Another British holiday favorite that just hasn’t crossed the Atlantic, and really kind of deserves to, I can’t hear this without immediately feeling like a kid again during the run up to the big day, with the Advent Calendar and the sleepless excitement that always overwhelmed me at the time. It’s that hardwired into my Christmastime DNA.
If Noddy Holder’s screech is too much for you, there’s always this far more mellow version:
From back before Oasis were Oasis, the final track to their first album, and the first sign, perhaps, that Noel Gallagher had more to offer than just Status Quo Meets The Beatles in his bag of tricks. The sense of humor at play in the lyrics (Yes, that refrain really is “Your music’s shite/It keeps me up all night/Up all night”) against the gentle instrumentation made this the first Oasis song to actually win me over way back when, along with a bridge that swooned far too close to the sun of sentimental softness – “And it will be nice to be alone/For a week or two/But I know then I will be right/Right back here with you” – making the whole thing into a song that undercut the band’s own carefully cultivated thug exterior.
No wonder Noel kept it in the setlist for decades afterwards (I love the organ in the final version below):
This song is, in so many ways, Oasis-By-Numbers; the lyrics that reference well-known pop cultural artifacts in the middle of meaningless platitudes (“Love is a time machine/Up on the silver screen/Love is a litany/A magical mystery”) before going on to exhort something of the listener (“Come in/Come out/Come in/Come out tonight”), sneered against a wall of noise made up of every instrument seemingly being turned up to 11 and just played without any artifice or self-awareness. And yet, it works because of that, not despite of it. There’s no there there in this song, no hidden meaning or secret that you only discover after repeated listens – You either get this or you don’t. It’s thug music pretending to be hippie music, and that always been what Oasis is, deep down. It’s not even a “you’re either on the bus or you’re off it” thing; if you’re not on Oasis’ bus, they’ll probably accidentally run you over because they genuinely don’t give a fuck, and not even in the poserish “We don’t give a fuck” sense; it’s because they’re too dumb to think to do it. The work of idiot savants, “The Shock of The Lightning” even has a drum solo that, against all logic, may just be the best part of the song (Jump to 3:02 if you don’t believe me).
A song this bad becomes good, or at least appealing, true. But still: It really doesn’t deserve this amazingly good Julian House-directed video, which gets psychedelia far more than the band ever did.
Two specific memories for Oasis’ “Whatever”: The first, wandering home after a night at a club with student friends as we all prepared to say goodbye for the holidays, and somehow this song being sung by everyone somewhere between sneery snarky making-fun-of and secretly just loving the song, and the second, listening to the single at my parents’ home, days later, sitting next to a Christmas tree as the sun found itself shining outside in an unseasonable moment of calm. There’s something about the way this song is built – the fact that so much of it rests on the strings – that I find remarkably comforting and reassuring, to the point that even the obvious “I Am The Walrus” rip-off doesn’t sit too awkwardly when I hear it.
Although it’s from the, uh, “deeply flawed” third album Be Here Now, it’s tempting to point to “All Around The World” as the song that best sums up the first few years of Oasis. It has all the ingredients, from the meaningless-yet-trying-to-be-meaningful lyrics (“All around the world/You gotta spread the word/Tell ’em what you’ve heard/Gonna make a better day” goes the chorus, headnoddingly unaware of its own nonsense), the 1960s-referencing arrangement and production (Only a band so amazingly in love with the Beatles could’ve come up with this) and, perhaps most importantly for this period of the band in particular, a complete inability to know when to stop. The album version of this song is over nine minutes long, and there’s actually very little of that time that isn’t spent repeating an earlier part of the song (I dread to think how many times the chorus is sung, and even the fade out is around three minutes long, for no immediately explicable reason).
And yet… there’s a song here, despite all of that. The melody is easy enough to sing along with, and agreeable with, that it’s a song that can win you over despite everything that’s “wrong” with it, even if you find yourself thinking “Shouldn’t this song be over yet?” more than once while listening to it. It’s unoriginal, of course, but originality was never Oasis’ point; this is a song for people who think that the 1966-1968 output of Paul McCartney has been unfairly maligned but find themselves wishing that John Lennon had done the lead vocals for most of them anyway, as with so much of Oasis’ output. Being one of those people, I find myself listening to it and thinking “You know, there’s something to this. If only they’d learned how to self-edit back then.”
There was actually a single edit of this song, the third single off Be Here Now. As with most single edits, it exists to make the song shorter, punchier and more appealing to people hearing it for the first time sandwiched between DJ chatter, but such was the cocaine-fuelled arrogance of the band at the time, the single edit is still over five minutes long. That, right there, feels like a great way to sum up the problems with Oasis circa this period.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Oasis lately, for reasons that may (hopefully) become both known and more profitable than most re-listens to Be Here Now are, but if nothing else, it’s reminded me about “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday.”
Back when Oasis were a relatively new band and hadn’t yet succumbed to their own egos/crushing waves of cocaine/the collapse of their credibility, their productivity was so impressive that the vinyl versions of their first two albums had extra songs that didn’t appear on any other format (They’re still not available for digital download, either, which surprised me when I went looking). The first of those extra tracks, “Sad Song,” was a signpost for where the band was going to with their b-sides and second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, a nice (if somewhat forced) melancholy centered around a more acoustic, melodic sound than the brashness of Definitely Maybe. The extra song on the Morning Glory, though, was “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday,” and that was… well, not really a signpost for anything.
What it was, according to Oasis folklore, was an attempt to do for bassist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs what the Beatles had done on early albums for Ringo Starr – Namely, give him a novelty song to sing and play up the lovable dolt appeal a bit. Only problem was, Bonehead was so nervous that his attempt at dutch courage ended up with him too drunk to sing, and so Noel Gallagher ended up doing it instead, with the drunk Bonehead and Liam providing the intro and outro vocals as well, apparently, the “La la la la la la la lala la laaaaaa”s throughout the song.
Taken on those terms, it’s actually surprisingly good. I’ve actually always thought it a bizarrely charming song, something that works because it’s so sloppy. It’s a song where the fun you imagine in the studio is infectious, even if it’s also likely fake; the finished instrumental, after all, is surprisingly tight and probably the result of numerous takes and overdubs, which kind of lessens the “Hey, they’re just having fun!” feeling of the vocal. And yet, and yet… it is fun. It’s not a classic song, but the throwaway quality of it is what makes it work in a way that… oh, almost every other Oasis song after this album doesn’t, because they tried to be timeless and classic rock. This is just fucking about in the studio, and it makes me smile, and sometimes that’s all I want from my pop music.
It’s true; Oasis lost “it,” whatever “it” is, somewhere between (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and Be Here Now, and as a result, they lost much of their fanbase as well, if you consider just how popular they really were in the aftermath of that former album (If you were living in the U.K. at the time, you’ll remember that they were almost literally everywhere, and that everyone had at least one Oasis song that they loved). But I’m one of the few people who thinks that the failure made them, if not a better band, then at least a more interesting one. Every album after Be Here Now was flawed, true, but it also had more to offer in terms of variety than their big three albums, and arguably the best of what came next was better than what made the band’s reputation.
Take, as exhibit A, “Who Feels Love,” arguably one of the three or so good songs off Standing on The Shoulder of Giants; it’s a medium tempo stab at psychedelia that, on the album, has some nice parts (Who doesn’t love a little bit of backwards guitar, after all? Not to mention the bridge at 3:20, with guitars spiralling off in all directions), but the flanging/flattening of the vocals just kills it dead for me – nonetheless, it’s something different, something that isn’t the Beatles Pub Rock that was the band’s stock in trade before, despite the complete lift from “Dear Prudence” in the chord progression. Much better, though, were the live “acoustic” versions performed by half of the band – tellingly, not vocalist Liam Gallagher – in promotional appearances for the album; it becomes a different type of song, softer and more in synch audibly with the sentiment in the lyrics. Without Liam’s sneer, it’s gentler and feels more honest:
This is, in many ways, an Oasis I would’ve wanted to have seen more of, but it wasn’t to be. The closest we got was the last album, Dig Out Your Soul, which was… quasi-psychedelic, perhaps? But even it didn’t go far enough for me, and the post-split projects have both been far less satisfying than the sum of their parts. Maybe when the inevitable reunion happens…