For many years, it was practically impossible not to mention Oasis and The Beatles in the same tired breath. When the Manchester Britpop group burst onto the scene in 1994 with their stunning debut album Definitely Maybe, they were immediately compared to the Fab Four. All these years later, those comparisons are frequently taken as gospel. But did Oasis actually sound like The Beatles or did they simply evoke a golden age of music that happened to include the likes of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr? Noel Gallagher recently argued that those early comparisons to The Beatles were ill-founded then and are ill-founded now. Is there any truth in the assumed resemblance between these two giants of UK music? Well, yes and no.
The Beatles undoubtedly had a huge impact on Noel Gallagher’s songwriting. In a 2021 interview, he declared that The Beatles still “mean everything” to him, explaining: “They’ve definitely got the best tunes, hands down,” he said. “In my record collection, they’ve got the greatest tunes by far. They influenced everybody who influenced everybody else, who influenced everybody that came and went,” Gallagher continued. “Their influence is absolute. I don’t know a single guy playing the guitar or writing songs that wouldn’t cite The Beatles as an influence”.
The Beatles’ influence can be heard clear as crystal in Definitely Maybe. Take ‘She’s Electric’, for example. The track follows the same structure, employs the same 2/4 time signature, and utilises fragments of the same melodic patterns as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s hit ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. While it isn’t a complete rip-off, ‘She’s Electric’ certainly uses the end sequence of that 1967 single as a starting point – following the same chord progressions to the letter. Then there’s ‘Whatever’ – also from Definitely Maybe. This is perhaps the most obvious example of Oasis deliberately evoking The Beatles latter-day experiments in pop music. You don’t even have to listen particularly closely to realise that it’s a near note-for-note reworking of ‘All You Need Is Love’, complete with exuberant staccato string arrangements.
But Oasis evoked The Beatles in more than their music; their image has also played a huge part in the enduring comparison between the two groups. Like The Beatles, Oasis was comprised of four ordinary lads from a northern town, who managed to re-define UK music despite their humble beginnings. In this sense, Oasis’ story held the power of myth.
However superficial it might seem, Liam Gallagher’s long hair, penchant for round sunglasses, and nasal vocal style all felt like deliberate attempts to highlight the subtextual narrative link between Oasis and The Beatles – and I can’t blame them for wanting to. At the time of Oasis’ rise to fame, Britain was going through something of a narrative re-brand of its own. Tony Blair’s New Labour government heralded a new golden age for the UK, typified by the ‘Cool Britannia’ phenomena, and Oasis’ image and origins evoked the social mobility and creative ideals that had defined the British nation’s previous golden age – the 1960s. The comparisons, Oasis were met with, therefore, may be seen as a reflection of the UK’s desire to manufacture a new golden age based on the cultural blueprint of the 1960s.
It should be pointed out that while Oasis clearly mimic The Beatles in their discography, they also mimic countless other artists from the heydey of British music. This mimicry, after all, was the essence of their success. Indeed, for every Oasis song that sounds like The Beatles, there’s another that sounds like The Kinks (‘Lyla’), T.Rex (Cigarettes and Alcohol), or The Sex Pistols (Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’). Oasis managed to craft a sound that encapsulated the aesthetics of British rock from the 1960s and ’70s, which was then given an anthemic boost by the influence of The Stone Roses and the advent of new studio technologies such as limiters, that allowed engineers to push the group’s sound to new rip-roaring heights; dragging the sound of classic British rock into the future.