Where were you while we were getting high?
Oasis - 'Champagne Supernova' ((What's The Story) Morning Glory? - 1995)
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There can't be many songs that have managed to prove the inspiration for an incalculable number of club nights, a gin range, the name of a house in Belsize Park, North London (Supernova Heights) and an actual supernova (SN 2003fg). But Oasis' 'Champagne Supernova' is no ordinary album closer. In The UK, while never released as a single, it is revered not only as one of Oasis's best songs but one of the best album closers of the last thirty years. It was undoubtedly the one modern example that came up the most when I discussed this project with relatives, friends and colleagues.
This year, Radio X, the alternative commercial radio station formerly known as XFM London, held a "Best British Song of all time" poll. Oasis dominated the voting at the expense of anything else that doesn't sound like Oasis. They appeared in sixteen of the top 100 slots. While 'Live Forever' took the top spot, 'Champagne Supernova was in third only beaten to second by 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' - remarkable for an album track even if it was from that album.
'Champagne Supernova' has the 3rd most plays of any song on the album - yes, I know it was a single in some parts of the world, a mainstream rock top ten in the US and had a successful video on MTV and later VH1. So what is it about the song that has given it that longevity?
That album helps. One in every 5.5 households in the UK has a copy of (What's The Story) Morning Glory? (27.8m/4.94m) - like it or not, it makes it a piece of popular culture up there with anything else that happened in the 1990s. It is Four Weddings and A Funeral, Diana's funeral, The Rachel, Del Boy and Rodney and their watch, Monica Lewinsky and Gazza's Tears. We can talk about the cultural impact of Twin Peaks, Pulp Fiction, Nevermind, OK Computer or The Matrix, but those are outsized due to the demographics1 of those that talk about them.
So that level of popularity is a good start - it's was also a live staple for the band, played nearly every night since release, 6th most popular on setlist.fm and played by Noel, Beady Eye and Liam since the band imploded.
It's not just a wholly UK centric view either; Pitchfork called in both a pinnacle and eulogy for Britpop in a 2017 piece. There is a sense that as 1995 became 1996, the movement had run out of steam, and much of what passed for Britpop was a step down from the albums and singles that define it by Suede, Blur, Elastica, Oasis, Pulp and Supergrass.
I find it interesting that in late 1995 Oasis could bring in Paul Weller as lead guitar for hire, start a seven-minute-long Beatlesque song with a sound effect (water), fill that epic with some ridiculous rhyming couplets and get the benefit of the doubt. By 1997, they may have got the same benefit of the doubt in the few weeks after Be Here Now was released. Still, it wasn't too long before bringing in Johnny Depp on guitar, playing helicopter noises over the intros to seven-minute epics covered in walls of overdubs got short shrift from critics at least.
I mentioned live versions earlier, and there are at least a couple of famous ones. The Knebworth concerts in Aug 1996, attended by 250k and allegedly the subject of 2 million ticket enquiries, had ex-Stone Roses guitarist John Squire in the guest role. During the performance, Squire was full of flu but still chimes in with as worthy a turn as whoever took all the Gary Glitter references in "Hello" out of the recent documentary.
One that went less well was the MTV Awards a few weeks later 1996, in which Liam somewhat prickly informed us about a Champagne Supernova "Up Yer Bum!" and then flicking gestures at his brother and spitting beer over the stage.
We've made it this far without talking about how slowly Brackett, the Butler from Chigley, walks down the hall (Slower than a cannonball). While it is effortless to pile in on some of Noel Gallagher's lyrics, there's a sense of existentialism about being overwhelmed here ("Caught beneath the landslide") and the quote in the header that they used to throw at those missing out on any element of their ascendancy.
Oasis mapped out the route of their career with Champagne Supernova; they did reach those heights. It's no wonder that Bonehead cried on first hearing it in a tour bus in 1994 when the band could afford to put 'Half The World Away' and 'Acquiesce' as b-sides. Within years they'd be filling albums with layers and layers of guitar to mask the absence of those types of melodies. Sometimes getting high is not the answer.
In the US, Pulp Fiction was beaten on domestic numbers in 1994 by The Flintstones and The Santa Clause. In the UK a show like Fleabag got around 3m viewers for the finale accompanied by 3 million inches of media coverage.