The masterplan was, there was no masterplan. Except to write good songs. Oh yeah, and to be the biggest band in the world. A modest ambition, but it put Oasis on the road to greatness. "Me mam always used to say, God loves a tryer," Noel Gallagher says. "And I went, Why? Has he got a car?' She went, No, a tryer. Not a tyre." So the Gallagher boys did try, and if you want proof of how hard they tried then hear these tracks - B-sides, all of them, made by a band who believe a B-side is no excuse not to care. Outside of Britain it hasn't always been easy to hear Oasis B-sides. But in Britain or anywhere else, they sound majestic played back-to-back.
We open heroically with ACQUIESCE which is one of those all-time "shoulda been an A-side" numbers. (Creation Records certainly thought so, and who could blame them?) The song is about friendship in the widest sense and not, as often speculated, about the Gallagher brothers themselves. Noel sings the chorus because, he claims, Liam couldn't reach the high notes. Or he was in the pub. Whatever, it was written on a slow train to Wales and made possible because Noel likes to travel with his guitar. It's no surprise that Acquiesce is present: via the Internet, Oasis fans were asked to vote on this album's choice of tracks. But the inclusion of UNDERNEATH THE SKY might have been "influenced" by Noel, who cites this as a favourite song. Its happy-wanderer feel was inspired by a pocket-book of travellers' quotes he came across, and the jollity's enhanced by a four-handed piano part courtesy of him and Bonehead (who tackles the tinkly bits, apparently).
TALK TONIGHT is another self-selecting choice, from Noel's acoustic repertoire. Beautifully tender, its thoughtful air derives from a Texas studio session: Noel was back after his brief flounce from the band on a US tour: "Me and Liam had a disagreement, probably about what shoes he was wearing, so I'd fucked off to Las Vegas." It was an Oasis fan in San Francisco who talked him down off the ledge. The same reflective interlude gave us another song, in HALF THE WORLD AWAY (which is Paul Weller's favourite Oasis track). The pressure was already building, though, when Noel began writing (IT'S GOOD) TO BE FREE, at the start of those troubled American dates. He finished it in Las Vegas: "Cocaine psychosis," reckoned producer Owen Morris, detecting a Fear And Loathing vibe in that sinister guitar feedback. Accordion expert Bonehead donates the breezy coda, which lends a misleadingly cheerful touch to what was a deeply fraught Oasis session: "Believe me, it was horrible, it wasn't funny at all." The Morse Code segment, by the way, is meaningless so far as anyone knows.
The oldest song here is GOING NOWHERE, written around 1990 before the band was signed ("It's about what we were going to do when we got a shitload of money off Creation"); it was not recorded until after the Be Here Now album, when there was a hankering for something less massive. Noel and drummer Alan White are the only Oasis members involved, with piano, brass and horn players to bring a vaguely Burt Bacharach atmosphere. Noel only wishes he knew another rhyme for "car" and "Jaguar". Nearly as vintage in its origins, however, was HEADSHRINKER: recorded for Some Might Say in'95, it was written about three years earlier, during the band's punkier phase. It's also one of Liam's greatest vocals, partly because of the freedom from pressure that doing B-sides can offer. Although a load of drug references were binned from the Iyric, a manic edge remains to this tale of an early girlfriend Liam could not shake off. It may start out like The Faces' Stay With Me, but Noel says he was thinking of The Rolling Stones at the time. And ROCKIN'CHAIR dates from Noel's days in Manchester, planning to leave his own girlfriend and dreaming of the good life down in London.
FADE AWAY first surfaced on Cigarettes & Alcohol, and was probably elbowed off Definitely Maybe in favour of Slide Away. Since then the chorus alone has guaranteed its popularity with Oasis fans: "The dreams we have as children fade away... It's about growing up but not growing old," says Noel, echoing a John Lennon belief that you won't get anything unless you've got the vision to imagine it. It's a classic Buzzcocks trick, this, placing a wistful Iyric inside the most glorious rush of punk rock energy. That said, it was a relief for Noel to do a track like THE SWAMP SONG, which required no words at ali. Alongside Roll With It, The Swamp Song was a warm-up exercise for the Morning Glory sessions; it was also used to set the sound levels at Glastonbury, which is where Alan White's thunderous drumming was taped. Later on, when Paul Weller turned up for Champagne Supernova, he added The Swamp Song's harmonica and duelling guitars: "Very rock'n'roll," chortles Noel, "but we didn't manage to stand back to back once, which I was very upset about!" Its working title "The Jam" was scrapped, tragically.
Contrary to previous credits, I AM THE WALRUS was not recorded at the Glasgow Cathouse, but at a conference of Sony executives, gathered to hear Creation's new signings. Oasis used to play it at gigs in Liverpool, as an act of bravado aimed at the local bands, even The Beatles never did this one live. Technical note: any "looseness" in Noel's guitar playing here is attributed to half a bottle of Sony-financed gin. Speaking of guitars, the soaring LISTEN UP used to boast a solo much longer than the one you hear in this version: Liam had wanted it shorter, so Noel had disagreed on principle ("If you don't argue with Liam he gets upset"). Four years later, Liam has got his way. The poppy STAY YOUNG, meanwhile, was first ear-marked to be "the Digsy's Dinner" of Be Here Now, until Noel wrote Magic Pie and dumped it. Stay Young wound up on D'You Know What I Mean?, and could have been another A side if its composer had actually liked the song. But he doesn't. (Audiences, who have more sense than songwriters, all love it )
But we end with a track that Noel Gallagher is definitely proud of. In fact he regards THE MASTERPLAN as his finest piece of work. Even Liam now wishes he'd sung it himself. The writing came easily, inspired in equal measure by a Japanese hotel corridor and a good, relaxing smoke. "I'm the best Iyricist in Oasis, is how I like to say it," Noel shrugs. "But to me this sums up your journey through life. All we know is that we don't know." Is it, we might wonder, sung to Liam? ("Please brother let it be") Again the answer is No. "We're all brothers and sisters," says Noel. And so we are, and so are Oasis whether named Gallagher, McGuigan, White or indeed Bonehead. They're brothers and they're tryers, all five. They try for themselves and they try for the rest of us No wonder God loves them.