Nothing defined the Britpop era quite like the feud and subsequent chart battle between Blur and Oasis. Over two decades on, the beef is still remembered as the defining moment of a musical movement that set the world alight back in the nineties.
Britpop rising / A feud begins
“Everyone in the country knew who Oasis were now. They might never have had that exposure if Blur hadn’t given it to them.” – Alan McGee (Creation Records boss)
April 1995 in the UK saw mouthy Mancunian upstarts Oasis sitting pretty at the top of the English singles chart with their first number one single ‘Some Might Say’. The fact that an uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll outfit like Oasis, who’s first album Definitely Maybe had become the fastest selling debut album of all time in the UK the previous year, was number one in the charts was confirmation that the Britpop phenomenon was fast becoming the hottest musical ticket in the country.
Oasis may have been number one at the time but Blur – led by their charismatic frontman Damon Albarn – were the scene’s undisputed leaders. Having swept all comers aside at the 1994 Brit awards thanks to the runaway success of their third album Parklife, Blur had completed their transition from arty indie outsiders into mainstream teen idols and were enjoying life as the biggest band in the country.
Initially supportive of each other, a growing resentment between the two Britpop heavyweights began to develop as 1995 progressed, fueled by provocative quotes from both camps and a lot of media hype. At a celebration party held by Oasis’ label Creation Records to celebrate Some Might Say getting to Number One, the feud got serious when personal insults were flung by Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher at Albarn and his then girlfriend Justine Frischmann, frontwoman of Elastica. “I went to their celebration party just to say ‘Well done’,” said Albarn at the time. “And Liam came over and, like he is, he goes, ‘Number fookin’ One!’, right in my face. So I thought, ‘OK, we’ll see…’
Albarn, who was well known for his fierce competitive streak, rose to the provocation and took up the gauntlet thrown down by his aggressive Manc peers, setting in motion a Britpop battle that would soon captivate a nation fast falling under the spell of all things Britpop, much to the delight of the English press who lapped it up, hyping the beef into national headline news – Blur’s artsy London intellectuals against Oasis’ Mancunian indie rock populists. The scene was set.
Chose your weapons / Head to head
“So much was made in the media of posh southern kids and rough working class northerners. It was ridiculous, as none of the Blur boys came from those places. It was more a clash between art school traditions and Oasis’ classic British R&B.” – Mick Smith, Blur publisher
With both bands primed to release singles from their forthcoming albums, Food Records and Creation – Blur and Oasis’ record labels respectively – set about meticulous planning to try and avoid a clash of release schedules, contrary to popular belief that the whole record battle was rigged and planned by both bands. In the end, it was decided by both parties that Blur would release their single after the Oasis single to maximise the market for both groups as they shared a lot of similar fans. However, things did not pan out that way.
“The plan, if there was a plan, was that Oasis would have a number one then we would, or vice-versa, and they wouldn’t clash,” explained Andy Ross, head of Food Records at the time. “Our lines of communications were pretty rock solid. But, then for some unexpected reason from our point of view, they brought forward their single by six weeks ahead of schedule. That threw us into complete confusion.”
Oasis had their single – Roll With It – ready to go which was set to drop on the 14th August. Originally, Blur’s Country House wasn’t even due to be the first single from The Great Escape but having debuted the song at a recent huge outdoor show at London’s Mile End where it went down a storm, it was duly chosen to be the first track to be released from the new album. And with competition and rivalry very much on their minds, the Blur camp decided to switch their release date to coincide with Oasis’ record, going for broke and setting up a dramatic head to head battle with their arch rivals.
For an event that went on to define the Britpop movement, it’s ironic that both bands ended up far from being in their best form with the singles that they put out. Country House was a throwaway novelty song that Blur subsequently went on to shun for years while Oasis was similarly dismissive of Roll With It, rarely featuring it in their live set after its release. But at the time, quality tunesmanship was not high on the agenda. Rather, it was all about who would get to Number One. The Britpop chart war was in place and the battle was about to commence.
One winner / The aftermath.
“I think they’re [Oasis] are a great band and that this is the defining Britpop moment. It’s not Blur vs. Oasis, it’s Blur and Oasis against the world.” Alex James, Blur bassist (speaking in 1995).
In the week leading up to the official chart rundown on Sunday, Blur vs. Oasis was the hot news ticket on a daily basis. Figures showed that it was the best seven days for UK singles sales in a decade. The nation, it seemed, were completely caught up in the race for Number One and the media predictably went into hysterical hype mode, casting the face off as a modern day Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones with the story even making the six o’clock news in England.
In the end, Country House outsold Roll With It by 274,000 copies to 220,000 amid claims that Oasis’ sales were hit by faulty barcodes. History has it that Blur had won the battle but Oasis, given the colossal 21 million copies sold of their album (What’s The Story?) Morning Glory worldwide, along with their two nights at Knebworth in 1996 playing to a quarter of a million people, ending up winning the war.
Over the following months, Britpop would end up being a major British cultural phenomena, thanks in large to the Blur vs. Oasis feud for bringing the movement to the attention of a nationwide audience. In the end, the feud reached its undignified nadir when Noel Gallagher expressed his wish that Albarn and Blur bassist Alex James would “die of AIDS”, a nasty end to a musical tussle that captured the imagination of a nation.
Thankfully the story has a happy ending. Fast forward to the present and Blur are still playing together while Oasis are no more. Damon and Noel are friends who share the stage occasionally and collaborate together in the studio, as they have done recently on a track for the new Gorillaz album. One can even imagine the two band leaders reminiscing fondly over a beer today, looking back to the time when their band feud had music lovers in the UK and beyond caring so passionately that it forced everyone to pick a side.