Formed by brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher and their Manchester mates, Oasis rose to the top of the British charts in the mid-Nineties with its flair for classic psychedelic pop. The Beatles-influenced rock of its debut album, Definitely Maybe (1994), made Oasis overnight pop stars, while the Gallaghers' bravado, open drug use, and general disrespect toward any band that wasn't Oasis earned constant media attention. Some detractors suggested that Oasis had merely mastered the musical ideas of others; regardless, they sold millions of albums in the Nineties.
Manchester native Noel Gallagher got his first guitar at age 13 and began dabbling in songwriting. His father, who poured concrete by day and was a C&W DJ by night, left the family while Noel was still a teenager. At 18 Noel was caught burgling a house, but he soon found work as a roadie and spent the next four years touring with Inspiral Carpets. His younger brother, Liam, meanwhile, started singing in a band with friends Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs (guitar) and Paul McGuigan (bass), later enlisting drummer Tony McCarroll. When Noel returned to Manchester with a batch of new songs he had written, he offered to take creative control of the band, by now called Oasis. They agreed and began rehearsing. At an early show in Glasgow, Scotland, they were discovered by Creation Records founder Alan McGee, who immediately offered them a contract.
In 1994 Oasis released Definitely Maybe (Number 58 U.S., Number One U.K.), which became the fastest-selling debut album in British history at the time. The band quickly won the attention of the British music press with its blend of Sixties pop, Seventies glam, and the sneering attitude and bravado of punk. But some critics complained that the music was derivative, noting that "Cigarettes & Alcohol" blatantly stole the opening riff from T. Rex's "Bang a Gong." Oasis was later forced to change some lyrics to "Shakermaker" after a lawsuit filed by Coca-Cola charged the band with lifting the melody and some words from its jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing."'
(What's the Story) Morning Glory? (Number Four, 1995) was greeted warmly by both fans and critics. It included the hits "Wonderwall" (Number Eight pop, Number One Modern Rock, 1995) and "Don't Look Back in Anger" (Number 55, 1995) as well as the seven-minute epic of psychedelic pop "Champagne Supernova" (Number One Modern Rock, 1996). Trouble loomed, however: Liam was arrested for suspicion of cocaine possession, public feuding between the Gallaghers became a frequent occurrence, and Noel quit that year's U.S. tour. Be Here Now (Number Two, 1997), with its Seventies arena-rock sound, was met with mixed reviews and relatively disappointing sales.
The Masterplan (Number 51, 1998), a collection of B-sides and non-album tracks, found the band in a holding pattern. Oasis reconvened in 1999 in France to begin recording an album with sessions now conducted under a new no-drinking policy. Before sessions were finished, however, both Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and Paul McGuigan had quit (the other original member, McCarroll, had been fired following the debut album). Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Number 24, 2000) demonstrated club-culture influences and sold fewer copies than any Oasis album. For the first time, a Liam Gallagher songwriting credit found its way onto an Oasis album: the sentimental "Little James." Relations between the Gallaghers remained combative on the band's subsequent tour, with an argument in Barcelona resulting in Noel's return to England. The tour continued, with guitarist Matt Deighton (Paul Weller, Mother Earth) filling in for Noel. The absent bandleader worked on a side project called Tailgunner, but returned to Oasis in time for a pair of shows at London's Wembley Stadium, where Oasis recorded the two-disc live album Familiar to Millions, which barely dented the U.S. Top 200.
Oasis replaced its departed members with former Heavy Stereo guitarist Colin "Gem" Archer and former Ride guitarist Andy Bell (switching to bass) for the 2002 album Heathen Chemistry (Number 23). Like Shoulders of Giants, Chemistry also featured a song-penned by Liam, the single "Songbird." The tour in support of Chemistry was no less problematic than the group's previous dates: In December, Liam, White, and members of the group's entourage were involved in a brawl at a Munich nightclub, which resulted in Liam getting several of his teeth knocked out. Although the story originally held that the group was attacked by "gangsters," the assailants were later revealed to be estate agents and computer salesmen annoyed with the group's antics in the bar. The fracas led to the group canceling the last few dates of their German tour.
When drummer Alan White left the band in early 2004, the band replaced him with Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey, who had been playing with the Who. Oasis' next album, the contract-fulfilling Don't Believe the Truth (Number 12, 2005), was mired in a long and painful birthing process. The album was originally set to be produced by Tim Holmes and Richard Fearless of the group Death in Vegas, but the process proved problematic. In July, Noel wrote a letter to the NME in which he said the sessions were "frustrating and fruitless," and that the group had scrapped a year's worth of material. Their set at that year's Glastobury festival drew heavily on hits, and was regarded by many sources as uncharacteristically limp.
The group continued to struggle on their sixth record, turning production duties over to producer Dave Sardy. The album was finally released in May 2005, and it turned out to be a commercial and critical comeback, hitting the top of the UK charts and entering the US charts at Number 12. The group followed the album with their most aggressive tour since Definitely Maybe, including sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden and L.A.'s Hollywood Bowl. In 2006, the band released the compilation Stop the Clocks. The following year, Oasis won the Brit Award presented to musicians for their outstanding contribution to music.
The group experienced yet another roster shakeup in May 2008, when Zak Starkey left the band after several arguments with the Gallaghers, to be replaced by drummer Chris Sharrock. Dig Out Your Soul, the band's seventh studio effort, was released in October of that year and duplicated the chart success of its predecessor, hitting Number One in the UK and cracking the US Billboard Top 200 at Number Five. The album was heavily promoted in the US, most notably in a marketing strategy where buskers in New York City were hired to play songs from the album out on the street. Oasis also made headlines when Noel Gallagher was attacked onstage during a show in Toronto, with his injuries resulting in the cancellation of several shows prior to the release of the album.
The group found themselves once again at the center of a media circus that summer, when Noel criticized organizers of the Glastonbury Festival for booking Jay-Z as a headliner. Speaking to the BBC News, he insisted that the festival had a tradition of guitar music, adding, "I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury — it's wrong." In retaliation, Jay-Z opened his Glastonbury set by playing a portion of "Wonderwall" on an acoustic guitar before launching into a spirited version of his own "99 Problems." Noel later backpedaled somewhat, admitting that he liked Jay-Z's music, though he still disapproved of his appearance at Glastonbury.
The group toured for the better part of 2009 before unraveling completely in August of that year. After a backstage altercation at the Paris Rock en Seine festival, in which Liam smashed Noel's guitar, the elder Gallagher quit the band permanently, stating "I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer." Liam defiantly insisted that, should he fail to come up with something else, he would retain the name Oasis, and that the group's remaining members hoped to produce a new record sometime in 2010. He also expressed the desire to play live again, though stated those shows wouldn't feature any material written by Noel.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). J. Edward Keyes contributed to this article.
Crystal meth, toxic sibling rivalry and other highlights from film chronicling Gallaghers' rowdy Nineties peak
Singer Liam Gallagher tears through '(What's the Story) Morning Glory' classic in studio footage from 'Oasis: Supersonic'