Updated: Aug 20, 2020
A look at the hysteria caused by Oasis and Blur going head to head in the charts, the ridiculousness of the rivalry and the inescapable frenzy that affected many a childhood like mine.
As the hurricane of Britpop swept the rest of the music charts out of its path, I was 8 years old and only just discovering pop music for the first time.
Definitely Maybe (the highest-selling debut album of all time at that point) completely escaped me at the time (in my defence I was 7…) and my only recollection of Blur before 1995 was hearing the annoyingly repetitive chorus of ‘Girls & Boys’ on one of my sisters NOW CDs (it was a welcomed break from East 17 and Boyzone, that’s for sure).
Then in August 1995, everything changed. Moving to a new, further away school, which required a 30-minute car journey, I was suddenly exposed to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show and a whole new world of popular culture that I’d previously been shielded from.
Pick your side
On 14th August 1995, the two most popular bands in the UK, Blur (‘Country House’) and Oasis (‘Roll With It’) released their singles to coincide with each other. A storm was brewing. Before long, the Blur vs. Oasis rivalry was all the rage on the airwaves, in the daily tabloids and even the news headlines. It was all anyone could talk about.
Even in the school playground, over a break from swapping football stickers and pretending to be Eric Cantona, the question was posed, ‘Oasis or Blur?’, ‘Blur or Oasis?’. For that week, you had to pick a side.
It was a rivalry packaged by the media as pesky working-class Mancunian lads against the arty South of England boys of Blur. North vs. South, Manchester vs. London, working-class vs. middle-class. Pick your side.
With the growing confidence of Britishness at the time, it had the feel of a national event, if not a celebration. Everyone wanted to be involved.
Being from middle-class Edinburgh surroundings, you’d be forgiven for assuming Blur would’ve been my obvious choice, but you’d be wrong. With his rock n’ roll snarl and arrogant swagger, everyone I knew wanted to be Liam Gallagher. I was no exception.
Without giving it much thought, I threw my full weight behind Oasis. Sure, Manchester is closer to Scotland and ‘Roll With It’ just sounded cooler. Who cares what the lyrics of the song actually mean.
A news event
Sitting watching the 6 o’clock news over dinner that August evening, I still recall watching the infamous BBC news report about the Battle of Britpop.
It sounds ridiculous now, but it was a news event to be considered alongside the ongoings at Parliament and foreign wars. BBC presenter John Humphry introduced the story with a sound of distanced confusion in his voice at the frenzy that was occurring.
That week, people rushed out to buy the singles in HMV, Virgin, Woolworths, or wherever else you could get your hands on them (yes, buying a physical single used to be thing…).
By Sunday 20th August, the results were in. The nation impatiently sat by their FM radios to hear the results on the Official Chart. By 7pm it was revealed that Blur had won the battle and it was a massive shock. Not quite Leicester winning the 2016 Premier League kind of shock, but a shock nonetheless.
Over the week ‘Roll With It’ sold 216,000 copies, ‘Country House’ sold 274,000. A pretty emphatic win for the Southerners. It was one of the best ever weeks for single sales and Blur fans were ecstatic that their ‘boys’ had claimed the win.
The jibes and the put-downs
The jibes between the bands showed no sign of ending. On the following Friday, Blur played Top of the Pops with bassist Alex James fanning the flames by wearing an ‘Oasis’ t-shirt.
A few months later, at the 1996 Brit Awards, Oasis won three awards. During the collection of Best British Album, with the look of a man gagging for a fight, Liam Gallagher began to sing the chorus to Blur’s ‘Parklife’, changing the word ‘Parklife’ to ‘Shitelife’.
The put-downs continued over the next few years. Though it must be said, the slagging’s were mostly one-way traffic from the Oasis end. Blur probably coming to realise they’d never win a public war of words with the quick-witted Gallagher brothers.
Looking back, does anyone really care who ‘won’ the Battle of Britpop? Even your most ardent Oasis fan looks back at this time with happy nostalgia rather than the dread of a football supporter whose team has just lost a cup final (a feeling I’ve felt many a time, but I don’t want to talk about it…).
The battle was between two bands at the height of their powers but Oasis got over this ‘set back’ to release (What’s the Story) Morning Glory that October, winning the above mentioned BRIT Award for ‘Album of the Year’ in 1996. Buying the cassette tape upon release, it was perfect Walkman listening on long car journeys and, over the coming months, it would be all I would listen to.
By 1996 I had lost interest. Football became more interesting to me as a kid than music and, for the next few years, music was more background noise you’d hear playing FIFA on the Playstation than something you’d actively source out.
The death of Britpop and inspiration
Blur had success with The Great Escape in September 1995, but two years later their fifth album Blur strayed away from the British sound that they’d been famous for, picking up a more American Alternative sound. It was a brilliant album, yes, but they’d moved on from the feud (not a bad thing at all, in all honesty).
Both bands carried on releasing albums in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, but to many, they could never recapture the quality of their mid-1990s releases. In the coming years, Britpop soon died and a new wave of American artists (the regrettable Nu-Metal being a main one...) took over the British airwaves.
When it looked like British rock n' roll was dead, a host of bands arose in the early to mid-2000s, many of whom, like me, were brought up on Oasis and Blur. Bands like The Libertines (see 17-year-old Pete Doherty's witty interview as he queues for an Oasis album below) and Arctic Monkeys revived the British indie scene and it was mainly thanks to the Britpop era. Swings and roundabouts.
Oasis and Blur are now no more than legendary nostalgia acts, but their legacy has proven strong. Never before had two rock n’ roll bands who’d started their careers in the indie scene been so popular and played such a key role in British popular culture.
Of course, it was over the top and a pantomime at the time but what a time to witness.