Twenty years ago, on April 11 1994, Oasis released their debut single, Supersonic. Britain would never be the same, says Neil McCormick
When we think of the Nineties, the monobrow image of the Gallagher brothers is stamped indelibly across the decade. It is surely one of the oddest love affairs in pop history, when a gang of heavy-drinking scallywags were clutched to the bosom of the nation, celebrated from Coronation Street to Downing Street while waving two fingers at everyone, including each other. Oasis did something no pop group since the Beatles had done, infusing the whole country with their self-belief.
Supersonic, released 20 years ago, on April 11 1994, was the perfect debut single to unleash Britpop madness. It starts with a big, bold, beat and snaky guitar riff, before a sneering vocal declares, “I need to be myself, I can’t be no one else.” What follows is almost five minutes of euphoric nonsense involving helicopters, yellow submarines and a girl called Elsa who sniffs Alka Seltzer. But it is the assertion that “you can have it all” and the question “how much do you want it?” that announces the arrival of a new pop generation, with a brand new attitude.
It was not supposed to be the Mancunian rockers’ calling card. Indeed, it didn’t even exist when they went into The Pink Museum, a cheap studio in Liverpool, for a cut-price, overnight session to record their debut. Alan McGee, the boss of Creation Records, wanted his new signings to announce themselves with punky anthem Bring It On Down, but they struggled to capture its fierce energy. Rather than waste the session, Noel Gallagher knocked out Supersonic in 30 minutes.
The songwriter was on a high, writing so fast that, “it was difficult to keep up. We’d have four new songs every week.” They made a rough mix of the song that has never been changed since, and everyone was so pleased with the results it was promoted to the A-side. “A lot of bands’ first singles, they’re kind of finding their feet. We hit the ground running with that one,” asserts Gallagher.
Before Oasis, music in the Nineties was an explosion of techno, jungle, trip hop, big beat and psychedelic indie. Ubiquitous yet unfocused, all this wonderful, amorphous noise was easy to ignore. Newspaper editors, the chattering classes and parents of pop consumers neither knew nor cared who was in the charts. Music was everywhere in the Nineties, yet nothing was holding the centre. There were no songs we could all sing together.
Oasis changed all that. Supersonic only reached number 31 in the UK charts, but it was enough to put Oasis on the radio and on Top of the Pops, and give us a first glimpse of a group of stylish, confident young men. One month later, Definitely Maybe became the fastest-selling debut in UK pop history.
Britpop, until then just a fringe notion of indie scruffs scheming with NME hacks in Camden lock-ins, was suddenly real, and the country was alive with the clatter of guitar bands singing about what it meant to be young, broke and British.
Definitely Maybe sold 15 million copies worldwide. Britain grew heady with notions of musical empires, convinced it might rule the airwaves once again. Cool Britannia became a horribly triumphalist catchphrase, echoing the rise of Tony Blair and New Labour’s champagne socialism.
Into this funnel would pour the Spice Girls and their Union Jack miniskirts, Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley, Baddiel and Skinner, Fantasy Football, Three Lions, Loaded magazine, Katie Price, Vinnie Jones, Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Chris Evans, TFI Friday, All Saints, Robbie Williams, Harry Potter and Damien Hirst. It almost goes without saying that it all ended badly.
The way Oasis swept everything before them, there was an assumption that the sky was the limit. Now that they are no more, maybe we can stop judging them by what might have been, and focus on what was.
Supersonic remains an electric bolt of a record, a thrilling first shot from a band of ebullient chancers who just wanted to rock, and to sing, and have a ball. Everything else that we pinned on their shoulders was really about us as a nation, daring to believe in ourselves again.
There is a quote from NME, in 1994, when Noel Gallagher describes a meeting with a fan. “She came up to me and said, 'I’ve got Supersonic and I’m really into your lyrics and I’ve been through a lot as well.’ And I went, 'What do you mean? Supersonic is about some ------- nine-stone geezer who got off his nut one night… it’s not about anything!’ It’s just about a feeling, you just get up and play it.
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