Noel Gallagher releases his High Flying Birds album this week. It’s his solo debut, after Noel left Oasis in 2009. Gallagher’s album is different to any Oasis album: here, he is sole singer and frontman as well as the songwriter. Gallagher’s guitar work on High Flying Birds is more subdued than before, but the man can still write and play impressive guitar melodies.
Gallagher, by his own admission, is no guitar virtuoso: “I’m average, at best,” he concedes. But there have been many tracks in a 20-year career that rock.
These might not be Noel Gallagher’s best songs, they might not be the most famous, but they all boast guitar playing which wins the day.
Oasis’s debut flight. The U.K. charts hadn’t been dented by guitars this loud in the previous decade outside of metal crossover hits, and added to a “Madchester” swagger and the melodicism of the ’60s, “Supersonic” was an instant wake-up call to British guitar bands. “Supersonic” still sounds both malevolent yet euphoric.
“Live Forever” (1994)
Another from the debut album Definitely Maybe, “Live Forever” was Oasis’s first true anthem. Chordally, it’s not far off Noel’s heroes The Smiths’ “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” (a simple mix of G / D / Am7 / C ), but the solo shows Gallagher to be a gifted tunesmith. A guitar solo you can almost sing? It had been a long time coming.
“Slide Away” (1994)
The Smiths’ Johnny Marr was a mentor to Oasis. When early gigs were coming thick and fast, Noel phoned Johnny and asked to borrow a back-up guitar: at the time, Gallagher only had an Epiphone Les Paul of his own. Marr generously decided “I can’t give him something dodgy or cheap,” and gave Noel a 1960 sunburst Gibson Les Paul that he had bought from The Who’s Pete Townshend. Marr had used it on many Smiths recordings.
“When I got that guitar,” Noel recalled, “I swear ‘Slide Away’ seemed to write itself.” Gallagher admits the song’s chords were inspired by Neil Young: it has a whiff of “Cortez the Killer.”
The good vibes didn’t last though. At an Oasis gig in Newcastle in late 1994, an audience member invaded the stage and tried to attack the band. In the melee, the vintage Les Paul had its neck broken. Some recollections even suggest Noel smacked himself in the head with the Les Paul, while the hapless stage invader was actually trying to hit Liam. But the guitar was broken. What did Marr do when told? He gave Noel Gallagher another vintage black Gibson Les Paul, the one on which he recorded The Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead.”
From The Who to The Smiths to Oasis, “Slide Away” has Les Paul mojo all over it.
To some, it remains a classic. To others, it’s over-played and has been serially murdered by hapless street performers. But behind the sawing cellos, Noel Gallagher’s guitars are impressively lithe. Here’s the acoustic guitar only of “Wonderwall.” Neil Young would be proud of the arpeggios from 1:08. Don’t try playing “Wonderwall” without a capo at the 2nd fret.
“Some Might Say” (1995)
The first single from best-selling album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, “Some Might Say” kicks hard. It starts, basically, with a guitar solo – that’s chutzpah – and builds into a hard-rocking / neo-pyschedelic guitar tour-de-force. Noel Gallagher later said, “‘Some Might Say’ defines what Oasis is.”
“I Hope, I Think, I Know” (1997)
Noel Gallagher has since derired Oasis’s third album Be Here Now as “rubbish.” Egos, drug-intake and production all got out of control – Gallagher was overdubbing as many as 15 electric guitars on some tracks, just because he could. But a few songs remain winners. “I Hope, I Think, I Know” marries a leaping beat-pop melody, a bold singalong riff and Thin-Lizzy-esque guitars roaring so hard it almost started the so-called Loudness Wars single-handed. An underrated Noel Gallagher song.
“F****** in the Bushes” (2000)
By Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, Oasis were reduced to Noel and Liam Gallagher, drummer Alan White and new hired hands – Noel Gallagher played bass on most of the album. But it gave Gallagher elder a chance to branch out. One of only a handful of Oasis instrumentals, “F****** in the Bushes” was written by Noel around a sample of Mitch Mitchell’s drum intro from The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Little Miss Lover.” The Hendrix Estate refused Oasis use of the sample for release, so White merely re-recorded the looped pattern (with many more splash cymbals.) The vocal samples were from Barry Lerner’s film Message to Love: Isle of Wight 1970 (another Hendrix reference), while Gallagher’s main guitar riff also nods to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Nice overdubbed dual-soloing from Noel.
Noel Gallagher only pulled “Lyla” from his back pocket when Oasis’s record company questioned: where’s the hit single? Noel later admitted that he “didn’t realize how good it was until [Oasis] played it live,” and Foo Fighters thought it was also good enough to cover. Three/four chords, stomping drums and one-note “solos,” “Lyla” is a 101 lesson in rock ’n’ roll redux. It remains, as Gallagher reflected, “annoyingly catchy.”
“Part of the Queue” (2005)
Sung by Noel, and undoubtedly influenced by cult Liverpool group Shack (a favorite of Noel’s), its syncopated acoustic/electric guitars build into a psychedelic ending. The arrangement is all: there’s a few nice licks, but this one says more about the Oasis songs that Noel could sing, but Liam couldn’t or wouldn’t. “Part of the Queue” is a pointer to the acoustic side of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
“The Shock of the Lightning” (2008)
“The Shock of the Lightning” is simple, but Gallagher successfully puts basic guitar boogie through a krautrock filter. It’s all about a guitar/drums riff and good arrangement. Impressively, the released version is basically Noel’s demo with Liam Gallagher’s added vocals.
Noel Gallagher’s next album, a collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous, already recorded and due 2012, is hinted to feature similarly motorik guitar. Noel recently told the NME that the Amorphous Androgynous collaboration album is “far out. It’s got 18 tracks on it, some of it’s krautrock, some of it’s soul, some of it’s funk and that’s just the first song.”
Good guitar work on all these from the self-styled “Chief.” But let’s hope he plays more guitar on his next solo album?
More Noel Gallagher:
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: “These are My Best Songs”
Gibson.com’s Top 50 Albums of the ‘90s
Did Oasis Split Due to ‘Musical Differences’?