Thursday, 3 December 2015

Oasis 'Songbird'

Chart Peak: 3
'Songbird' showcases Liam's songwriting as well as vocal abilities and has been described as a "simple, honest, catchy and effective" song... It became Oasis' 4th huge hit from their current album when it made the Top 3 in February 2003
I've read that the week 'Songbird' entered at 3 behind 'Cry Me A River' and 'All The Things She Said' was the first time in UK chart history that all the Top 3 songs shared their titles with previous hits. I can't imagine ever checking that, but I'm willing to believe it.

Give or take the odd plagiarism lawsuit 'Songbird' was the first Oasis single not written by Noel Gallagher, who had of course dominated the composition of their early albums. Only on their scrappy fourth set Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants had Liam been allowed one of his songs on an album, although it's not clear whether he'd particularly wanted to before. Fifth disc Heathen Chemistry was the product of a fresh lineup, with new members Andy Bell and Gem Archer having been the songwriters for previous bands Hurricane #1 and Heavy Stereo respectively so unsurprisingly they got some of their own material on board; whether due to intra-band politics or a burst of creativity, the lead singer got three of his own numbers on too. I was by now far too "over" Oasis to listen to the album so I can't voice an opinion on 'Born On A Different Cloud' or 'Better Man' but I recall 'Songbird' getting some attention even as an album track before it finally got a single release.

I was going to quite Tom Ewing's review of the Troggs chart-topper 'With A Girl Like You' as "Hulk writes love ballad" but as I noticed while looking up the link, that wasn't exactly what he said. Still, it's kind of how I always perceived 'Songbird', a tribute to then-fiancĂ©e and fellow Now 54 act Nicole Appleton which succeeds largely on the strength of its lack of sophistication. It's a brief 4/4 number without a distinct chorus or middle-eight and as recorded features Liam (presumably) strumming away on an acoustic guitar, backed by a harmonium-like drone, shaken percussion and a sprinkling of piano. Although he probably didn't, you could imagine him overdubbing all these parts solo, and the effect is slightly reminiscent of George Harrison's early Beatles demo 'You Know What To Do'. It manages to strike home in a way that more overthought Oasis tracks often failed to. I recall one review of the album praising this track but saying it was "telling" that nobody thought to work it into anything more substantial. As it transpired when the demo version saw release on the DVD single format though, they did. The demo is in fact more fleshed-out than the final album/single version, with full drums and a very Beatlesque bassline. Whether they simplified the song as an artistic choice or to avoid being sued for ripping off 'And Your Bird Can Sing', they probably came to the right decision and in my opinion this was the best thing the group recorded in the 21st century.

By the way, whilst 'Songbird' represents Liam Gallagher's first writing credit on an Oasis single, it wasn't his first chart appearance as a songwriter: he also has a credit on 'Love Me Or Leave Me', a minor hit for the Seahorses in 1997. Give yourself a pat on the back if you knew that.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38, 52, 53, 61, 62
Available on: Heathen Chemistry

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