hard-to-find Oasis track (I’m banking on a 20th anniversary re-issue of “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants” to get it on Spotify), this B-side was the first song written for the "Standing on the Shoulder of Giants" sessions, and it captures the bitterness associated with it. Given the era in which it was made, it borders on miraculous that Liam sang on this song at all; much less that he turned in a performance this strong. Q Magazine once claimed it would’ve given “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants” an additional star in its review had it been included, and I can’t argue against the logic.
18. "The Hindu Times" ("Heathen Chemistry"): Probably the band's most universally-praised single since “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?“ borrows heavily from “Same Size Feet” by Stereophonics. But I can’t deny that Oasis absolutely owns it, with the hypnosis of “in and out my brain you’re running through my vein,” post-chorus and the intoxication of the song’s Indian-flavored guitar riff. Also, there isn’t a potential part of the album’s deluxe edition I’m craving more than the excellent, Noel-sung demo.
17. "Underneath the Sky" (“Don’t Look Back in Anger” Single): This B-side really does incorporate every possible element of that era of Oasis, and in less than 3 1/2 minutes. It is primarily guitar-led, but includes a simple piano solo, all while the feedback-heavy guitar progresses and Liam sings his heart out. Meanwhile, Noel hangs out in the background, providing his own vocal accompaniment.
And I think now is where I introduce, perhaps, my hottest Oasis take: I think I like the “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” B-sides more than the actual album. I don’t care if you disagree with me. Just read the descriptions of the B-sides, and let it be known that I have a point.
16. Acquiesce (“Some Might Say” Single): From the opening guitar riff, its slight garage rock aesthetic of the Liam-sung verses, and through to the bigger, more anthemic Noel-sung chorus (an ode to friendship, love, or possibly just being in Oasis), “Acquiesce” had all of the hallmarks of a great rock single. And it didn’t even make it onto “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”! Absolute madness. And because Liam and Noel both sing, it covers everything anyone could ever want. But sure, Oasis, put multiple “Swamp Song” excerpts onto the album.
15. "I Am the Walrus" (“Cigarettes & Alcohol” Single): First of all, this single includes four songs, and this is the lowest ranked of them. Without a doubt, the strongest single Oasis ever released. Second of all, this is certainly the most vital cover of Oasis’s career. While the original Beatles song is a fairly mellow bit of psychedelic rock, Oasis envisions the classic single as a more than eight minute long epic filled with extensive guitar solos and Liam being Liam. Strangely enough, even though he’s singing a Lennon-sung song, Liam is channeling his Rotten side more on this one, and absolutely crushing it. I can’t imagine anybody who saw Oasis performing this one live in Manchester clubs in 1992 could ever think this band was going to be anything less than the biggest thing on Earth.
14. "Live Forever" ("Definitely Maybe"): This is, for all intents and purposes, a mission statement. Much has been written about how this song’s optimism contrasted with the (often literal) fatalism of grunge, but for me, it’s not so much that the song is optimistic, it’s that it’s optimistic and real. As Liam sings, “Maybe I will never be all the things that I want to be,” but he doesn’t care. This is a man who loves life, and he loves the person to whom he is singing, and the song can’t help but feel like a call to arms. It’s Britpop’s equivalent to “Born to Run.”
13. A Bell Will Ring ("Don’t Believe the Truth"): There are at least half a dozen Beatles songs to which you could reasonably compare this song. “A Bell Will Ring” is the penultimate track on the band’s penultimate album, and a track which probably could have been a single had it been written by a Gallagher. But Archer, in the best Oasis song not written by Liam or Noel, crafts a clean, slightly hypnotic, lyrically vague ode to – well, it’s hard to say. To me, the song was always about some kind of quasi-religious awakening, but as was so often the case with great Oasis songs, that’s open for interpretation. But either way, it sounds fantastic.
12. "Gas Panic!" ("Standing on the Shoulder of Giants"): The darkness of Oasis' fourth album reached its peak (or perhaps its nadir, depending on your perspective) with this Liam-sung, Noel-written song that feels like drug addiction. Most drug songs are bad because they either celebrate drug addiction, which is terrible sociologically, or they condemn drug use in a way which is preachy and feels like you’re being given a grade school lesson. But where “Gas Panic!” thrives, from its bleak lyrics to its meandering guitar sound, is that it feels like waking up alone and disoriented, and it borders on terrifying. So much for Oasis being a fun, party band.
11. "Headshrinker" (“Some Might Say” Single): From the unaccompanied guitar intro, to when Tony McCaroll's drums kick in, to Liam’s trademark snarl, this is as directly Sex Pistols-sounding as any Oasis song, certainly the most punk-inspired song from the “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” era. You even get some noticeable basslines from the otherwise extremely understated Paul McGuigan. Some people will hesitate to call a song this simple and shallow a classic, but it is impossible to grow tired of this B-side.
10. "Go Let It Out" ("Standing on the Shoulder of Giants"): The opening drumbeat implies something slightly alternative and slightly danceable, but once the verses kick in, it’s a pure nod to late-'60s Beatles. Drawing on the neo-psychedelia Oasis explored in order to break loose from the band’s anthem-driven late-1990s rut, but it has all of the melody that fans came to expect from the band. A refreshing, straightforward change from “Be Here Now.”
9. "Wonderwall" ("What’s the Story) Morning Glory?"): It would be easy, as an Oasis superfan, to dismiss the band’s most famous song. But once you get past the visions of corny bros strumming “Wonderwall” on acoustic guitars as a halfhearted attempt to woo girls, and overcome being tired of it by the 30,000th listen, it’s a really incredible song. The guitar riff is pure magic. The lyrics tread ever so closely to saccharine, but Liam’s voice and Noel’s overall restraint make “Wonderwall” a song that sophisticated adults can appreciate, too. And the drums – a song structured like this isn’t supposed to have such incredible drumming! Alan White didn’t get the memo about the drums, and I didn’t get the memo that I’m supposed to dismiss the big pop song. “Wonderwall” is amazing.
8. "Listen Up" (“Cigarettes & Alcohol” Single): I’m a fan of rock music that speaks to youthful alienation, and I’m a fan of rock music that just pure and simple rocks your face off. Good rock bands master one of these two styles. Great rock bands master both. Oasis mastered both and put them in the same song. “Listen Up” is at once a confident, swaggering ode to the success the band was on the precipice of having, and a song that feels a little bit scared of it. It’s a song with heavy guitars and drums, but also one in which Liam's voice cracks when he sings about how he’s going to “leave you all behind.” It’s more than 6 1/2 minutes long. It's thick for a “Definitely Maybe”-era tune, but considering it feels like a summation of my 20s, it could’ve gone on for an hour.
7. "The Shock of the Lightning" ("Dig Out Your Soul"): “Dig Out Your Soul” was my one contemporaneous Oasis album, having discovered the band only after I went to college. While I had enjoyed the post-“Morning Glory” singles I had heard, I somehow still internalized the conventional wisdom that the band had been treading water for a decade-plus. And then I heard “The Shock of the Lightning,” with Zak Starkey’s pulsating drum intro (and later drum solo) and onslaught of guitars, and I knew that somebody had been lying to me. Sure, the lyrics have the banality of some of their late-prime anthems, but I defy anybody with a pulse to not air-drum to the song’s bridge.
6. "Fade Away" (“Cigarettes & Alcohol” Single): It’s so high energy that it’s easy to overlook how bleak of a song it is lyrically (“while we’re living, the dreams we have as children fade away”). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The very first line of the song is about being evicted! But Liam sure does sound great with his slightly screaming vocal, and does that chorus ever hit hard. There are two songs mildly borrowed from in this song (I’ll stop short of calling either outright plagiarism, in these cases): the drum intro from the Sex Pistols’ “Holiday in the Sun” and the verse melody of Wham!’s “Freedom.” Two rather different influences, but I think they’re both great songs. And if you’re into the Sex Pistols and Wham!, you might like Oasis.
5. "Cigarettes & Alcohol" ("Definitely Maybe"): Noel borrowed the riff from T. Rex’s “Get It On.” Though, to be fair, he was not the first. Okay, we’ve got that out of the way? Great. This song rules. It was the first single to really, truly capture the attitude of early-Oasis, and from Liam’s turns of phrase to the guitar solo – even if you think of it as a glorified T. Rex cover, I fail to see the problem. While the music video isn’t exactly high art, Noel’s point to the camera at the 2:59 mark makes me happy every single time. Not to mention that “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” the most played live track in the band’s history, has the single greatest lyric in the Oasis canon in “Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?”
4. "D’You Know What I Mean?" ("Be Here Now"): “Be Here Now” is widely viewed as a disappointment today, and while I do enjoy the album, I understand why: almost every song on it is too long and overproduced. But I can’t even imagine how I’d react to hearing “D’You Know What I Mean?” with completely fresh ears. It opens with drum loops and backward samples. It rises to a simple but utterly anthemic chorus, and it has one of the better Oasis guitar solos to boot. It’s a seven-minute, 42-second song that I somehow wish were longer. In my perfect world, a combined 20 minutes are cut from the rest of “Be Here Now” and that time is donated to “D’You Know What I Mean?” The song so proves the concept of “Be Here Now,” that it validates the entire album’s indulgent existence.
3. "Rock ‘n’ Roll Star" ("Definitely Maybe"): Noel wrote it, and the lyrics are pretty good by the somewhat moderate standards of Oasis, but this song belongs to Liam. From the way he articulates “shine” to the way his voice rises to the occasion when he belts out that “Tonight, I’m a rock and roll star,” it is clear that if Liam formed his own country, this would be his national anthem, and I would, at the bare minimum, apply for dual citizenship. It’s not like Oasis invented singing songs about rock and roll, but it is rare to hear a band sing such a song and think more of it. Because, Liam isn’t really singing about being a rock and roll star, he’s singing about breaking away from the doldrums of his working class rut. Even if he does claim “It’s just rock and roll.”
2. "Supersonic" ("Definitely Maybe"): I’m not saying that the opening riff is the greatest guitar riff in rock history, but any discussion which doesn’t include it is a conversation that isn’t doing its due diligence. I enjoy every second of “Supersonic," but from the drum intro to the riff to the grungiest guitar part Oasis ever made (Noel suddenly sounds more like he’s in Soundgarden than the Beatles once Liam begins to sing) that carries the first verse, the first 74 seconds of “Supersonic” feel like an out-of-body experience. And the song’s lyrics are terrible! Every word of it is complete nonsense! And do you care? I can’t imagine why anybody would possibly care.
1. Columbia ("Definitely Maybe"): Despite their Beatles worship, no band more overtly influenced Oasis as a concept than the Stone Roses. Oasis was a bunch of teenagers in Manchester with no direction in life. Then a group from their hometown broke through in 1989, and suddenly, Liam wanted to be Ian Brown with his life. But by and large, Oasis didn’t really sound like the Stone Roses, and certainly didn’t really sound like the broader Manchester scene, which incorporated dance rhythms into rock music. But with “Columbia,” Oasis manages to be everything they ever claimed to be. Stone Roses devotees? Yeah, you could put this song on at a rave and it wouldn’t seem outlandish. Hard rock royalty? In addition to its danceable nature, this song has arguably the heaviest guitar riffs on “Definitely Maybe.” Home of not one but two transcendent vocalists? Liam and Noel have never had more spine-tingling harmonies than they do in the chorus of “Columbia.” The greatest rock and roll band ever to walk the planet Earth? I mean, if you’re going to argue against it, I wouldn’t focus on this song. “Columbia” wasn’t a single, but its demo was the first Oasis song to ever receive radio airplay. That’s how big Oasis was. That’s how great Oasis was.