c“No one saw it coming, because second albums are notoriously shit,” Noel Gallagher recalled of the surprise success of Oasis’s second album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? “We certainly didn’t see it coming. That’s for sure.”
(What’s The Story) Morning Glory? celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. It was a career-defining moment for Oasis, a band that had burst onto the British music scene in a big way barely a year earlier with the massive success of its debut album Definitely Maybe, and a string of chart-topping singles. But (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?—which contained the hit songs “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and “Champagne Supernova,” in case you’d forgotten—showcased Gallagher as a songwriter of the first order, and his younger brother, Liam, as a singer and frontman of undeniable gifts.
Even all these years later, as with the best classic albums, it still sounds as fresh as ever.
“The reviews were not good,” Gallagher maintained with a laugh during that same interview with me last year. “But put it up against anything that’s come out since. Very few albums are in its league, and certainly not anything being made today.”
After the fraught birth of the band’s debut album, which was made and remade several times before becoming the fastest-selling debut album in British history (at the time), and redefining the musical landscape there, and after a tumultuous year in which the band nearly imploded several times, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was created in a relatively drama-free atmosphere—at least by Noel & Liam standards—and at a remarkably quick pace.
“We were booked into the studio for about six weeks, I think, but it only took three,” the elder Gallagher remembered of the sessions at the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales, where Queen famously recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “And that included a week off after Liam and I had had a massive fight!”
“It seemed like they could do no wrong musically,” the British DJ Gary Crowley said recently. “I got an advance cassette from the band’s label, and I remember going away for a long weekend right after that and listening to it non-stop. Whatever was going on between Noel and Liam—at least as far as it was being portrayed in the press at the time—it was an amazing achievement. The songs were great, Liam’s singing was amazing, the band was on top form, and it was such a huge leap forward from the sound of the first album.”
Indeed, the change in direction, Gallagher told me, was what put reviewers off. Expecting Definitely Maybe II, they didn’t know what to make of the new Oasis sound.
Fans, too, weren’t sure. At least at first.
“‘Some Might Say’ and ‘Roll With It’—the two songs that preceded the album—felt like a development of the band’s sound, but a continuation of what they’d been doing and what I loved about them,” James Corcoran, the host of the hugely successful Oasis Podcast, recounted recently. “Then came ‘Wonderwall.’ I wasn’t sure about that one at all.”
Like those reviewers, he didn’t know what to make of the band’s new sound. Early diehards were a bit flummoxed at the more subtle, acoustic-driven approach of the song that, 25 years later, defines Oasis for most people.
In short order “Wonderwall” became a global hit, and brought a new audience to the Oasis party.
“Every song Noel was writing in those days was just fantastic,” Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, who started Oasis as The Rain in Manchester in the early ‘90s, recalled last year. “He would play an acoustic guitar to a click track and then teach us each the songs before we’d add our parts. And every day there’d be a new song that it seemed hadn’t existed the day before, and it was better than the last one! I couldn’t believe it.”
The elegiac, beguiling “Wonderwall” came to define Oasis for a generation of fans—especially here in the U.S.—and to this day its meaning remains as enigmatic as the day it was released.
“It’s a good thing that people don’t know what it means. And I’m certainly not going to tell anyone…”
“It’s a good thing that people don’t know what it means,” Gallagher offered when the meaning of the cornerstone of the album came up in conversation. “And I’m certainly not going to tell anyone.”
Though they don’t agree on much, Noel Gallagher said he was touched by the way the public—not reviewers or tastemakers—took the song to heart, eventually making “Wonderwall,” and the album, massive hits, and his brother seems to agree.
“A lot of things went into it,” Liam Gallagher said of the band’s massive success in an interview in 2017. “It was songs, it was the voice, it was the attitude, it was the look, it was the fans, and it was the people who fucking opened their ears and opened their minds.”
As for the other global hit from Morning Glory, Noel Gallagher recalled its humble beginnings fondly.
“I wrote ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ in a hotel room in Paris on a Fender Stratocaster I’d borrowed off Johnny Marr,” he told me in 2015. “It may seem easy to say in hindsight, but I knew it was great.”
In the wake of the success of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?—which has sold over 22 million copies worldwide to date, and was recently released on silver vinyl and picture disc and celebrated in an official mini-documentary to mark its anniversary—Oasis, who had cut their collective teeth in clubs and theaters just a year earlier, began playing larger and larger venues.
“They played two nights at Earls Court, to something like 40,000 people,” said Richard Bowes, the author of Some Might Say, an oral history of the band. “It was an astonishing rise that was built on a band that was releasing better and better music every step of the way in a really short period of time. It’s almost impossible to imagine something like that happening today.”
As documented in Mat Whitecross’ excellent 2016 documentary Supersonic, it all culminated in two massive shows at Knebworth Park—where the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd had previously headlined—drawing over 250,000 fans across two days.
“They took me to the site, and it just looked like this massive empty field that we could never possibly fill,” Gallagher told me. “I told them we’d agree to do two nights. After all the ticket requests came in they came back and said we could have done eight.”
“I’m about the biggest Oasis fan there is,” Arthurs, who’s reunited with Liam Gallagher on stage numerous times, recalled in 2014. “But even from the inside looking out, it was massive. We went from playing little clubs to selling out two days at Knebworth in just two years. It wasn’t just hype. It was as though we could do no wrong.”
“That’s how big (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was,” Crowley, who emc one of the evening’s festivities, said. “I’d interviewed them when they’d first come to London, and really liked both Noel and Liam, because they were so different to the usual musicians who came through, hating every minute of the interviews they had to do. They loved it. And here they were headlining this massive event that in so many ways kicked off the modern festival as we know it. So really I’m not all that surprised that we’re talking about the album twenty-five years later. In fact, I’m sure we’ll be talking about it twenty-five years from now.”