I can hear a collective groan (perhaps it’s internal) when mentioning Noel Gallagher – inane, meaningless lyrics, ripping off the Beatles when genuine experience would have been easier. But there is no doubt Oasis’ Noel Gallagher could turn on the songwriting tap effortlessly in the early days of Brit Pop. Artists such as Elliott Smith were fans of his tracks. What, then, was Noel Gallagher’s songwriting technique during those early, most productive years? We look at some of the key factors.
Listening to Hits
It should be no surprise that if you listen to, and learn to play, hit songs, you stand a good chance of writing them yourself. In this video, Noel states his record collection consisted of The Beatles, T-Rex, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones – with the rest being greatest hits albums. Listen to obscure Indy music if you like, he seems to say, but you create what you listen to.
Art of the Rip Off
Noel freely admitted to ripping off the fab four – particularly John Lennon – in his work. For Don’t Look Back in Anger, Noel Gallagher admitted that he had taken the opening piano riff straight from ‘Imagine’. We have seen how Lennon, Led Zepelin, and others, equally ripped off their heroes. Gallagher took less trouble to cover his tracks, but perhaps what separates him from every indebted bedroom riffer is that his debt didn’t stop his songs. As Alex James, Oasis’ arch-nemesis from Blur, said – the key ingredient for songwriting is confidence, and Noel had it in spades.
A short tour of some of the songs ‘ripped’ by, or seemingly similar to, Oasis songs might include the following (outlined by Music Radar):
- Cigarettes And Alcohol (1994) and Get It On, T-Rex (1971)
- Step Out (1996) and Uptight by Stevie Wonder (1966) AND Rosalie by Thin Lizzy (1978)
The chorus vocal melody is almost identical to Wonder’s Uptight (Wonder got a songwriting credit) while the middle eight guitar riff is ‘similar’ to Thin Lizzy’s live version of Bob Seger’s song Rosalie. Reportedly so close that it was pulled from the album.
- Lyla (2005) and Confrontation Camp by The Soundtrack Of Our Lives (1996)
- Morning Glory (1995) and The One I Love by REM (1987), and both taking from Neil Young’s Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
- Whatever (1994) and How Sweet To Be An Idiot (by Monty Python’s Beatles parody The Rutles) (1973)
- The Importance Of Being Idle (2005) and Clean Prophet by The La’s (1988)
- Half The World Away (1994) and This Guy’s In Love With You by Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass (1968)
- Mucky Fingers (2005) and I’m Waiting For The Man by The Velvet Underground (1967)
- Shakermaker (1994) and I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing by Australia’s The New Seekers (then a Coke ad) (1971)
- Headshrinker (1995) and Stay With Me by The Faces (1971)
- Hello (1995) and Hello Hello, I’m Back Again by Gary Glitter (1973)
Glitter is listed as co-writer on the opening track of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
- Fuckin’ In The Bushes (2000) and I’d Like To Change The World by Ten Years After (1971) and Little Miss Lover by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and I’m A Man by The Spencer Davis Group
This one’s complicated:
Noel wanted to sample Mitch Mitchell’s drums from a rare live version of Little Miss Lover, but the Hendrix estate blocked its use. So Oasis’s then-drummer Alan White simply ‘recreated’ it. The higher register guitar riff (Oasis, starting at 1:30) is a pretty straight rip from the Ten Years After riff (listen from 2:40). The organ riff apes The Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man (from 0:24). Add some vocal samples from the Barry Lerner’s documentary film Message To Love: Isle Of Wight (1970), and Fuckin’ In The Bushes is almost 100% recycled.
Noel noted the words inscribed on the run-off grooves of The Smiths’ Bigmouth Strikes Again, one of his favourite songs by one of his favourite bands. It’s a quote by Oscar Wilde: “Talent borrows, genius steals.”
You can listen to a whole other bunch of rip offs (we haven’t even really mentioned the Beatles!) here.
Do It Quickly
Noel was a reputably quick songwriter (he also lied, and said he ‘just wrote’ songs, when in actual fact he had more than 50 stored up before he met other founding members of Oasis).
I always remember hearing that Noel Gallagher had the art of quick songwriting down to a tee. I think back to one particular story when Oasis were recording their first album they needed one more great song to make the album and Noel went off for a couple of minutes and wrote Supersonic. This is a huge fan favourite these days and it was the first single they released.
Quoting John Lennon himself:
I spent five hours that morning trying to write a song… and I finally gave up and lay down. Then, ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing.
Keep it Simple
For a songwriter, often the biggest challenge is not to over-complicate things. Noel himself said the best antidote to that was simply being young. In his twenties, Noel wrote most of the songs for his first two albums, before he had a band.
“If you stop the man in the street and ask ‘What’s Oasis’s best album?’… the squares will say Morning Glory and the cool people will say Definitely Maybe. That album should just be called the Best of Oasis…. Look. I was a superhero in the 90s. I said so at the time. McCartney, Weller, Townsend, Richards, my first album’s better than all their first albums. Even they’d admit that.”
So why didn’t he remain a superhero into the next decade? “Because those songs were written in my 20s. All I had in the world was a guitar and a Dictaphone. When you’re young, you write about being young and shagging and drugs and drinking. You can’t do that when you’re 39. I was a different person then.”
Keep it simple. Everything has been said, so don’t strain to write something new. Stick to the basic drives, issues and concerns of 99% of the population, and you will be well on your way to a decent song.
Even Noel admits he couldn’t write an album like his first two any more.
If I knew how to write another Definitely Maybe, I’d do one every year. It astounds me that I wrote those songs. But nobody has ever bettered Definitely Maybe, don’t pin it on my shoulders. The Arctic Monkeys came close, but that’s it. They’ve got the tunes and the attitude.
And between tunes and attitude, attitude is perhaps the most important part – the essence of Oasis.