Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16: Oasis, "Rock N Roll Star"

Artist: Oasis
Song: "Rock N Roll Star"
Album: Definitely Maybe
Year: 1994

Though most concentration is on that of the Northwest United States when one discusses the rock music of the mid-1990’s, the fact stands that there was just as much important development going on all across England.  Much like that of the U.S., the overall music scene had become somewhat bland and uninspiring, with the rise of electronic music dominating every aspect of music culture.  However, England certainly has one of the most storied histories in terms of rock and roll, and a few years into the decade, a bit of a “rock revival” began to occur.  Finding a refreshing way to return the rock sounds to the pop world, few bands were more integral to this process than Oasis, and in just a few short years, they became one of the biggest bands on the planet.  In fact, in the wake of their appearance on the international music scene, countless imitators emerged, yet few were able to play with as much passion and sonic beauty that one finds within the early catalog of Oasis.  Bringing and unparalleled ability to encapsulate everything that was great about British rock and roll over the decades, the band are responsible for some of the biggest hits of the decade, and in the process set a record with a string of twenty-two consecutive “top ten” hits in the U.K.  Yet one must look back to the earliest work of the group to find them at their best and most pure, and few songs from the era have held up as well as Oasis’ fantastic 1994 single, "Rock N Roll Star."

While this track may not have reached the levels of notoriety that other singles from the album did, the fact remains that it manages to perfectly define every aspect of the band, and is one of the most impressive "album openers" of the generation.  The guitar lead-in from Noel Gallagher has a tension and a whine to it that is completely distinctive, and as the rest of the band drops into the song, one is quickly reminded of everything that makes for a great rock song.  Once drummer Tony McCarroll enters the musical fray, the band does not slow for a moment; and it is the power within his playing that becomes one of the keys to the songs' appeal.  When Noel combines his playing with the rhythm guitar of Paul Arthurs, it is almost a wall of sound, and it is this louder, slightly more aggressive approach that further shows the roots of the band.  At the same time, with the help of bassist Paul McGuigan, "Rock N Roll Star" quickly injects a fantastic groove into the mind of the listener, and the fact that they are able to balance this groove with the more forceful rock approach is a testament to their true talents.  Furthermore, Oasis use this song to show that there is a great deal of space between "rock" and "hard rock," as in the end, the musical arrangement on "Rock N Roll Star" is nothing short of pure sonic bliss in its own unique way.

However, it is also the vocals found all across "Rock N Roll Star" that make it such an exceptional musical moment, and this is mostly due to the performance of Liam Gallagher.  Perhaps now best known for his turbulent behavior and generally abusive attitude, the fact is, Liam remains one of the finest singers to emerge from any genre over the past few decades.  While elsewhere on the album he presents a slightly more restrained approach, on "Rock N Roll Star," he holds nothing back, giving a performance fitting on the songs' title.  There is a power and control within his singing that can rarely be heard elsewhere in the era, and strangely enough, legend has it that after hearing the final vocal mixes, he demanded that a majority of the overdubs were "tossed" due to it sounding "too clean."  Adding to the overall impressive nature of "Rock N Roll Star," there is no question that the song contains some of the finest and most direct lyrics in the bands' catalog.  In fact, Noel Gallagher once stated that along with two other songs, "Rock N Roll Star" "...pretty much summed up everything I wanted to say..."  Perhaps due to this reality, there is more of a bite and emotion within the words, and one cannot overlook the fact that the opening lines seem to echo the iconic "Proud Mary."  Regardless of the intent behind the lyrics, Liam gives a phenomenal performance, and to this day it stands as a high-water mark for the band.

Overall, Definitely Maybe is a truly amazing musical achievement, featuring eleven perfectly crafted rock-pop songs, each of which is so strong in its own right, that in many ways, the record feels like a "greatest hits" album.  With beautiful harmonies and a catchy, rock base, there is no question that the album was a welcome reminder of the true power of “simple” rock and roll music.  To this end, leading with "Rock N Roll Star," the album quickly set a very high standard for sound on the album, and after hearing the record in its entirety, it certainly lives up to such a standard.  Yet even with as strong and superb as the song is, the fact remains that other singles performed better, though once one hears "Rock N Roll Star," it is hard to find another track on the album that is "better" in any sense of the word.  From the booming, yet melodically controlled guitars to the groove and stomp of the rhythms section to the perfectly executed vocals, "Rock N Roll Star" defines Oasis perfectly in every possible way, and remains perhaps their finest moment to date.  Though other singles certainly brought the band a number of comparisons to another famous British band, the reality is that within "Rock N Roll Star," Oasis clearly define themselves as a unique group, and there are few songs from the era that are as impressive as Oasis' 1994 song.

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