Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Last Chart Battle

Following on from my recent post about great number two singles, more than one person suggested that I write something about one of the greatest ever, most likely final battles for the coveted number one spot on the UK singles chart. Here goes, then…..

Before I begin, let’s clarify why this is about the (to date) last great chart battle. This isn’t the tale of one mediocre rapper threatening to quit if another mediocre rapper outsells him, in particular as when he was outsold he denied any such “threat”. This isn’t the tale of an overexposed joke leading to an old Rage Against The Machine song outselling some disposable pop from a Simon Cowell puppet, for that was more a statement about how there is no fresh, interesting music coming out rather that bands thriving in competition. The battle I write of was fuelled and created, not contrived. Blur vs Oasis in the UK singles chart of August 1995 looks like, 15 years down the road, being the last time there was even a glimpse of the buzz of excitement in the singles chart, so it’s well worth looking at the before, during and after of the event.

The seeds of any battle featuring Oasis and any other band were sown at the start of their career, with Liam and Noel convinced, arrogantly and somewhat debatably, that they were better than “absolutely anyone”, bar The Beatles and The Stone Roses, the two acts the brothers Gallagher valued above all others. Fans in 1994 who heard their astonishing debut, Definitely Maybe, were somewhat inclined to indulge this claim. However, whilst fans embraced the Oasis album, it was the third album by then very much hit-n-miss band Blur, Parklife, that the critics prized and the awards flocked to. This meant that the acclaim Noel wanted and adulation Liam craved was not all 100% theirs.

In May 1995, a new single from Oasis, Some Might Say, went straight in at number one. Not long after this, as the story goes, Damon Albarn saw Liam in a pub or club or some sort of event, and believing in honour amongst musicians and artists, went over to congratulate the lad. Liam, as the legend has it, just screamed “number f*****g one” in Damon’s face and stormed off in his usual arrogant style. “We’ll see about that” was the response credited to a nose-out-of-joint Albarn.

With Blur & Oasis both having albums due in late 1995, singles were a formality. Despite having already put out Some Might Say in advance of the album, Oasis went with a second lead single, Roll With It, for release at the start of August. The lead single for Blur’s fourth album, Country House from The Great Escape, was due for release in mid-to-late August. Wishing to teach these new upstarts a lesson, Albarn hit upon the idea of bringing the release forward, thus ensuring that the two bands were in direct competition to see who exactly really was “number f*****g one”.

And so was born one of the most exciting couple of weeks in music history. The internet can help you find out all the ins and outs, but highlights were certainly Noel turning it into a quasi-class war, suggesting that there was no way that his bunch of honest, decent working lads would be beaten by Blur, a bunch of “middle class w*****s”, followed soon by Damon Albarn mocking the creativity of the Oasis song, singing along to Roll With It with the words from Status Quo’s often mocked Rockin’ All Over The World. There are many more tales to read, happy hunting.

The story caught the imagination of all and sundry, many saying that it was the “greatest chart battle since The Beatles and The Stones”. As an aside, this was untrue – relations between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were always cordial, something borne out by in interviews both bands mentioning that they always checked release dates with each other to ensure they were never undermining the other. The fact was that seldom, if ever, had this kind of battle been declared in the charts.

After a week or so of generous press coverage and the story even making the television news, the chart was revealed. Roll With It by Oasis came in at number two with an impressive 216,000 copies sold; Blur claimed number one with Country House after a staggering 274,000 copies were sold. Oasis, as Blur no doubt would have done had they finished second, claimed it was an “administrative error” recording some of the sales which robbed them on the top spot. The band went on, as you would expect with Liam’s modesty, to introduce the song as a “real, proper f*****g number one” when they played it live.

Noel Gallagher was highly dismissive of it – after his disastrous public wish that certain members of Blur would “get AIDS and die”, he dismissed the notion of Blur as being their competition, saying that their only competition in regards of being the biggest band in the world was U2 and REM. In this respect, as far as what happened next, Noel was right with the latter view.

Blur’s album, The Great Escape, was released to great joy to the critics, but lukewarm acceptance from the fans. The album consisted mainly of songs in which Damon Albarn did his “introspective” thing, writing mostly about himself but including the casual, private in-joke in relation to people you have never heard of. Oasis released (What’s The Story) Morning Glory to mocking, dismissive reviews from critics, but to fans who felt the album should have been called Fanfare For The Common Man. It was an album full of great, catchy rock tunes, with just about every number (let’s exclude She’s Electric and the “Swamp Song” bits) being considered a killer, classic rock tune.

Morning Glory sold by the truckload, causing many to speculate that Oasis had lost the battle but won the war. True, perhaps, but they could have won both. Hidden away on Morning Glory was a song called Wonderwall. When they did finally release this song as a single, whereas it also only got to number two, it did stay on the charts for some six months, selling well over one million copies. A pity they had not learnt the lesson from their beloved Stone Roses a year earlier, then – had they released Ten Storey Love Song instead of Love Spreads as the comeback single, conventional wisdom has it, then perhaps their “return” would not have fallen so flat. It’s difficult to see exactly how Blur’s “mockney comedy” Country House would have stood a chance against Wonderwall, but that’s the way it went down.

If you are happy to take it as being the case that Oasis won the war, then the victory parade was surely the Brit Awards of 1996. Whereas that ceremony is fondly remembered for Jarvis Cocker’s unusual stage invasion of a Michael Jackson performance, this was also the ceremony at which Oasis trounced all over Blur (and everyone else for that matter) in every conceivable category. If for some reason Blur were not paying attention to this, Oasis made sure they knew about it, famously singing “S***elife” to the tune of Blur’s hit Parklife when they picked up one award.

As for the fate of the bands after this, somewhat mixed fortunes but oddly pretty much the same fate. Blur never really had a big selling hit again (bar the brilliant Tender), but went on to make some of the best music of their careers. Oasis launched the bloated, far too long Be Here Now to massive sales and quick disappointment amongst fans. They were now a big band, which meant huge gigs and a big following, but the spark had somewhat gone, with Oasis releases no longer commanding the excitement or attention of the majority. Blur sort of fizzled out as a band, with members coming and going, the odd reunion gig here and there attracting crowds as much for the novelty and nostalgia as for the music. Oasis, of course, blew up in spectacular fashion a few minutes before a gig in Paris, with Liam apparently smashing up Noel’s guitar being the very final straw.

Do any tensions between the bands, or the remains of them, still exist 15 years on? Well, if you take it as a given that Liam hates absolutely everyone that either isn’t Liam or worships at the Church of Liam at the least, there’s been a notable oddity in the press of late. Noel Gallagher has, by all accounts, come out in praise of Damon Albarn’s “side project” Gorillaz.

In an interesting quirk of fate, another release made in August 1995 had more far reaching consequences than anything either Blur or Oasis could manage in regards of chart battles and music in general. In an – at the time – unusual amount of publicity for a piece of software, accompanied by the song Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones (who were paid rather well for allowing it to be used), something called Windows 95 was unleashed. It included something called “Internet Explorer 1.0”, a programme that allowed one to access this new thing called “the internet” with considerably more ease than had been possible before. Whereas music lovers will forever fondly remember the battle between two distinctly average songs in the charts, it’s the leap in computer usage that was released at the same time which probably bears the greater legacy for, or if you will casts a shadow over, the music industry.

As thing stand, I feel rather sad that in all likelihood neither James, William nor any other children of this generation will experience the excitement in particular of this incident, or just the general thrill of going to a record store to either buy a new release by your favourite or just check out what’s been released. Increasingly, obtaining music has become an individual thing, downloading the music (legally or otherwise) from the internet and listening to it in seclusion. The social, society side of music seems to be vanishing, but boy do the great days of music buying have some great tales to tell, just like this one.

thanks for reading, i hope it brought back some (mostly good) memories, and be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Post a Comment