The battle that divides Girls & Boys
“Country House” vs. “Roll With It.” On the 20th of August, 1995, Blur and Oasis go head to head in the “Battle of Britpop”. The two bands release a single on the exact same day; the climax of a rivalry that went beyond getting a NUMBER ONE
A week prior, Blur and Oasis had released their most recent singles, on the exact same day. The competition between two of the most popular bands in the country made the headlines and reached newscasts; everyone wanted to know who the winner of the “Battle of Britpop” would be.
A battle that meant a lot more than just proving which of the singles had sold more copies. It was the ferocious confrontation between south and north, middle class and working class, Chelsea and Manchester City, Blur and Oasis; endless antagonisms summed up in just one: “Country House” vs. “Roll With It.”
The northern “rebels” and the southern “college boys”
United Kingdom, early 90s. Elton John, Whitney Houston and Bryan Adams are some of the artists who dominate the British charts. But, in the independent music scene, a revolution was being prepared: the “Britpop” movement gained momentum, a mixture between the pop and rock genres that would mark the music industry.
Two songs set the tone of this movement: in 1992, Suede released “Drowners” and “Popscene” was launched by a young band born in London: Blur. Formed by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree, they released their first album in 1991, “Leisure”, debuting at number seven on the British charts.
Proving that there is life outside the capital, and while Blur succeeded in London, Oasis were born in Manchester.
The band was formed in 1991, from an already existing group, called The Rain. The original formation included vocalist Liam Gallagher, guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, bassist Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan and drummer Tony McCarroll.
Liam Gallagher’s older brother, Noel, joinedthe band a little while after its formation, starting one of the most successful – and controversial – fraternal relationships in the world of music.
In 1994, the band released their first album. “Definitely Maybe” went straight to number one and became the fastest selling debut album to date.
Oasis and Blur, Britpop phenomena, became two of the most popular British groups and success led them to a rivalry in the charts… and outside them.
Blur called the Manchester band “Oasis Quo”, because they considered their songs were similar. Oasis said Blur were “a bunch of middle class art students.” A rivalry extensively covered – and even promoted – by the Media.
And the number 1 goes to…
In August 1995, the dispute reached an unprecedented level. Blur’s record level decided to anticipate the release of the single “Country House” for the very same day Oasis would launch “Roll With It.”
A coincidence, a clever Marketing strategy to promote the group or the ultimate test to the popularity of the bands; there are a lot a theories. The world of music turned its attention to the United Kingdom to watch the clash of titans, almost reminiscent of the rivalry between The Rolling Stones and The Beatles in the 60s.
The run-up for the direct clash was fierce. Each sold copy counted and the nation was divided between those who liked “Country House” best and those who preferred “Roll With It.”
On the 20th of August, a verdict was reached: Blur got the number 1. The song “Country House” sold 274,000 copies, against the 216,000 sold by “Roll With It”. It was the first time a single by Blur reached the number 1.
The band performed on Top of the Pops and, of course, they just couldn’t resist teasing their rivals. Bassist Alex James wore a t-shirt with the name… “Oasis”.
Oasis’ team tried to explain the defeat by saying the price of the singles was different, that Blur had released two versions to try to increase the sales, and even that there had been problems with the barcodes.
Noel Gallagher was more succinct. In an interview with Observer, he said: “I hate that Alex [James] and Damon [Albarn]. I hope they catch AIDS and die.” He eventually apologised for his words.
Blur’s front man reacted to the rivalry with irony: “I can't make up with Noel. Britpop would be over and heaven forbid that we'd ever admit we'd all grown up!”
The great battle had come to an end. However, it’s curious that the dispute which generated so much buzz in the specialised Media – and in other fields too – was between two songs that weren’t immortalised with peculiar prominence in the discography of either band.
Oasis’ success in the stages all over the world also reached the football field. Their songs are often chanted in Manchester City matches, a team both brothers passionately support.
A lost battle, a won war?
Blur had come out victorious of the direct clash, but the rivalry was far from over. Their album “The Great Escape” was acclaimed by the critics and became triple platinum.
A feat eclipsed by the success of Oasis’ “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?”. The album spent 10 weeks at number one of the British charts and reached number four on the American charts. More than 20 million copies were sold worldwide.
When they big at the 1996 Brit Awards, Oasis couldn’t resist attacking their rivals once more. The band sung, on stage, an ironic version of the single “Parklife”, one of Blur’s most successful songs.
From hit to hit, with a few failures, rehab stays and a lot of family feuds in between, the history of the two bands ended up following different paths. Blur started their hiatus in 2003, but announced their return in late 2008, and they remain active until this day. After successive alterations in the formation of the band, Oasis broke up in 2009, with Noel Gallagher’s departure.
Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, the Bad & the Queen and Rocket Juice & the Moon have a common denominator: Damon Albarn. From movie tracks to theatre productions, with solo projects and the foundation of new bands in between, Albarn is one of the most productive artists of the last decades.
Two decades after the “Battle of Britpop”, Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher seem to have buried the hatchet. In 2013, they shared tge stage to sing “Tender”, a 1999 Blur hit.
The rivalry between the musicians may have ended, but the Blur vs. Oasis battle for the number 1 was immortalized in the history of British music and pop culture. Years after the dispute, Noel Gallagher could give Blur credit on at least one thing: “It’s Blur and Oasis. Why did their name get put first? […] Hats off to him [Damon Albarn] for that.”