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Oasis ‘Be Here Now’ at 25: The Bombastic 1997 Album Remembered By Those Who Were There
“I don’t know what people are talking about,” Liam Gallagher said in 2017. “I think it’s great.”
I had asked the Oasis front man about Be Here Now, the Britpop icons‘ third album, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month — on Aug. 21, to be precise.
“It’s got ‘Stand By Me,’ right? And ‘Don’t Go Away.’ And ‘D’You Know What I Mean?’ And It’s Getting Better (Man!!). That’s a pretty great album in my book,” he continued.
He’s not wrong. But the story, like all things Oasis, is far more complicated.
After bursting onto the British music scene with the massive success of its debut album Definitely Maybe, which had a fraught birth — it was made and remade several times — the album redefined the musical landscape in England in 1994. The following year, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? — which included “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and “Champagne Supernova,” as well as “Some Might Say,” “Roll With It” and “She’s Electric” — was a career-defining moment that set the band apart from the Britpop explosion in a big way.
— beatlehead (@joz22276172) August 19, 2022
Born out of sessions at the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales (where Queen famously cut “Bohemian Rhapsody”) during sessions that lasted only a few weeks, and — but for one blow-up between the seemingly ever-warring Gallagher brothers — with little drama, that album went on to sell over 22 million copies worldwide and marked the point where Oasis went from being a very big indie band to world beaters.
In 1996, Oasis headlined two nights at the massive Knebworth Park, playing to 250,000 fans, as chronicled in last year’s documentary film, Knebworth 1996. While they previewed new music at the shows, it would be another year before Be Here Now would be released.
The resulting album was a massive, global success thanks to the band’s momentum surrounding its release, and became the fastest-selling album in British chart history, while topping the albums chart in 15 countries. It ended 1997 the biggest selling album of the year in the U.K., and has since sold eight million copies worldwide. It was also Oasis’ third and final Platinum album in the United States.
But almost as soon as its success peaked, the knives came out for Oasis. While no doubt chock full of anthems, just as Liam Gallagher recalled, the songs came to be seen as overly long and laden with guitar overdubs that were bombastic and over-produced.
As file sharing and digital editing took off, in fact, fans took to one-upping each other with edits of the album, or even alternate track listings culled from the plethora of excellent B-sides the band released during the period. (I’ll be appearing on The Oasis Podcast soon, discussing my alternate running order with host James Corcoran.)
Made with an eye toward commercial success amid a drug-fueled haze, Be Here Now was also the last Oasis album to feature the classic lineup of Liam and Noel Gallagher, guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, bassist Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan and Alan White on drums.
In honor of its 25th anniversary, Rock Cellar has compiled recent interviews with the bandmembers, Creation Records label boss Alan McGee, and those who were there and have studied the period closely, to reflect on one of the best-selling albums of the 90s, recently re-released in a very cool silver vinyl edition.
(Note: Some of the interviews below are also included in our Sept. 2021 feature on the Knebworth 1996 documentary — click here for that.)
Noel Gallagher: It was long. But I reckon that’s what’s great about it.
Alan McGee (head of Creation Records): It wasn’t an easy album to make.
Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs (co-founder, original guitarist): Twenty-five years in anyone’s life is a long time. It doesn’t feel like twenty-five years at all.
3 down 5 to go…
Oasis third ‘25 year anniversary silver vinyl album’ arrived today:
Be Here Now
— Paul (@PReddog84) August 18, 2022
Richard Bowes (author of Some Might Say): I think the songs on Be Here Now are great, the circumstances surrounding them wasn’t great. Be Here Now was the continuation, more of the same but less good. It was at that point that Liam was doing the vocals after everything else had been recorded. Noel was leaving the studio and then Liam was coming in the studio. So, it became a lot more fragmented.
James Corcoran (host of the Oasis Podcast): I have the strongest personal connections with Be Here Now. I was just starting university and Be Here Now was just absolutely the soundtrack for all of that, all the way through. Because it’s so passionate, and because it’s so loud and so in your face from start to finish.
Mark Cooper (BBC producer, Right Here, Right Now): They were straight ahead in a way that bands hadn’t been bands for a long time in Britain, where everything had been very niche. If you were an indie band in those days, you wanted to be big in the world of indie. But you didn’t want to be bigger or more ambitious or more assertive than that. And so, Oasis coming out and being rocking, assertively male, simple, direct, unabashed, working class rock and roll — it felt really incredibly new and fresh. They had an attitude to die for, and then it turned out they had really great songs.
Noel Gallagher: The charts used to be a great battleground, and when I first started in Oasis, I couldn’t fucking wait to get in amongst it.
James Corcoran: I had no issue with them becoming, essentially, pop stars. I was really pleased. My team was doing well, because it was like a football team. The whole Oasis vs. Blur thing, what I tended to find was that it was maybe the quirkier, cooler-than-thou kids that had that issue, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, we don’t like the fact that other people have discovered them now.”
— Oasis (@oasis) August 18, 2022
Bonehead: We just were full of it. We didn’t understand the power of what was going on around us. It was really fast and sudden, the way it blew up. It probably took about three years before we actually realized what had happened.
Mark Cooper: There was something about Oasis and their proposition and its directness and its belligerence that was more fun than any band had been in a very long time. They were a band that could somehow make the whole nation listen.
Noel Gallagher: To write those songs [on the first two albums], you have to be that person in that life. I wasn’t that person living that life anymore.
Gary Crowley (BBC DJ): It’s like, jeez, 25 years? It really is arrow-in-the-head stuff. But my memory is that of anticipation for the album, really.
Fan got their first taste of Be Here Now when the single (and epic video) for “D’You Know What I Mean?” was released on July 7, 1997. Meanwhile, Creation Records was keeping the album itself under lock and key. While easier in those pre-file sharing days, and with anticipation for Be Here Now at a head, it led to many snap judgments in the early reviews.
Noel Gallagher: The reviews were over the top.
Mark Cooper: It was their Imperial phase.
James Corcoran: It’s a real cliché, and you hear people say it all the time, but it was really, really exciting, and a really exciting time to be alive and getting into music.
Bonehead: The fans knew. When they first heard the finished songs, they knew that it was special. But even when we heard Noel, just one voice, one guitar, playing them, it was immediate. We just knew there was something there, that he had really written something special.
Alan McGee: The culture needed Oasis!
Richard Bowes: I loved it. It wasn’t Morning Glory, but then nothing was ever going to be. But it was still another Oasis album with great hooks and great choruses and outstanding vocal performance from Liam. A bit too much fat, but did that really matter? Well, it turns out, yes, it did. But at the time it didn’t. As a fan, it didn’t feel like it did.
Gary Crowley: They were incredibly prolific. Noel as a songwriter and them as a band. And they seemed to take it very seriously, including the partying side. For a while, they seemed to be able to do both.
Noel Gallagher: After [the first two albums] I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. With Oasis, we started off right at the very top, at a place that took U2 a decade to get to.
Gary Crowley: The public responded in a big way. To quote Liam, “Biblical.” But it really, really was.
Richard Bowes: All that matters is the songs, ultimately, I think. Everything else is legend, especially the headlines. Ultimately, it always comes back to the songs. Some of the songs on Be Here Now hold up okay, but a lot of them just don’t.
Remarkably, some of the band’s best songs from the period didn’t make the cut.
Alan McGee: I wish I had made them save the B-sides. But we all thought the purple patch would go on forever.
Gary Crowley: There was always a couple of bonus tracks on the CDs, and the quality of them was as good as the A-sides sometimes, the main track. Like all the great bands, like the Jam and the Clash, you couldn’t wait to flip it over. I think that that’s very fair to say with Oasis as well. The quality control was always incredibly, incredibly high.
And the days of Britpop’s reign were no doubt waning.
Richard Bowes: From the outside looking in, it seemed the party was still carrying on. But Be Here Now came out two months after [Radiohead’s] OK Computer and a few weeks before [The Verve’s] Urban Hymns. And Blur had moved on at the beginning of the year, as well. I think they were so powerful and so dominant, they almost felt like they didn’t need to move on, because they had been so successful, but British guitar music was moving on without them.
As great as Be Here Now is, it sounds so incongruous against everything else that was released that year.
And, as it had during the tour for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, the band continued to fall apart.
Noel Gallagher: Oasis was equally the five of us. When you’re in a five-piece band, everybody has their little place in it.
James Corcoran: Liam quit the US tour, and Noel started walking out on tours. They got kicked off an airplane in Australia. All that sort of stuff was in the news.
Richard Bowes: The headlines weren’t about the music. They were just tabloid fodder.
Gary Crowley: The tabloids loved Noel and Liam. I mean, they absolutely loved them. They were selling newspapers by the bucketloads for a while.
Richard Bowes: I think that’s probably that point at which they lost control.[Original bassist] Guigsy requiring some time off was probably the first indicator of that. Even in their wildest dreams I don’t think they anticipated the type of success they were experiencing, because there was no real frame of reference, apart from Beatlemania or T-Rextasy.
Bonehead: When you’re part of it, it’s just going so fast and you’re doing so much, you don’t sit back and think what’s happening.
Alan McGee: The original lineup was the one. They weren’t great players, but they had a real Mancunian edge.
Mat Whitecross (director of Supersonic): I just think, once you become big, that most bands are kinda the same, even if you’re Led Zeppelin or whoever it is. It’s still the same thing. It becomes going from one stadium to a plane and onto the next stadium.
Gary Crowley: It was still massive, but it was beginning of the come down. I remember at the time listening to Be Here Now a few times and it did dawn on me, “I’m not feeling this as much as the previous two.” But there are some good songs on it. “Don’t Go Away” was always a big, big favorite of mine. I remember playing that to death and loving it when they played it live.
But it’s funny, in the Supersonic film, Bonehead says about thinking back: maybe retrospect is a lovely thing.
Bonehead: I’m about the biggest Oasis fan there is. But even from the inside looking out, it was massive. We went from playing little clubs to selling out two days at Knebworth in just two years. It wasn’t just hype. It was as though we could do no wrong.
James Corcoran: All through ’98, they had the singles coming out. And the Be Here Now tour went through 1997 to 1998. It was still a big deal, and was on the news and stuff, but they didn’t do any one-off things that were as big as Knebworth. The ’98 tour was all arenas. So, I went to see them at Wembley Arena, and I went to see them at Newcastle Arena. It was exciting, but it was like … the next tour. They obviously could’ve done Knebworth again, but it was sort of like football. My team had won the championship; the next year it was never going to be the same. Because once you’ve got over the hill, that’s closing credits.
Mark Cooper: They were the voice of a certain kind of British working class youth at that time. But it wasn’t just working class youths. Everybody loved them. The songs were huge, everybody sang along, they became part of a new optimistic time in Britain. I don’t want to be too grandiose about it, but it felt like a new kind of democratic, assertive Britain, in which people could go out and say, ‘I’m having it, I’m not going to apologize, I’m not going to be kept in place.’
In the end, Be Here Now was the beginning of the end of the classic lineup of Oasis. When the band returned, with 2000’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, both Bonehead and Guigsy were gone, and the sound was remarkably different. Be Here Now, therefore, marked the end of a glorious era of 90’s music that holds many memories, good, bad and mixed, for those who were part of those times.
Noel Gallagher: It was like the part of the party when the sun’s coming up and you’re ready to pack it in, but people won’t leave so you just keep going.
Mark Cooper: I mean, brutally speaking, after that period, there aren’t so many songs you remember, if any, like those the early ones that we still adore. And the haircuts get more and more unfortunate. That’s always a bad sign for a rock and roll band.
Bonehead: It’s what we wanted. It’s why we picked up guitars. It’s why we rehearsed every night. That was the dream we wanted to achieve. Standing on stage in front of so many thousands of people, it felt right for us. It felt like we were succeeding in what we wanted to achieve. We were very confident that we were going to get to that point, and that was the reward for it.
Noel Gallagher: I did start remixing it and editing it down a couple of years ago, but I gave up after one song!
James Corcoran: I was on holiday in France a couple of years ago and I was driving on the wrong side of the road for me. I said to my wife, “Okay, I just really need to focus.” And she put Be Here Now on the CD. And it was like, ‘OK, this is my safe place.’
Alan McGee: Oasis has gotten more popular with successive generations.
Noel Gallagher: It was tough to be in Oasis because of me and Liam. But out of it, you manage to somehow forge this fucking great music.
Liam Gallagher: The band should’ve never split up. I don’t feel like it’s split up in my head.
Mark Cooper: Oasis don’t feel like a long time ago because Noel is still flying high and is still a great songwriter [and Liam has released a handful of solo records of his own]. So, the Gallagher brothers are very much around. But what seems like a long time ago is Oasis as an ascending proposition, somehow defining the time in a way that no band had done for years.
Bonehead: We totally believed in ourselves and we totally believed in what we were doing. I remember Noel saying, “In 20 years’ time, people are still going to be talking about us.” And I didn’t doubt it, but you don’t really believe it. That’s a massive statement. But they are. 25 years later, it’s still a huge deal, which is incredible.
Liam Gallagher: I don’t regret anything. The minute you start regretting, it’s like dominoes. If you start taking one thing away, the whole thing falls to pieces. But I don’t regret anything. It is what it is. I’m very proud of what I’ve done.
Noel Gallagher: It spans so many generations now that you can’t even thank one particular demographic of people for it. It kind of belongs to the world. It’s a wonderful thing.
Liam Gallagher: We were great and we were stupid and we were daft and we were funny and we looked cool. We had our flaws, ’cause we didn’t give a fuck. But it was emotional, man. The majority of it, when you slice it fucking open, it’s euphoric and it’s beautiful and I love it.
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