Twenty years ago today, an already-buzzing English rock band named Oasis released their second studio album. Almost immediately, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, a more pop-friendly effort than its predecessor, completely changed the band’s trajectory: The album became the third-best-selling LP in England’s history, topped only by the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Queen’s Greatest Hits, and made the band’s co-leaders and brothers Gallagher, singer Liam and guitarist-songwriter Noel, paparazzi-level famous. (That their bickering and in-fighting would grab most of the subsequent headlines foreshadowed the group’s eventual demise.)
Sure, you know that the album spawned a pair of hit singles Stateside with “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” but there’s plenty more to learn about this quintessential Britpop masterpiece. We’ve dug through the archives and uncovered 10 things you might not know about (What’s the Story), from the young woman who inspired its hit single to Noel’s unorthodox songwriting method.
The songs on (What’s the Story) were a direct counterpoint to those on the band’s 1994 debut album, Definitely Maybe. “The whole of the first album is about escape,” Noel, the band’s principal songwriter, told Rolling Stone in May, 1996, of ’94′s Definitely Maybe. “It’s about getting away from the shitty, boring life of Manchester. The first album is about dreaming of being a pop star in a band. The second album is about actually being a pop star in a band.”
“Wonderwall” takes its name from a George Harrison album, and was written for Noel’s then-girlfriend, Meg Matthews. While it borrows its title from George Harrison’s debut solo release, Wonderwall Music, the soundtrack to the 1968 film Wonderwall, the Morning Glory track “Wonderwall” — the album’s oft-quoted breakout hit — was actually written for Noel’s girlfriend at the time, and later his wife, Meg Matthews. She was out of work, and he wanted her to know how important she was to him. For Matthews, having a famous song written about her was a bit odd. “You can’t go up to someone and say, ‘Hi, I’m Wonderwall,’” Matthews, who later would marry and then divorce Gallagher, told The Sunday Times in February, 1996. “It’s a joke between me and all my friends, but the average Joe Bloggs doesn’t know. George Harrison wrote the music to the film Wonderwall, so that’s the reference, but to me, it’s about being his wall of strength. His solidity.”
That didn’t stop Liam from downplaying the song’s significance. “A wonderwall can be anything,” Liam told Rolling Stone months after the song’s release. “It’s just a beautiful word. It’s like looking for that bus ticket, and you’re trying to fucking find it, that bastard, and you finally find it and you pull it out, ‘Fucking mega, that is me wonderwall.’”
Some of the album’s most popular songs — like “Roll With It” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger”— had little to no lyrical significance. “‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ doesn’t mean anything, even though it’s a great song,” Noel told Rolling Stone. “When I’m sober, I think too much about the lyrics. I’m at my best when I’m pissed out of me head and I just write.” Liam, for his part, disputes this. Not that he could ever put it into words. “I don’t know what they mean, but there’s still meaning there. They mean things, but I just don’t exactly know what.”
Longtime Oasis drummer Alan White agreed to join the band only one week before recording began on (What’s the Story). “We went out for a beer, came back and had a jam, and that was it,” White, who had previously walked out of an Oasis concert because he was unhappy with the drumming, told Rolling Stone in 1996. “I thought they’d be a bunch of nutses, but they weren’t really.”‘
Noel admitted “Champagne Supernova” was his most egotistical endeavor on the album. “‘Champagne Supernova’ — for Christ’s sake, how big is that title?” he told The Sunday Times. ”It’s like I’m saying, ‘I am Mr. Noel Gallagher. Do you know who I am? I am the greatest. I’m like Muhammad Ali.’ When I’m straight, you get ‘Roll With It’ — little pop ditties. When I’m out of it on drugs, I get a seriously cocky bastard. Understand?”
The most famous line in “Champagne Supernova” was a casual expression often exchanged between bandmates. “The line ‘Where were you while we were getting high?’ — that’s what we always say to each other,” Noel told The Sunday Times.
The Verve’s lead singer, Richard Ashcroft, directly inspired the song “Cast No Shadow.” “I sussed Richard wasn’t very happy for a while, so l wrote it for him, and about three weeks later he quit [the Verve],” Noel told NME in September, 1995. “It’s about songwriters in general who are desperately trying to say something. I’d like to be able to write really meaningful lyrics but I always end up talking about drugs or sex. People tend to ask my advice about a lot of things. I’m good at giving it, but I’m shit at taking it. But people like Richard and Paul [Weller] will look after me; they’ll make sure I’m conscious in a chair or that I can get home.”
“Hey Now!” was a direct reflection of the changing dynamics and personnel of the band. “This is about being in a group,” Noel told NME of the song in September, 1996. “It’s a massive step forward for us. Some people aren’t going to like it because they’re just going to want more songs like ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ or ‘Supersonic.’ The band has changed a lot, and there’s a different vibe. We released Tony [McCarroll, drummer] because he wasn’t that good. We had some of the best drum tutors in the country, and they just said he wasn’t very good. … But I believe in fate. It had to happen for us from the first sessions of Definitely Maybe.”
Many of the best songs on the album were written in the lucid moments before Noel fell asleep. “I write a song before I go to bed,” Noel told Alternative Press in December, 1995. “I won’t have any lyrics, just a melody. If I can remember it first thing in the morning, then I know it’s good. I’ve done it with ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and nearly every song on Definitely Maybe. When I woke up, I remembered the songs chord-for-chord — I knew the vowels and syllables I was gonna use.”
Liam was already looking for a way out of Oasis. “I’ve been up for leaving for the last couple of months,” he told The Sunday Times less than six months after (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was released. “I reckon that it’s coming to the end, right, for me. I reckon I can write better music, a lot better, about 100 times better, than what [Noel] can. But having said that, I can’t do it now because I ain’t got no time. I’m too busy getting off my head and being the Oasis singer. I’m not saying I’m not happy. I’m totally happy. But there is life after Oasis for me.”