By Andy Perrin | September 03, 2017
This past week, on August 29th to be exact, Oasis’ debut album Definitely Maybe turned twenty-three. After its initial release, the record skyrocketed to the top of the charts in the UK and sparked what would become an equally impressive career with albums, awards, and accolades across the pond. For me, this anniversary was a convenient excuse to listen the full discography of Oasis. Whenever I binge-listen the band, I’m always captivated by the simplicity and brilliance of the playing of Noel Gallagher. As the band’s almost-always songwriter, often singer, and ever rhythm and lead guitarist the guy knows how to seriously knock it out song-after-song, album-after-album, while rarely straying from a Pentatonic box.
Yet when I listened to the evolution of Noel’s songwriting and Oasis’ sound this week, I was struck by the creative uses of sounds and samples derived from instruments other than staple acoustic guitars and British high gain amps. In fact, I was surprised at just how many of these sounds were created without instruments at all. So after a little digging in interviews with Noel and the band’s many producers, I thought I’d share an entirely subjective “top five” of sounds you’ve probably heard in a favorite Oasis track but may not known the gear story behind it.
- It’s hard not to get lost in the ambience and trance-like samples of rain on “Champagne Supernova” from the smash 1995 album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Yet this song is also arguably the start of Oasis’ long love affair with organ-type instruments. Of the many tracks laid down in this song is an ever-present drone of a Melodica mouthpiece, which breaks into the now iconic melody when the song drops after the first verse. Don’t believe me? Check out 1:27 of the official music video and you’ll see Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs rocking a red Melodica.
- Fast-forward to the 1998 album Be Here Now, which had the impossible task of coming on the heels of the bands most successful release, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? After hopping on a plane to the private Caribbean island and celebrity get-away of Mustique, Noel found himself laying down demo tracks at Mick Jagger’s vacation home in the company of Johnny Depp and Kate Moss. (True story!) While much of the content created would be re-recorded for the album later on, among the lingering demo tracks that remained was the clinking, tinny keyboard sounds on the intro to the album’s title track. As Noel, disclosed in an interview with Q Magazine (1997), the sound came from a plastic children’s piano that belonged to one of Mick Jagger’s young kids.
Be Here Now is loaded with samples. In fact, the very first seconds of the opening song, “D’You Know What I Mean,” sets the scene with the sounds of an epic airplane flyover. Layered atop this, however, are a few lines of Morse code. While the exact content of the coded signal is tough to sort out, in an interview with BBC (1997) Noel confessed the sample was an attempt to use an old code book to translate the phrase “Bugger All,” though as with most things, it seems some of this was lost in translation.
- While the song “Talk Tonight” would not land on a full album until the release of the b-side compilation The Masterplan in 1998, the unmistakable keys sound on the track was created using the Wurlitzer piano, which started cropping up in Oasis shows as early as 1995. Intended to emulate the shrunk down sound of a grand piano, the Wurlitzer’s sound included a built-in tremolo effect and electromagnetic pickup system, which sound nothing like a baby grand but established the set of keys with a profile all its own. If you’re listening to The Masterplan keep an ear out for this one: the Wurlitzer makes a number of appearances, even more the Liam’s tambourine playing!
- Following the final (but hopefully not finite) breakup of the band in 2009, both Gallagher brothers pursued solo careers. Most notably, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds now boasts two full studio records. These not only carry on the heritage of expert craftsmanship in song writing and guitar playing, Noel also seems to have retained his unspoken knack for non-traditional sounds. In an interview describing the sonic landscape of the single “The Death of You and Me,” Noel noted that tucked away within the horn section of the post-chorus is an early demo attempt at his mimicking the sound of a muffled trumpet in a line of melody. Eventually, true horns would take center stage in the finished product, but Noel’s literal mouth organ stayed in the mix.
I hope this short story on non-traditional sounds and samples has inspired you to go back to some of your own favorite and influential albums to try and hear them in an entirely new way. If you don’t find yourself playing guitar this weekend, hopefully you’ll find some time for easy listening to artists in your own musical heritage. Either way, share the gear you’re using or the songs you’re listening to with us on social media using the hashtag #RiffCitySunday!
Until next time, have a great Riff City Sunday.