Blur Vs Oasis: The Battle Of Britpop, 25 years on
14 August 2020, 07:00
Country House went up against Roll With It as the Britpop Wars hotted 25 years ago this week. Here’s the true story of what happened.
Remember the Battle Of Britpop? Maybe you lived through those crazy days. Maybe you’ve just heard all about it. Fact was, this was a chart battle that actually made the TV news. 25 years ago the choice was very simple: were you team Oasis, or on the side of Blur?
Hysteria? Well, just a little. But when Blur moved the release date of their single Country House to the very same day that Oasis issued their single Roll With It, a challenge was thrown down. It was perfect for the press: the rough, working class, no-nonsense Northerners versus the pretentious, university-educated, hipster Southerners.
At the time, both bands were in a transitional period. Blur had enjoyed huge success in 1994 with Parklife, which cemented them as one of Britain’s best rock bands after an unsure period in the early part of the decade. Meanwhile, fans were anticipating the release of a second Oasis album, after the enormous impact of their debut, Definitely Maybe.
Up until the Spring of 1995, Oasis and Blur had been reasonably respectful towards each other, but once the Mancunian band had scored their first Number 1 with Some Might Say in April, things changed. Albarn later told the NME: “I went to their celebration party, y’know, just to say ‘Well done’. And Liam came over and, like he is, he goes, ‘Number fuckin’ One!’, right in my face. So I thought, ‘OK we’ll see…’”
Creation label boss Alan McGee even revealed to Radio X that the track Digsy’s Dinner on Definitely Maybe was actually a “piss-take of Blur. I don't think Noel's ever admitted to that. It's a piss-take of that Britpop thing. It was Noel proving that he could do that in his sleep."
Albarn admitted in the Blur documentary, No Distance Left To Run that ”Noel Gallagher used to take the piss out of me constantly and it really, really hurt at the time. Oasis were like the bullies I had to put up with at school."
So when the chance came to prove who was the better band, Albarn’s competitive streak got the better of him. From the Blur/Food Records/EMI side, it appeared that Oasis had suddenly put a new single on the schedule, weeks before they were due to start plugging their second album (What’s The Story? wouldn’t appear until October). Alan McGee recalled that Blur moved their release to go head to head.
Either way, both Country House and Roll With It were due to be released on Monday 14 August, 1995.
The Blur track was something of a novelty and written about former Food Records boss and Blur manager Dave Balfe, who had quit the business and moved to the country. The track was accompanied by a video directed by Britpop’s artist-in-residence Damien Hirst, and starred comedians Keith Allen and Matt Lucas and Loaded magazine’s favourite model, Jo Guest.
Roll With It was given a much simpler performance video, and was a standard offering from the Gallaghers: in fact, Tim Burgess of The Charlatans has called it “flatpack Oasis”. Noel told the NME in 1995: “It's about fuck all. It's just a simple rock 'n' roll tune.” The CD was backed with the tracks It’s Better People and Rockin’ Chair, plus a live version of Live Forever, taken from that summer’s Glastonbury festival.
The competition immediately caught the eye of the NME, who stoked the controversy by calling it “The Big Chart Showdown” and the “battle” even caught the attention of the mainstream news media.
The result of the chart chase was unveiled on Sunday 20 August, at the end of the Top 40 countdown. Country House outsold Roll With It by 274,000 to 216,000 copies. Some cynics pointed to the fact that the Blur release had TWO CD singles, one with some live tracks from their Mile End show from June 1995.
Alex James later told The Guardian: "Blur won the battle, Oasis won the war, then Blur went on to win the whole campaign."
Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, talking to The Daily Mail in 2009, admitted that his band's success seemed like a "hollow, pointless victory".
He went on: “Our record company threw a big champagne party at Soho House in London. I felt I was being forced into enjoying the moment and I just wanted to be alone really. I couldn't handle being part of that crowd so I tried to jump out of a sixth-storey window. It was Damon who talked me out of it.”
The Oasis Vs Blur war only intensified after the chart battle, with The Great Escape album being released in September and (What’s The Story?) Morning Glory arriving in October. In an interview for The Guardian about the LP, Noel Gallagher said of Albarn and Coxon: “ I hope the pair of them catch AIDS and die because I fucking hate them two.” He immediately apologised for the “joke”.
Things remained frosty between the Oasis camp and the Blur camp, but in the years since the Gallagher brothers’ own personal war saw their band split acrimoniously in 2009, things have mellowed somewhat.
Noel Gallagher joined Albarn and Coxon onstage at a show for Teenage Cancer Trust in 2013, while in August 2018, Albarn admitted to The Sun: “We don’t talk about our past, we talk about our present. I value my friendship with Noel because he is one of the only people who went through what I did in the Nineties.”
And what of the never-ending question: Oasis or Blur? In June 2017, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the NME: “I’m going to plump for Oasis, but I know this will immediately divide the audience.”