In the summer of 1997, rock fans all over England were desperately awaiting Oasis‘ upcoming album Be Here Now. It had been nearly two years since (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? turned them into one of the hottest groups to emerge from England since Led Zeppelin. The local must press covered every move the Gallagher brothers made like they were royalty, and everyone was counting the days until August 21st, when they’d finally get their hands on the new album.
At the same time that Oasis were were doing mountains of cocaine at Abbey Road studios and occasionally recording new music, Radiohead were holed up over 100 miles away in a mansion in Bath, England. They too were working on their third album, though they were under about about 1/100th the pressure as Oasis. Their last album, The Bends, had been beloved by critics, and it certainly grew their cult, yet many people still saw them as that “Creep” band that Alicia Silverstone’s stepbrother loved in Clueless.
OK Computer hit on May 21st, 1997. It was instantly hailed as a jaw-dropping classic. A devastating three-page New Yorker article by writer Alex Ross dismissed Oasis as “Dadrock” while praising Radiohead for “pull[ing] off one of the great art-pop balancing acts in the history of rock.”
One month after OK Computer landed, Radiohead was given the prestigious Saturday night headlining slot at Glastonbury. The show was an absolute triumph, and seven years later Q Magazine called it the single greatest concert of all time, topping even the Beatles on the roof of Apple Records and Queen at Live Aid. Check out their performance of “Paranoid Android” from the festival.
Be Here Now finally hit two months after Glastonbury. Expectations were impossibly high and sales were initially through the roof, but it wasn’t long before it was widely dismissed as overindulgent and boring. By 2004, even Noel Gallagher was bashing the album. “It’s the sound of a bunch of guys on coke, in the studio, not giving a fuck,” he said. “There’s no bass to it at all; I don’t know what happened to that. And all the songs are really long and all the lyrics are shit, and for every millisecond Liam is not saying a word, there’s a fuckin’ guitar riff in there in a Wayne’s World riff.”