THE summer of 1995 was a good one. As temperatures soared across the country, a ban on Playboy magazine was lifted and the air was thick with a debate surrounding an upcoming divorce referendum. For many, that particular silly season was defined by a spat involving Blur and Oasis dubbed ‘The Battle of Britpop’.
Their rivalry had been simmering for some time, cooked up by a music media who encouraged fans to declare their loyalties for one side or the other.
In ways the press had an easy job. The differences between the bands were so obvious that it was almost inconceivable to like both. Blur were foppish middle-class Londoners who had met at art school. They had a touch of the dandy about them and more often than not their lyrics were clever comments on the individual characters who populated a world observed by Damon Albarn.
Oasis, on the other hand, were no fuss rock’n’rollers from the industrial north. They scoffed at literature (on the surface at least) but, curiously enough, had no difficulty referencing The Beatles at every opportunity. The bands were a manifestation of a post-Thatcher England and the media lapped it up.
“It was the initial posturing between the bands that sparked a campaign the tabloids ran with for far too long,” recalls 2FM’s Dan Hegarty. “What I remember most about the Blur versus Oasis episode was how seriously people took it.”
That sense of gravity was brought to boiling point when Blur decided to change the band’s release date for their single ‘Country House’ to August 14. The Oasis single, ‘Roll With It’, was set to hit the shops on the very same day. Fans were urged to go out and support their band of choice.
In the end, Blur outsold Oasis by about 50,000 singles and made it to Number 1. There were the inevitable objections from the Oasis camp who accused their rivals of underpricing their single and even barcode fraud but there were no losers and both groups did well out of the publicity.
The ding-dong continued, most notoriously when Noel Gallagher came out with the infamous: “I hate that Alex and Damon. I hope they both get AIDS and die”. Years later Gallagher would apologise saying he had made the comment while under “the influence of chemicals”.
Blur had won the first battle but a year later their rivals took revenge. 1996 belonged to Oasis. Their greatest song, ‘Wonderwall’, reached number 2 in the British charts and number 8 in the Billboard 100, and it helped turn their album What’s the Story Morning Glory into the biggest-selling British album of the 90s.
Though later there were reports of the occasional snipe, the feud gradually died out. Both bands began to fall apart. Oasis became increasingly irrelevant, while Blur and ultimately Albarn went off in different directions. Years later it became clear that the rivalry was something of an embarrassment to both parties. In 2013 Noel Gallagher and Albarn even shared a stage singing Blur’s ‘Tender’ at a charity event.
“When it comes to Blur and Oasis, forget the versus nonsense,” says Hegarty. “Just take a listen to ‘This Is A Low’, ‘Supersonic’, ‘The Universal’, and ‘Some Might Say’; they all still sound great and that’s a testament to any song.”
Few rivalries have produced such magical bullets as that between Canadian Neil Young and Dixieland’s Lynard Skynard. In the early 1970s, Young penned the epic ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama’, both of which were critical of the American south. In 1973, Lynard Skynard replied with an anthemic eulogy to their ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.
In his 2012 autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, Young commented on his role in the song’s creation, writing “My own song ‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending.”
When Axl Rose walked past Kurt Cobain and his girlfriend Courtney Love at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, the couple inquired as to whether the Guns’n’Roses lead singer would be godfather to their then three-week old baby, who incidentally was in his father’s arms at the time.
According to Cobain, Axl warned him to “Keep your wife shut, or I’m gonna take you to the pavement”. Tension had been building between the pair ever since Cobain had rejected an invitation from the super group to open for them.
In a recent interview on XFM Bob Geldof admitted that the Boomtown Rats and The Jam “were intense rivals”. Geldof admitted that he thought Paul Weller’s “old style sort of political rhetoric was boring”.
That didn’t stop him calling the Londoner to invite him to take part in Band Aid, which Weller did after some reluctance.
When the Beatles broke up in 1970, the world was dismayed. So was Paul McCartney who took the end of the band very hard and also took the other three to court. John Lennon, on the other hand, was delighted. Unfettered, he could cut loose and when it came to McCartney he didn’t hold back.
On his 1971 album Imagine Lennon asked McCartney “How do you sleep?” which included the cutting line “the only thing you done was Yesterday”. The hatred tennis continued and was made very public when McCartney gave an interview to Melody Maker outlining the issues he had with the other three members of the band.
It sparked a response from Lennon who wrote a rather unpleasant letter to the magazine, insisting that it be published in full.
Eventually, the pair met in New York and smoothed things over but there was never really any hope of a Beatles reunion.
The saddest rivalries belong to rap. In 1994 Tupac Shakur was shot and injured while leaving a recording studio in New York. Not long after the incident, B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?” came out and Pac, who was already paranoid, put the pieces together.
He responded with some ill-advised lyrics of his own and when magazines rode in declaring there was an “East Coast v West Coast” war, things began to get out of hand. Tupac was gunned down in 1996. Six months later he was followed to the grave by the Notorious B.I.G. Responsibility for those murders remains a mystery.