Definitely Maybe isn’t an album, it’s a monument, a memento, a storied portrait of Manchester as a working organism. The album’s values even celebrate, the working-class spirit, culminating in a venomous rejoinder about the music that keeps the writers “up all night”. Luxuriating in immediacy, accessibility and commercial astuteness, the album typified a moment in British history, yet it probably wouldn’t have soared but for the shadow of grunge darlings, Nirvana.
“It was written in the middle of grunge and all that,” recalled Oasis bandleader Noel Gallagher, “And I remember Nirvana had a tune called ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’, and I was like… ‘Well, I’m not fucking having that.’ As much as I fucking like him and all that shit, I’m not having that. I can’t have people like that coming over here, on smack, fucking saying that they hate themselves and they wanna die. That’s fucking rubbish. Kids don’t need to be hearing that nonsense.”
Instead, he crafted a response detailing the joys of life, as perceived by an Irish working-class Catholic in Manchester. Whether it was grandeur or glory his American counterparts craved, Noel was contented focusing on the moment, enjoying the sensibilities of drink and companionship.
It reminded his brother Liam of their mother, Peggy, and the younger Gallagher channelled this energy into one of the more committed vocals of his career. Singing almost entirely alone, the structures, sensibilities and sincerity are key to the song’s success, and though he might have performed the song with greater truth, Noel has never matched the original for technical brilliance and mastery of phrasing.
Released in August 1994, the song proved Definitely Maybe‘s third single, and it’s considered by many members of the band as Oasis at their zenith. Liam Gallagher declared it his personal favourite in 2008, and the tune remains a favourite among live audiences. “I think the words still mean something powerful,” Liam told Q. “You talk about Oasis capturing a spirit, and I think that song is how a lot of people feel when they’re down on their luck. I think I first heard it in the Boardwalk in Manchester when our kid was trying it out. Even when we’re starting it now I always feel like we’re going to perform our best version of it”.
Bullishly, Noel compared it to The Beatles, but he is right to single out the solo (“one of the greatest things in rock music.”) Caught within the urgency of the track, Noel restrains himself from soaking audiences in reverb but pivots across the fretboard to exhibit mastery, mystique and familiarity with the instrument. It’s the sound of two lovers entering into a loving embrace, their hands wandering around the others in an earnest attempt to bring as much meaning, memory and momentum to the dance.
There’s no question about it: It’s Noel’s finest work as a guitar player, revelling in spontaneity and feeling over a more precise demonstration of guitar noodling. Producer Owen Morris was worried that he sounded like Slash, but it’s decidedly more atmospheric than the trembling power chords the Guns N’Roses performer played on the overblown ‘November Rain.’
The song took on a new meaning in 2017 when Liam performed the song with Coldplay guitarist Chris Martin at the One Love Manchester show. Re-fashioned as a eulogy, the song paid tribute to the 22 people who died at the terror attack at an Ariane Grande gig. He may not have written it, but it’s as much his song as it is Noel’s, and although nothing will ever match the studio original, this acoustic rendition could well be the second most moving rendition of the tune.