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Classic Tracks: Oasis ‘Wonderwall’

Co-producer & Engineer Owen Morris By Richard Buskin
Published November 2012

For many, (What's The Story) Morning Glory? is Oasis's masterpiece. Producer and engineer Owen Morris tells us the story of its creation.

Following 1994's impressive debut, Definitely Maybe, Oasis quickly hit their stride and reached their peak with their 1995 sophomore effort, (What's The Story) Morning Glory? Co‑produced by songwriter and lead guitarist Noel Gallagher and Owen Morris (who also engineered), this record signalled Gallagher's shift from power-rock towards more melodic, anthemic, mid-tempo numbers and ballads whose sophisticated instrumentation and synth-string arrangements helped make the album a Britpop landmark.Classic Tracks Oasis November 2012

Following its October 1995 release, the album topped the UK chart for 10 weeks, climbed to number four in the US and spawned hit singles in the form of UK number ones 'Some Might Say' and 'Don't Look Back In Anger', as well as UK number twos 'Roll With It' and 'Wonderwall', the last of which climbed to number eight in America, where 'Champagne Supernova' — featuring lead guitar by Paul Weller — also made the Top 20. Amid a tabloid-fuelled 'Battle of Britpop' with London rivals Blur, the Mancunian quintet of Gallagher, his brother Liam (lead vocals), Paul 'Bonehead' Arthurs (rhythm guitar), Paul McGuigan (bass) and Alan White (drums) became international superstars.

Still, the charges of plagiarism that had been levelled at Noel for some of the material on Definitely Maybe returned when (What's The Story) Morning Glory? hit the shops, with him being accused of ripping off anyone from REM to the Beatles. And then there were the stories of how the recording sessions at Rockfield Studios near Monmouth in Wales were disrupted by a physical fight between the Gallaghers — hardly surprising, given their long tradition of violent bust-ups, although the reason for this particular altercation was not, according to Owen Morris, due to who should sing the track 'Don't Look Back In Anger', as has been widely reported.

"There's been a lot of fanciful journalism,” says the producer-engineer who, on the album's cover, can be seen carrying the master tapes to the Reckless Records shop on Berwick Street in London's Soho. "And Noel makes up his own history, as well.”

A native of Port Talbot in South Wales, Morris started his engineering career as a 16-year-old assistant at Spaceward Studio in Cambridge where, during the mid-'80s, he worked on projects by the Stranglers and the duo of Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin. Towards the end of the decade, Morris then relocated to Manchester and commenced a stint with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, recording the self-titled 1991 debut album by Electronic — Marr's collaboration with New Order frontman Bernard Sumner — as well as New Order's own Republic (1993). Subsequently, Marr's manager Marcus Russell, who also managed Morris for a while, was responsible for hooking up the engineer with Oasis.Classic Tracks Oasis November 2012

"I got myself a different manager just before Marcus began managing Oasis,” explains Morris who, at that time, was looking to become a fully fledged producer. "Had I stayed with Marcus, I may well have been involved with Oasis right from the start.”

Definitely Maybe

Instead, in January 1994, Oasis began sessions for Definitely Maybe with Dave Batchelor as their producer. Dissatisfied with the lacklustre results, they next hired Mark Coyle — Noel Gallagher's best friend and the band's live engineer — to co-produce with Gallagher and try to reproduce their concert sound. This they attempted by recording together in the studio without any screens between their instruments, before Gallagher overdubbed more guitars. When this approach still didn't achieve the desired results, and without any more funds from their label Creation Records, to start over yet again, Marcus Russell turned to Owen Morris.

"The backing tracks had been well recorded and everything on there sounded pretty good,” Morris says. "Initially, I was just brought in to redo the vocals and remix the album. However, to free up enough tracks to record Liam singing and then compile what he did, I had to strip away some of Noel's less necessary guitar parts. All of the best ones, I kept.”

Noel Gallagher actually dipped into his publishing advance to pay for the studio time and Owen Morris's work, but once the album was released it didn't take long for him to recoup the money. In the meantime, Morris recorded Oasis' Christmas '94 single 'Whatever' (which, after Neil Innes sued Gallagher for lifting part of the melody from his song 'How Sweet To Be An Idiot', resulted in Innes getting a co-writing credit) as well as tracks such as 'Listen Up' and 'Fade Away' that were included on the Japanese 'Whatever' EP. This five-day session led to Owen Morris engineering and co‑producing (What's The Story) Morning Glory?

"Noel really had it sussed in terms of the song choices and arrangements, but he wasn't experienced in the studio, so I kind of filled in the gaps as far as the basic production methods, putting takes together and getting the vocals done,” Morris explains. "That was important, because once Noel had shown Liam a song, he'd just bugger off and let Liam sing. That was a cool way of doing things, and so it fell to me to produce and compile the vocals.”


1995 was a busy year for Oasis, with the band taking time out from recording to play Glastonbury.1995 was a busy year for Oasis, with the band taking time out from recording to play Glastonbury.Photo: Redferns

'Some Might Say', the first song recorded for (What's The Story) Morning Glory? was also the last to feature Alan White's predecessor on drums, Tony McCarroll. This was tracked in March 1995 at Loco Studios in South Wales, where Owen Morris had recently been co-producing the Verve's second album, A Northern Soul. However, the locale switched to Rockfield once the sessions with White got under way at the start of May.

"Rockfield was a better studio, with bigger recording areas and better accommodation,” says Morris. "Coming from Wales and having seen its name on plenty of records, it was a place where I'd always wanted to work. So, being that Marcus put together the budget for us to go in there for six weeks, that's what we did.”

Rockfield has two studios: the Quadrangle and the smaller Coach House. When Oasis recorded there, the Coach House had a Neve VR console with flying faders, two Studer A820 multitrack machines, JBL monitors and a standard selection of outboard gear. A live room was situated to the left of the control room, directly in front of the control room was a drum area, and on the other side of the drum area was the main studio, with a couple of booths at the far end: a vocal booth on the right and a guitar booth on the left.

"Alan was on a riser in the drum room and playing a very basic little Gretsch kit that I wasn't very fond of but which he loved,” Morris says. "The mic setup would have been very straightforward: an [Electro-Voice] RE20 on the bass drum, probably a couple of [Shure] SM57s on the snare, probably two [Neumann] U47s for the rack and floor toms, [AKG] C12s overhead — I don't think I even miked the hi-hat — and then a couple of ambient mics.

"Although we had two A820s, my mindset was still 24-track — as I'd recorded that way for Definitely Maybe and the Verve album — and I was therefore keeping things simple: eight tracks of drums; an RE20 on the bass amp plus a DI; an SM57 and a [Neumann] U87 on the Marshall amp that Bonehead used with his Epiphone Casino; the same on Noel's Vox AC30, Marshall combos, WEM combo and Orange amp for his Epiphone Casinos and [Gibson] Les Pauls; and a FET 47 for the lead vocals.”

During the 'Some Might Say' tracking sessions at Loco, Owen Morris had been aware of Noel Gallagher already having other songs for the new album. These included early compositions such as 'Hello' (with the "it's good to be back” refrain lifted from Gary Glitter's 'Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again' that would result in another lawsuit and unplanned songwriter co-credit) and 'She's Electric', with its chorus that utilises part of the melody to the Beatles' 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', as well as the "lots and lots for us to see” refrain referencing the theme song to the BBC TV children's show You & Me.

"Noel was a cheeky writer, no doubt about it,” says Owen Morris. "But all of those little bits he stole were from his childhood, and quite precious to him, really. I always remember him saying that he was astonished he was never sued for ripping off the 'Get It On' guitar riff by T-Rex/Marc Bolan that he used as the basis for his song 'Cigarettes & Alcohol' [on Definitely Maybe].”

Among the more recent numbers that Morris learned about at Loco were 'Roll With It' and 'Champagne Supernova', while 'Don't Look Back In Anger' had been added to the list by the time Morris and the band reconvened at Rockfield.

Routine Operation

Oasis co-producer and engineer Owen Morris today.Oasis co-producer and engineer Owen Morris today.

"We had a week of routining before the actual sessions began, and I think they only rehearsed 'Roll With It' and 'Hello,” Morris recalls. "That was basically the band wanting to spend some time with Alan White, who had just joined. We didn't hear 'Morning Glory' or 'Wonderwall' until the week of the session. Noel played 'Wonderwall' to me on the first day, a Monday, checking which arrangement to use: the one that we settled on or a more complex one that had a slightly different way of getting to the bridge and an instrumental part after the first chorus. It sounded unnecessary and over-complicated to me, so it didn't take long for us to say, 'Let's not bother with that.'

"That day, we actually recorded 'Roll With It'. The guys played live together, we did about a half dozen takes, and the first take was the backing track we kept. Apart from a few little overdubs on the guitar solo that Noel would do later, it was pretty much complete, and that's because they were already familiar with the song. However, with the tracks they didn't really know, we could be arsing around for a long time if they had to learn them everyday and then do multiple takes that I'd have to edit together. So, having read an article about how Marc Bolan and T-Rex used to record, I told Noel we should take his approach for the other songs — doing a vocal and acoustic guitar guide to a click before the rest of the band overdubbed their individual parts.

"Noel agreed, and so after that, each morning, Noel and I would find the right tempo for whichever song we were going to do, and then he'd do an acoustic guitar take, followed by a guide vocal take along to the click. Next, after listening to the arrangement and maybe having a couple of play-throughs, Alan would overdub the drums to that while Noel sat in the same drum room wearing headphones, directing him as to where the fills were coming up. That meant there was very little rehearsal, we'd just go in and record. And if Noel didn't like the sound of what was happening, we'd just stop, rewind and drop in. That way, we'd have the drum track within maybe half an hour of Alan starting.

"Noel would usually put the bass down. I think Guigs [Paul McGuigan] played bass on a few tracks, but God bless him, he wasn't the greatest musician in the world. So, although he was really good live, it was just quicker for Noel to do one or two takes on the bass, with drop-ins here and there relating to the timing. By midday, we'd have the drums and bass down. Then, if Bonehead was playing electric guitar, he'd get his takes down very quickly — I'd normally get about two tracks of him. So that would be another half hour to an hour maximum, after which Noel would overdub maybe three, four, five electric guitar parts.

"This is how we worked on the Tuesday when we recorded 'Hello'. On the third day, Noel asked Liam, 'Which one do you want to sing: 'Wonderwall' or 'Don't Look Back In Anger'? Liam said he'd sing 'Wonderwall', and so that same day we recorded and pretty much finished it, apart from one little piano overdub at the end.”

While the 'Wonderwall' title was taken from the 1968 film of the same name for which George Harrison had provided the soundtrack music, the song itself was written about Noel's then-girlfriend Meg Matthews. At least, that's what he told the NME in 1996. Five years later, after he and Matthews had divorced, he asserted it was "about an imaginary friend who's gonna come and save you from yourself.” Regardless, none of this affected the May '95 recording session.

"First we got the drums and bass down by about midday or one o'clock,” Owen Morris recalls. "Then Noel overdubbed three acoustic guitar parts, after which Liam quickly did four takes of the lead vocal for me to compile. I used the Eventide DSP4000 pitch quantiser on his voice. If he was out on any lines, I'd just pull him in slightly, and everyone seemed happy with that. Having used it on Definitely Maybe, I used it on Morning Glory as well. Liam sang really well whenever I recorded him and his voice was very open. So he was doing takes very confidently and very quickly. He was so easy to record and Noel absolutely loved his performance on 'Wonderwall'.

"In the meantime, given all of the computer-based work that I had done with Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr, I always had Cubase running, and on Morning Glory we also got an old Mellotron in. Bonehead wasn't going to play his usual strum-along bar chords on 'Wonderwall'. So I went and picked out the root notes, showed him where they were, and then got him to play those with the Mellotron's cello sound, which we all liked. After picking out a harmony for the bridge and chorus to build it, we were basically finished by dinner time. The only things that weren't on there were the little piano line that comes in at the end — we knew the track needed something there to keep it going, and Noel would provide it a few weeks later — and the Kurzweil strings that I'd add during the mix.”

'Don't Look Back In Anger'

Oasis ‘Wonderwall’

In the meantime, on the Thursday, 'Don't Look Back In Anger' largely duplicated the work methods employed on 'Wonderwall', although the greater number of guitar and string parts ensured the session lasted longer into the night. The song's intro, extremely similar to that of John Lennon's 'Imagine', was, according to Owen Morris, very much a tongue-in-cheek embellishment.

"When Noel got Bonehead to play it like 'Imagine', it made us all laugh,” he says. "No one really cared. It was just funny. And as for the whole thing about his work being derivative of the Beatles, Noel was quite happy to be compared to the Beatles.”

He was also perfectly happy to perform the 'Don't Look Back In Anger' lead vocal, even if it meant him doing a couple more takes than Liam would have required to provide Morris with what he wanted.

"I was never that convinced Noel should be singing it,” Morris admits. "I didn't think he sounded as good as Liam. Certainly not back then. Liam was such a great singer. However, Noel sang that song, I comped it, and I also tuned it to ensure we had the vocal you hear on the record. Certainly, it worked, and people seemed to like it, but I've still always thought that Liam should have sung it.”

Contrary to the version of events that has been doing the rounds for years, Morris asserts that the younger Gallagher raised no objection whatsoever to his older brother handling the vocal chores.

"Having sang three lead vocals in three days, he was quite happy to have the day off,” says the producer-engineer, thus discrediting the notion that a disagreement over who should sing 'Don't Look Back In Anger' led to fisticuffs during the session when Noel was fulfilling that role.

"Oasis used to work Monday to Friday, and then everyone would bugger off down the pub on a Friday night,” Morris continues. "Well, on that particular Friday we started the backing track to 'Champagne Supernova', recording the guide vocal, acoustic guitar, drums, bass and Bonehead's electric guitars. Then, at around nine in the evening, while Noel and I were taking care of a couple of his guitar overdubs, Liam went down the pub. We continued to work, and after we'd finished, Noel and I enjoyed a few drinks in the studio with the band's art director, Brian Cannon, while putting our feet up and listening back to everything we'd done that week.

"Later on, Liam returned to Rockfield's accommodation facility — a seven-bedroom property that's roughly 500 yards from the Coach house — with about 20 people that he'd just met in the pub. Back in the studio, Noel, Brian and I knocked things on the head at around one in the morning, locked up and returned to the house. Totally exhausted from the week's work, I went straight to bed, but apparently when Noel saw all of these people having a party in his accommodation, he upset Liam by telling him to get them out of there.

"Although reports of what happened next vary, I don't think Liam trashed any of Noel's equipment. He couldn't get into the studio to do anything like that. However, angry about being told off in front of his 'new friends' by his older brother and embarrassed by how he'd ordered them to leave, Liam battered down Noel's door as soon as he, too, went to bed. Noel's response was to grab a cricket bat and hit Liam with it, and when I ran into Liam the next day he looked very sheepish, having broken his foot while kicking in Noel's door. By then, Noel and the rest of the band had all buggered off... but we'd done a good week's work!

"Given that Oasis didn't work on weekends, everyone reconvened at the studio about 10 days later, Liam and Noel hugged each other and we carried on with the work. By then, after all, they'd been breaking up regularly, so to them it was just another argument. There was no way they weren't going to come back and finish the record.”

'Champagne Supernova'

Later that week, after working on some other songs, Noel returned to his 'Champagne Supernova' guitar overdubs.

"There are two e-bows that run throughout the song, giving it a sort of violin effect, and he did all of those parts pretty quick,” says Morris. "Then he also did all of his picking parts pretty quick. This went on for about two hours. Noel would just sit in the studio next to his amps and play. He wouldn't come into the control room to listen to what he'd done until everything was finished. So his guitar overdubs were all done fairly quickly.

"After that, there was a session when Liam felt inspired to do all of the Beatle-y 'aaahs' that would go over the guitar solo, to which I also added some Beatle-y Mellotron parts. Then, during another session, he had a go at singing 'Champagne Supernova'. We did half a dozen takes, but what happened was that the high note of the song — at the end of the line 'The world's still spinning around, we don't know why' — was kind of burning his voice out. So he was getting croakier on each take, and by the time he got to the end he was sounding very Rod Stewart-y.

"I did a comp of the vocal and, bizarrely enough, Noel and Liam both liked it. But I didn't. So at the very end of the six-week session at Rockfield, when just Liam and I were in the studio, I got him to re-sing it and we did it piece by piece. We did the first verse half a dozen times and we did the ending half a dozen times. Then, once he'd completed all of the soft bits, Liam did the first chorus half a dozen times, followed by the same number of takes for the second verse and the other choruses, until he tackled the high part last.”

The only major element still missing from 'Champagne Supernova' was the lead guitar that Noel Gallagher wanted his mate Paul Weller to play. Accordingly, after Oasis appeared at the Glastonbury Festival in late-June and the mix of (What's The Story) Morning Glory? commenced on a Neve console in the mix room at South London's Orinoco Studios, Weller showed up one day with his roadie, a white Gibson SG and an old Vox AC30 amplifier.

"He didn't have any pedals with him,” Morris recalled. "He had the volume on '3'. It was a really nice Vox and a really nice SG, and so I just put a 57 on it and recorded it as was. Paul probably did four solos, and then he and Noel let me pick what I wanted. He also contributed a little whistle to 'Champagne Supernova' — a few bars after the big guitar solo finishes — and 'Ooh' backing vocals at the end, as well as some harmonica and guitar to 'The Swamp Song'. All in all, it was another very quick session. He and Noel probably turned up at three in the afternoon and left at seven that evening.”

All Your Dreams Are Made

Since shifting a record-breaking 347,000 copies during its first week of release, (What's The Story) Morning Glory has sold about 22 million copies worldwide. In 1995, Noel Gallagher told Rolling Stone that while Definitely Maybe "is about dreaming of being a pop star in a band, What's The Story is about actually being a pop star in a band.” That was certainly true. Oasis were living the dream — and, occasionally, the nightmare.

"During that period I had a lot of fun with Oasis,” says Owen Morris, who has also recently been enjoying himself producing what he predicts will be all-new hit material for Madness. "They were very positive to be around. It was a lovely time and, for all its imperfections, the music was really, really good.”  

Loudness Wars

At the same time as Oasis were supposedly engaged in the 'Battle of Britpop' with Blur, they were also, courtesy of Owen Morris, waging the so-called 'loudness war' as a result of the compression-heavy brickwall mastering technique that he had already employed on Definitely Maybe.

"When Electronic's first album was mastered, it sounded bloody awful, so I thought I'd have a go at it myself,” he explains. "Johnny Marr let me do this at his studio, and for that I hired a set of Apogee A-D converters which had a 'soft limit' function that enabled me to crank up the volume without distortion. Well, I mastered Definitely Maybe in the same way, so it was all volume — all quantity rather than quality. I wasn't technically that adept, but the theory was loud and proud, and I did a similar thing on Morning Glory. Then, after that, I thought I'd better stop. There's only so loud you can go!”