Well, who else am I going to write about? Anyone who’s been following this blog long enough knows I’ve something of a man crush (nothing sexual: Don’t worry, Pam) for this freak of a great song writer. I’ll be visiting his native Manchester this month; a place I’ve not been to for the best part of a decade. And I must say, being a native of Birmingham, UK’s official second city (much to the annoyance of Mancs), I have often looked north to Manchester with a stinging envy, in terms of the rich array of extraordinary musicians hailing from the city, as well as boasting two of the most successful football teams in the UK in the past three decades. Aston Villa, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion and UB40 don’t quite match up (at least our baltis are better).
I have written about my admiration for Noel Gallagher over the years, which as you can see is still very much alive. Oasis smashed the scene (quite literally) in the early to mid-90s, right in the epicenter of my teenage years and Gallagher’s music has been one of the constants in my life ever since, with songs representing different epochs of my life, whether it be moving to different countries, changing jobs, good and bad relationships, ups and downs, highs and lows. It sounds fanciful, romantic and absurd, but his music has always been there, like a crutch holding me up or a shoulder to cry on. Gallagher’s face donned my wall above my bed (much to the disturbance and paranoia of my wife) back at Southam Road, with the words Com’on Feel the Noise in back and white. He’s sat down close to a huge amp, strumming his acoustic guitar during the recording of the video for Whatever. It took me to move to Honduras before my mother removed it from my wall. I still think today the image is the epitome of cool.
He’s got the whole package as rock and roll stars go, and he markets himself very well, stamping himself into the hallway of British greats in the world of music. It’s a great hallway to walk down (while the rest of the UK crumbles to its knees in a big Brexit mess), one that boasts The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Queen, Elton John, The Sex Pistols, Stone Roses…the list goes on well into the night, but Noel’s name is right near the top. He’s hilarious in interviews, a great story teller and one cruel dog at the best of times, especially to his younger brother, who seems to enjoy provoking a reaction too.
He has his critics (his biggest probably being Phil Collins), especially due to his behaviour which might be labelled obnoxious by many. Some criticize his music, calling it simplistic and unimaginative, while others use the same adjectives to describe his lyrics on occasions. People say he’s not as great a guitar player either, repeating the same few chords. I can’t say whether this is true or not; I’m not much of a musician. However, I don’t listen to his music for any Bowie-like artistry; I listen to his melodies to send me to a joyful or melancholic mediative state, depending on the tune. Supersonic thrills me while Dead in the Water leaves me in a nostalgic emotional mess. I agree, some of his lyrics are a bit throwaway, yet I feel he lies a bit when he says they are the last thing he thinks about when writing a song. Over the years, there have been just too many lines that are too tender and profound to have not have been thought of carefully. This is what makes him one of the best songwriters of my lifetime. Britain may be splitting at the seams, but at least we still have Noel, eh?
Desert Island Discs would be hell for me. There are so many important songs I have, just like everyone else, yet many of my best of songs would consist of Noel Gallagher tunes. I have loads of favourites, yet these three are probably my most important. I have included another which he features in, which you shall see below.
1. Listen Up
It is well known that many of Noel Gallagher’s B-sides are often more quieter, tender and profound than those released on albums. It’s where you hear his more sensitive side, away from the attitude and mayhem of the rock and roll lifestyle.
Listen Up is one of those. It appeared as a B-side on the single Cigarettes & Alcohol, released in October 1994. Very much an early Oasis song, sung when Liam Gallagher’s voice was more youthful and aggressive. Noel Gallagher has since sung it live acoustically, giving the song a more sensitive edge, rather than the rebellious original. In both versions though, the melody and lyrics are interwoven, which really spoke to me during my adolescence and teenage angst. You can see why from the lyrics in the first verse:
Listen up what’s the time said today, I’m gonna speak my mind,
Take me up to the top of the world I wanna see my crime,
Day by day there’s a man in a suit who’s gonna make you pay,
For the thoughts that you think and the words, they wont let you say.
Yet, the lyrics that impacted me, and still do today, appear in the chorus:
But I don’t believe in magic,
Life is automatic.
Seems simple, I know, and even Noel Gallagher in 2014 said in an interview that he too loved those particular lyrics but was unsure what it meant. For me, it says something agnostic or atheist, that the mysteries of God aren’t real and life just happens. Something of an innocent blasphemy. I’m saying this despite being Catholic. I’m going to have to go to confession for saying this. Maybe it doesn’t help to pray and hope on miracles or magic from an omniscient being, and maybe life has it’s own way of working itself out and we should accept life in a Stoic kind of way. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, and I’m upsetting religious folks reading this. But still, the lyrics mean a lot to me, no matter whether I’m well off the chart from their original meaning.
It wasn’t released on an album. It stands alone and so it should do. It possesses a zen like rhythm, a proud melody and philosophical lyrics that send me to a happy dimension. It was released in December 1994 and I remember being impacted by the attitude of the video, Liam’s glares, Noel scoffing a cone of chips then shrugging it off, the band playing footy while they played their instruments and chased the orchestra musicians around the studio.
Yes, again it’s full of rebellion, but with a soft touch, freedom of expression, and still today it cheers me up on a bad day. It like a pacifist’s middle finger to the world’s naysayers and critics, which is what you need when you’re 15 and trying to make sense of the world.
Whatever I like
If it’s wrong or right it’s alright.
Always seems to me, You only see what people want you to see,
How long’s it gonna be, Before we get on the bus, And cause no fuss,
It don’t cost much.
Whatever you say,
If it comes my way it’s alright.
You can see why these verses would appeal to teenagers even today. It’s timeless wisdom, which made see sense while also challenge those who I disagreed with.
Here in my mind,
You know you might find,
Something that you,
You thought you once knew,
But now it’s all gone,
And you know it’s no fun,
Yeah I know it’s no fun,
Oh I know it’s no fun.
This verse I dedicate to all of life’s bastards. It’s that liberating feeling you have when you see someone who did you wrong in some way, and they realise they have lost the power to control you. It tells that person that you’re different, you’ve changed, and you’ve overcome the mental or physical barricade they put before you, for whatever reason.
And then the song signs off with the lyrics below, and the sweet rock and roll orchestra.
Whatever you do,
Whatever you say,
Yeah I know it’s alright.
Whoever said Noel Gallagher isn’t a great lyricist, it’s time rethink your own words, and your life.
3. Fade Away (Warchild version)
Oasis have two different versions of Fade Away. One was released as a B-side also on the Cigarettes & Alcohol single, but it is a rockier version, kind of crude and featuring Liam Gallagher’s famous whining vocals. I liked it, but the acoustic version sung by Noel Gallagher is more appropriate to the innocent soft charm of the tune. It was a B-side for the single Don’t Go Away, which was only released in Japan, while also appearing on The Help Album, consisting of songs from various British and Irish artists to raise funds for children caught up in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia states during the 90s. Johnny Depp features on the guitar, Kate Moss on the tambourine and Liam Gallagher and Lisa Moorish on the backing vocals. I’m assuming it’s Noel who chips in with the naff “Know what I mean?” and Lisa and Kate pitching in with “Is that the vibe?” and “You know it!” at the end of the song. Why guys, why?
I think I’ve already stated what I like about the lyrics, about growing up and moving on, being responsible and letting go of childhood dreams. Maybe it sounds defeatest and of course it’s sad, realising the things you have not become which you thought you would as a child, which may echo thoughts of nostalgia in your own life. Yet sometimes it’s the thing the dreamers in life need to hear when reality bites and they need to do something more constructive with lives instead of procrastinating. That’s what it says to me, anyway, yet it’s done with the melody of soft advice, which is why I love it. Below is a sample:
When I was young
I thought I had my own key
I knew exactly
What I wanted to be
Now I’m sure
You’ve boarded up every door.
Lived in a bubble
Days were never ending
Was not concerned
About what life was sending
Fantasy was real
Now I know much about the way I feel.
I’ll paint you the picture
‘Cause I don’t think
You live round here no more
I’ve never even seen
The key to the door
We only get what we will settle for.
Now my life has turned
I think it’s only best
That I should warn you
Dream it while you can
Maybe someday I’ll make you understand.
To conclude, the song says that maybe you shouldn’t look for happiness in your dreams: maybe reality is a more constructive to start. It’s now the time to stop sleepwalking through life.
Yet, another B-side. And there are still so many that I love. Masterplan, Going Nowhere, Half the World Away, Talk Tonight, Sad Song, Cigarettes in Hell, It’s Better People, Thank You for the Good Times (written by Andy Bell, apparently), Acquiesce, Round Are Way…will this list ever end? There are many A-sides too. Obvious classics such as Live Forever, Supersonic, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Wonderwall, Slide Away … again, the list goes on. Yet I had to choose this harmless acoustic charm.
I’m not saying this is the best song Noel Gallagher has written, but I love the innocent message about how dreams change when we’re young and how priorities change as we experience life, especially the following part:
It’s funny how your dreams
Change as you’re growing old
You don’t want to be no spaceman
You just want gold
All the dream stealers
Are lying in wait
But if you want to be a spaceman
It’s still not too late.
It’s similar to Fade Away in many respects, yet more simple and cheerful, especially the melody. The narrative makes me think of someone going back to the neighbourhood they grew up in after being away for some time, and catching up with someone who they had a strong connection with, either a friend or an ex-lover, and maybe that person did not fulfil certain expectations in life. Yet they still find common ground, a companionship, to get over life’s hurdles. Maybe I read into this stuff too much, but while growing up, this was a crutch on my bad days and my ecstasy on my good days. It’s kind of nursery rhyme for adolescents and adults who feel their lives aren’t quite going in the direction they imagined.
You can see why by looking at the first verse and chorus.
I haven’t seen your face round since since I was a kid
You’re bringing back those memories of the things that we did
You’re hanging round and climbing trees pretending to fly
Do you wanna be a spaceman and live in the sky?
Well, it’s alright, it’s alright
Who are you and me to say what’s wrong and what’s right
Do you still feel like me
We sit down here and we shall see
We can talk and find common ground
And we can just forget about feeling down
We can just forget about life in this town.
The song that Noel Gallagher features in – Keep What Ya Got by Ian Brown
I have loved this song for over a decade, yet I only found out about two years ago that Noel Gallagher was on the guitars. I found out by chance when I saw the video and I screeched like an excited teeny bopper. The fact that these two men, two personal musical heroes, was just too good to be true.
I remember when I found the Stone Roses. I’d known about them before when I heard The Second CThey had split up the year before. It didn’t stop me locking myself in my room listening to the likes of What the World is Waiting For, She Bangs the Drum (now one of my wife’s favourite songs) and I am the Resurrection, mesmerised by the blissful rhythms and thought provoking lyrics, I was in a happy new world away from the insecurities of adolescence.
It seems Ian Brown continued some of these characteristics in his solo career, although with more deep yet ambiguous lyrics and darker melodies. And this is song is just that. The main lyric of the chorus, Keep what ya got, by giving it all away. There are so many beautiful ways to perceive these words. For me he’s telling listeners to let go of material possessions, not to hold on to things that don’t matter, to improve your soul, or if not the soul, your spiritual and mental well-being. The words are almost Stoic or Buddhist, zen-like. There are other spiritual references in the song, about heaven’s gates not being far away and there being a place for those who pray. I especially like the second verse, talking those who drain us.
When your halo slips for good
You’ll have to wear your hood
Good to feel the breeze of fear on
All you cynics, I’m ya mimic
All you losers, all abusers
Wasting all my precious energy.
But the song really comes together at the bridge, where Brown gives us a monologue of advice which is poetry in motion (Brown is well respected, but still so under-estimated for his lyrical abilities; I rate higher than many dead and living poets). All the while, Noel Gallagher stands behind him in the video with his electric guitar on a street corner, probably somewhere in Manchester.
I’m not going to bore you with any more personal perceptions of the lyrics. They speak for themselves. See below. However, I will say that the first line of this monologue makes me want to get it tattooed on my forehead, but I might just make do with a t-shirt.
Remember where you came from
Sister, she told ya on a rainy day
It’s said that heaven holds a place
For all of those who pray
And if ya don’t believe in agony
Then ya don’t care anyway
Nobody or nothing’s ever getting in your way
Even as you cradle on but don’t feel you belong
No one’s gonna notice if you’re never right or wrong
And if you and your next neighbour, yeah, ya don’t quite get along
No one’s gonna notice if you’re singing anyway
Those not coming in for free will learn they gotta pay.
Are there any Noel Gallagher songs that make you weak at the knees? Any other artists who inspire you like Noel does for me? List them in the comments.