It was the musical equivalent of Trump vs. Biden or the Yankees vs. the Red Sox in a wildcard game. This day in 1995 was “The Battle of Britpop”, and if you were in Britain and of a certain age, it was to quote the NME, “a focal point for the generation.” The “event” involved perhaps the country’s two hottest bands at that time – Oasis and Blur – both releasing singles off forthcoming new albums on the same day.
Now that might not sound like much, but it was in that something that gripped the nation. In no small part because both bands were fairly new (although Blur had been around for a couple of years longer) and very popular, and both were lumped into the generic term “Britpop.” Oh, and the bands were rumored to hate each other.
Well, at least in the case of Blur, it was something of a rumor. Or a slight overstatement perhaps. But in the case of Oasis, according to their record company rep Alan McGee, “Blur thought it was a game but Oasis actually f**n’ hated them at the time.” It hadn’t always been that way…and why should it have been? Both were young, exciting, popular, loved football (soccer to us) – albeit backing different teams – and loved partying even more. But that created something of a rivalry. And then Oasis had a #1 single, early in ’95, “Some Might Say.” Blur went to a party held for them to celebrate. Their Damon Albarn remembers “I went to the celebration to you know, just say ‘well done.’ And Liam (Gallagher of Oasis) comes over and he goes ‘We’re f**ing number one!’ right in my face.” McGee who was also there adds that Gallagher also taunted “you’re not! We’re number one and you’re not!” in Albarn’s face. “Liam was really mouthy,” he admits “and even rude about Justine at one time.”
Ahh yes, Justine Frischmann. Herself a rising Britpop star with the band Elastica, and at the time Damon’s girlfriend. Liam Gallagher never missed an opportunity to slag her. So, Albarn considered the gauntlet thrown down. Both bands were readying a new album; Blur’s The Great Escape and Oasis’ What’s the Story, Morning Glory. A few weeks before the initial release, Blur changed the release date of their first single from it, “Country House” to coincide with Oasis’ projected date for their single, “Roll With It.” This did not sit well with Oasis, but as the NME put it “from a journalistic point of view, it was a godsend – like a clash of the titans. Like the Beatles and the Stones again, although I don’t think they ever competed for a #1 single.”
Indeed. Although to people who didn’t listen to rock, the two were probably more or less the same, there were differences aplenty. Oasis were from Manchester, in the north of England. They wore clothes not that different than American grunge rockers and openly adored the Beatles while at the same time trying to make themselves sound as “international” as they could. Blur on the other hand came from London, cited The Kinks and The Who as favorite old acts, wore preppy clothes and had taken to reveling in their conspicuous English-ness. As the TV show This Is Pop documented, it revealed some deep-seated conflicts in the country. Much like how in the U.S., the “South” sometimes don’t like “the North” or the “Yankees” and vice versa; northern England didn’t like southern England all that much. They saw the south, including London as pretentious and snobby; many in the south saw the northerners as dumb, rowdy blue-collar types. So the Blur vs. Oasis battle was reflective of differences between regions and social classes as much as it did music itself. And people took note. The songs themselves seemed to almost play up the contrast. Oasis’ was loud, straight-ahead rock that could have come from Minneapolis as easily as Manchester. Blur’s single had British accents and talked about a rich, neurotic socialite living in a big country estate. The BBC reported it on their world news and stationed reporters outside of record stores the day the singles arrived; a NME reporter noted “my missus’ dad lives in Norway, and even the Oslo Times had it on the front cover.” London bookies took bets on which would sell the best.
And the winner was… Blur. With an asterisk. By the end of the week, Blur’s “Country House” had outsold Oasis’ “Roll With It” by 274 000 to 216 000. No question about it – that week Blur were #1. It was their first chart-topper, and it went platinum for them, and topped the chart in Ireland as well. Oasis’ song would have to settle for #2 in both those countries. But as it has been widely pointed out, Blur won the Battle…but Oasis won the war. Ironically, few consider either single to be the best song on their albums and when What’s the Story Morning Glory came out (in October, three weeks after Blur’s) it quickly set out on conquering the world. Although the Great Escape would hit #1 – prior to the Oasis album coming out – and go 3X platinum at home (a slight drop-off from the previous one of theirs), What’s the Story, Morning Glory would eclipse that. It ended up being among the five biggest-selling albums ever in the UK, going 15X platinum, and it managed to win over the States as well, being 4X platinum there. In all, it would sell close to 25 million copies, easily the most of any British album of the ’90s.
So how did the bands react when the “battle” was over? Damon Albarn played football with his mates, relieved the stress was over. Graham Coxon of Blur said “I would have liked to have had a #1 quietly…I wish the release dates had been staggered because then Oasis would have got to have a #1 as well. We don’t need this fake war.” Alex James said “I think they’re a great band… it’s not Blur vs. Oasis, it’s Blur and Oasis vs. the World,” adding “there’s few people I’d rather drink with than Oasis!”
“Bonehead”, aka Oasis guitarist Paul Arthurs simply said “we could have gone to #102, who gives a s***? We get on with our music, you get on with your music, who cares?” To which Liam interjected “I cared! ‘Cuz I want number ones!” In time, of course he’d have them again, but on this day 26 years back, he was a very unhappy musical silver medalist.