Yes, yes, Oasis standards such as “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” are timeless — but try to forget them for a moment. Going further back, is there a more quintessential Oasis song than “Cigarettes and Alcohol,” the shambolic rocker from the band’s 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe? Definitely not. It’s effectively the anthem for the return of British music — the knock ’em, sock ‘em rise of Britpop — following grunge’s reign over the charts in the early ‘90s. And Noel and Liam Gallagher are Manchester-bred lads, football fans from the rafters, the type involved in punch-ups at the fish & chipper after the match. Lots of cigarettes and alcohol there. This is the DNA of their whole being and that of their original fanbase.
“Is it my imagination / Or have I finally found something worth living for?” Liam sings. “I was looking for some action / But all I found was cigarettes and alcohol.” It’s basically their “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
When Definitely Maybe dropped Aug. 29, 1994, it became the fastest-selling debut album in the U.K., ever (at the time). Just think of all the other mega-selling artists who came before them, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to Queen, Rod Stewart and Elton John. Yet it was these two blokes, their guitarist buddy (literally nicknamed Bonehead) and the anthems they penned in their mum’s frontroom that took that incredible title. The album went on to be certified 7× Platinum in the U.K and moved 847,000 units in the U.S. to date, per Nielsen Music.
It accomplished all this on the back of a series of super-catchy singles, including “Supersonic,” “Shakermaker” and “Live Forever,” which became a mold of sorts for the band’s shining, deeply-anthemic rock tunes. That style would come to full realization on 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. On Definitely Maybe the volume and distortion is just turned up louder. But it all started here.
And there’s much more: “Whatever,” a hum-ready ditty with a sweet melody and dramatic string accompaniment, “Columbia,” a charging rocker with a dance-y beat, clearly inspired their Madchester friends and forbearers, and “Slideaway,” a near-perfect rock ballad — poignant, simple, heartbreaking (How the hell was this song not released as a single?). And “Married With Children,” an oddball acoustic tune with a reverb vocal effect to close it out that’ll have you yearning. The song was inspired by Noel’s then-girlfriend, who was tired of being woken up by the Oasis songwriter playing his guitar. “Your music’s shite,” she told him. Of course, it hints to the American TV series of the same name and its lead characters, Al and Peggy Bundy, too. “I looked at them two in the show,” Noel told Melody Maker, “and looked at us two, and I thought, that’s us, that is!”
Naturally, it opens with “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.” Liam slays this one, as Noel and Bonehead charge on the wall-o-fuzz guitar riffing. It also gives us Oasis’ first “shine.” Aficionados will recognize Liam’s biting tone when singing the word “shine,” whether it’s “sunshine” or “stars that shine,” etc. In fact, according to this Oasis superfan Reddit thread, over 21% of all Oasis songs contain Liam or Noel singing the word “shine” in some form. Yeah, someone crunched those numbers because of Definitely Maybe.
Perhaps its greatest gift of all is when Liam’s hands-tied behind my back, chin out, Greek god/heathen pose was born — singing these songs, doing interviews, the whole shtick. This is before Noel took the stern of the band fulltime. Liam is at his most Liam. And he was usually doing his thing in a rain jacket and sunglasses. For that contribution alone, it’s the greatest Oasis album.