Oasis’ principal songwriter and High Flying Birds leader Noel Gallagher ponders the songwriting process and performs a selection of tracks, including “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Holy Mountain.” Part of the Coda A Family Affair Theme.
You won’t find any talk of “Wonderwall” here.
Though Noel Gallagher is known for his work in behemoth Britpop act Oasis, “The Great Songwriters” interviewer Paul Toogood focuses on Gallagher’s 2017 album with his band, the High Flying Birds, “Who Built the Moon?” That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Four songs, three of them post-Oasis, are performed as part of a conversation about the songwriter’s 30-plus-year career. Besides an acoustic version of the Oasis megahit “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” introduced by an almost romantic tale about its Parisian-stripper inspiration, three tunes are of more recent vintage from Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: “AKA...What a Life,” “Holy Mountain” and “It’s a Beautiful World,” which Gallagher says he finished after being asked, “What would David Bowie do?”
He still believes he, along with Paul McCartney, Johnny Marr and Paul Weller, are the only artists still writing — and agonizing over — their own songs.
Noel Gallagher and his younger brother Liam haven’t been known to be on their best behavior in interviews’ past, but the older Gallagher wears his Rock Elder Statesman badge well and proudly — maybe too proudly, at times. He still believes he, along with Paul McCartney, Johnny Marr and Paul Weller, are the only artists still writing — and agonizing over — their own songs. He’s warmed up to synthesizers, even sharing an enthusiastic anecdote about playing one for the first time in the studio with producer David Holmes. But also he doesn’t miss an opportunity to take a jab at current rock heroes Foo Fighters when he unfavorably compares them to the Sex Pistols.
Acerbic commentary aside, the heart of the episode is Gallagher’s belief in writing songs that speak to “universal truths.” It’s why the show opens with a quote from the late “Fifth Beatle,” storied record producer George Martin, referring to the musician as “the finest songwriter of his generation.”
Writing universal truths, those experiences shared by humans no matter what path they take, has become more important to Gallagher than writing songs about “cigarettes and alcohol” and “hanging out with supermodels,” though he jokes “You can write one — and it better be fuckin’ good.”
His turning point as a songwriter? No, it wasn’t the band’s biggest hit, “Wonderwall.” Instead, he points to the 1994 Oasis classic “Live Forever.”
Gallagher discusses his approach and process — music first, words last — and navigating the songwriter’s catch-22: when something you wrote is no longer your own.
With Toogood, Gallagher discusses his approach and process — music first, words last — and navigating the songwriter’s catch-22: when something you wrote is no longer your own. In the wake of a fatal terrorist bombing outside the Manchester Arena after an Ariana Grande concert in 2017, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” became an anthem for a country both grieving and healing on an international scale.
“It makes me believe even more in the power of music,” he says, a powerful incentive to want to write songs in the first place. It’s part of the draw for fans too — a way to soundtrack the moments that define a life, both good and bad, and a means of communicating when confronting such moments becomes too much to bear. But, he also acknowledges, “Sometimes I wish it could still be that song about [that woman] toasting her life.”
Despite youthful stubbornness and ego dictating much of his career, for better and worse, the artist has clearly evolved — embracing more mature and nuanced definitions of the love, loss, resilience and success he sang about before. This has ultimately made conveying those feelings simpler, arguably catchier when set to a guitar riff. A rock ‘n’ roll songwriter no longer “too cool,” someone who wants to exist beyond the arena-sized sing-alongs to exhausted karaoke favorites he authored during his Oasis heyday. While there’s comfort in the classics, collaboration and experimentation keep the excitement alive.
As the raucously insistent “Holy Mountain” wraps the show, viewers may be tempted to pull up Oasis’ discography on a streaming service. With either option, you’re reminded of one thing: Damn, Gallagher can write a good song.
Jessi Roti is a music and culture journalist from Chicago, Illinois, and columnist for Audiofemme. After three years at Chicago Tribune, covering music and lifestyles, she began freelancing in 2020. A finalist for Best Music Coverage at the 2019 Lisagor Awards, her work can be read in Chicago Reader, The Triibe, Illinois Entertainer, Thrillist, Condé Nast Traveler and more. Previously, she was part of the team behind Chicago-centric music blog Local Loop. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Gender & Women’s Studies. She enjoys nonfiction writing, reading, cooking and rock ‘n’ roll.