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Oasis vs. Blur: The great duel of Britpop


Who is the king of pop? London snob against bully from Manchester - it was also a piece of class struggle. When Blur and Oasis fought over the crown 25 years ago, the British cheered.

Today, a quarter of a century later, that showdown seems like a comedy number. The plot: to transform the economic performance of two band giants into a competition, carried out according to the rules of a boxing match. With scoring, trash talk and a bit of local flavor.

The duel went down in recent music history as the "Battle of Britpop". Because exactly at the same time on August 14th 1995 two singles were released: "Country House" by Blur and "Roll With It" by Oasis.

In one corner, then, the fine spirits around Damon Albarn, son of a multimedia artist. The London band Blur varied in their ironic songs the legacies of the Kinks and the early Pink Floyd, but also of David Bowie and the ska specialists Madness.

In the other corner the Lads from Manchester, who further developed Beatles melodies - in the rather straightforward Oasis jargon, such as in their song "Supersonic" from the 1994 debut album "Definitely Maybe". "I'm feeling supersonic / give me gin and tonic", demanded singer Liam Gallagher.

The rivals offered great contrasts, almost a painting of British society, or at least that's how it looked: educated bourgeoisie vs. Working class. Distinguished habitus vs. Pub philosophy. Noble South England vs. rustic northern England. In addition, Blur were under contract with the record giant EMI, while Oasis was a member of the underground label Creation Records.

Very British

In 1995 rock'n'roll was still a best seller. The "British Heavyweight Championship" printed the "New Musical Express" (NME) on its front page, hooked the silhouettes of two boxers, and started the fight with flourish and drum rolls. As editor of the high-circulation music magazine, Steve Sutherland continued the eternal story of twentysomethings in big bands. "I've always been a big fan of the rock-and-pop soap opera, so we made an event out of it," he said in 2019 of the journalistic coup.

The "NME" story met with an enormous response, even the old aunt BBC joined in. The "Battle of Britpop" was now a national affair. The soundtrack for the years 1994 to 1996 was provided by competing bands such as Blur and Oasis, as well as older bands such as the pioneers of Suede or the scattered bohemians of Pulp, as well as epigones such as Echobelly, Gene and Shed Seven.

They had brought up the bosses of a record industry who sensed big business in the renaissance of British pop music. Her business plan: to break the overwhelming power of US imports in the charts, including grunger rockers from Seattle, rappers from the East and West Coast, glamorous R'n'B singers. Behind this was also a longing for the golden days of the British Invasion , when, conversely, bands from the island stormed the US charts in the 1960s - the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Animals, Cream and many more.

Blur and Oasis got involved in the 1995 long-distance duel in the record trade in coordination with their managers. The release of "Country House" and "Roll With It" on the same day was actually a taboo break - no calendar collisions, that was the gentleman's agreement of the music magnates to date . Even in the roaring sixties, hits by the Beatles and the Stones never appeared at the same time, so that the draft horses didn't take steep chart prices and a lot of money away from each other.

And the winner is...

At the end of the week, this heavyweight championship of summer '95 was decided: Blur had sold 274,000 units of their pop-petitesse "Country House", Oasis of the hoarse rock standard "Roll With It" only 216,000 - 1st place and 2nd place in the single Charts.

But why did the bands even get involved in the competition - and put Mammon and a number 1 placement at risk? Was it really just sporting ambition?

Great Britain's notorious tabloids in particular have been spreading new rumors about personal motives since then. Especially now for the anniversary of the Battle of the Bands . Otherwise the papers report on noise in Buckingham Palace, celebrity vacations or the angry EU. But they are also busy Britpop historians.

  • The "Sun", for example, writes of a "cocoa-driven love triangle". According to this, the singers Liam Gallagher and Damon Albarn are said to have had the same lover, just in the turbulent year 1995 - this amorous entanglement triggered the rivalry.

  • The "Mirror", however, brings a gross insult into play: the Oasis siblings Gallagher have been enemies for ages. In an April 26 tweet, Liam Gallagher pushed his brother Noel into the role of the monster and dug out an old escapade. Noel, then Oasis songwriter, had asked Damon Albarn in an "Observer" interview that he should die of AIDS. The catch: This dropout cannot have ignited the argument because the rude words were used in an "Observer" interview that was only made public in September 1995 - by then the Britpop battle was already over. On the other hand, Liam didn't want to hear about a jealousy story.

  • The "New Musical Express" with contemporary witnesses from the record industry, author Steve Sutherland and some musicians delivered another theory in 2019. It's about a party organized by Creation Records as the Gallaghers and their bandmates celebrated the success of their single "Some Might Say" at the headquarters of the Oasis label. Albarn and his companion also showed up at the break. Liam Gallagher is said to have molested the Blur singer, as did Albarn's girlfriend at the time, Justine Frischmann, singer of the rough London band Elastica. Albarn didn't want to let that sit on him - so remembers Blur producer Stephen Street. The revenge was then the simultaneous release of "Country House".

Pop, Patriotism & Politics

Thus there are several versions circulating about the development of conflict. The memory of those involved may also have suffered in the haze of sex, drugs & Britpop - and excess testosterone. In the end, the whole show was a prelude anyway: for a political turning point. Because she anticipated the following "Cool Britannia" hype. A breeding ground was precisely the patriotism that had sparked the collective enthusiasm for the two British music projects .

Icon: enlarge

Geri Halliwell dressed in the Union Jack

Photo: John Marshall / AP

In the second half of the nineties, pop and politics married like only church and crown once did. There were the Lightning Seeds - their "Three Lions" anthem made the 1996 European Football Championship in England almost an awakening experience. Or Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell, who stunned at a Brit Awards ceremony with her tight Union Jack dress.

And then in 1997 Tony Blair became Prime Minister. The newcomer had made this pop appeal, borrowed from the swinging sixties , the emotional style of his New Labor movement. As he celebrated his move to Downing Street, Noel Gallagher also congratulated him, a champagne flute in hand.

In the "Battle of Britpop", the class struggle was still staged as a folkloric soap - the echo of a past that was believed to have been overcome because the new, postmodern Great Britain would unite the historical antagonists, the bourgeoisie and the working class . The hope was deceptive: Social inequality increased under the Blair government.

The biographies of the musicians also show that the Britpop narratives were partly fictions. Blur was miscast in the role of the snob from the London bourgeoisie. Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon and drummer Dave Rowntree lived in the provincial town of Colchester as teenagers. In their early phase, still under the band name Seymour, they also intoned scruffy post punk. Not exactly typical cornerstones of a youth with a golden spoon.

In the end, Oasis were the champions

The feud between Blur and Oasis therefore also tells of a British youth culture that has been wiped out by cocky sensational journalism and a nervous music industry. That put a strain on the sensitive Graham Coxon. When Blur celebrated the number one "Country House" in London's Soho House, he wanted to jump out the window, from the sixth floor. Albarn could hold him back.

In the Oasis camp, fate turned at least economically: In autumn 1995, her epoch-making album "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" Was released. With over 22 million copies worldwide, it is now one of the five best-selling albums in British history. "Roll With It" faded on this kaleidoscope of powerful songs like "Don't Look Back in Anger", "Champagne Supernova" or the hymn "Wonderwall". In 1997 Oasis was only able to build on this success with their next album "Be Here Now".

Blur had a huge hit in 1997 with "Song 2", which is still an instant boom at many sporting events today. But the album "The Great Escape" from autumn 1995 missed the expected superlatives. "Country House" was the second track - a somewhat anemic piece about a big city workaholic who wants to relax in a country house, using Prozac and Balzac reading.

Damon Albarn later called both songs, which had become the measurement units of a bizarre competition, "shit".

Icon: The mirror

Source: spiegel

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