The iconic history of the Oasis single sleeves
There was a good chance that anything Oasis made in the 1990s would sell regardless of the packaging. If anyone were to ask Noel Gallagher what the crux of the Manchester band was all about, it was usually about letting the music do the talking, and everything else was secondary. Although Gallagher may have talked a big game, some of the most timeless art pieces had nothing to do with the music at all.
For every single sleeve that the band worked on in the ‘90s, photographer Brian Cannon created striking imagery that perfectly summed up what each single was meant to be. Starting with the cover of ‘Supersonic’, the startling band shot said it all for what the Manchester lads were supposed to be, depicting them as a disaffected answer to a band like the Sex Pistols. While there were tinges of humour in Cannon’s work, like the absurdist cover of Definitely Maybe, each photograph told a bigger story.
When looking at the cover for something like ‘Live Forever’, it’s easy to just chalk it up to Cannon getting lazy and putting up a picture of John Lennon’s childhood home. When looking at the lyrics to Noel’s first masterpiece, Cannon’s choice of Lennon’s home serves a poignant purpose, giving the ultimate example of the Beatle who first managed to make his songs live forever.
Going into the recording of What’s the Story Morning Glory, Cannon’s attention to detail tended to follow Noel’s lead in terms of songwriting. Capping things off with his masterpiece ‘Some Might Say’, Cannon created the ideal version of what a single cover should do: tell the song’s story without any words.
Although there are certain questionable images for those not looking closely, every piece of the picture has significance to the lyric sheet, with Noel pouring water representing “in the rain”, the homeless man depicting the man “who lives in Hell”, and Cannon’s father playing the man with the wheelbarrow to complete the “sink is full of fishes” lyric.
Like the Gallaghers, though, Cannon also had a flair for the classic rock history that went into classic album covers. When looking through single artwork like ‘Roll With It’, Cannon came across the same beach landscape that The Beatles used when filming their press photos in the early 1960s.
While there might be some absurdity to a sleeve like ‘Wonderwall’, there’s also a level of sophistication to the imagery. Even if the image of a woman in a window frame has nothing to do with a Wonderwall per se, there’s a particular style to Cannon’s work that’s far more indebted to 16th-century paintings rather than anything out of the modern age.
Once the band got into the Be Here Now era, though, Cannon started to flex his muscles regarding what could be done with the camera. In a homage to Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, the album cover features a television that shows the album cover, which goes on in a continuous loop that never resolves itself.
With the release of the sleeves for ‘D’You Know What I Mean’, Cannon also got creative with the shots, creating a dystopian atmosphere with everyone looking onward at a preacher while the lads cast a thousand-yard stare into the camera focus. Ultimately, this would end up being one of the last times Cannon did any Oasis sleeves.
Despite being an integral part of the group’s inner circle, the band’s hiatus in the late ‘90s led to them parting ways with Cannon, which marks a sharp dropoff in quality for the single sleeves. While the look of singles like ‘Who Feels Love?’ was alright, something like ‘Let There Be Love’ indicates a band who can’t be arsed to care about their art design.
Even though Oasis could still carry on making great music up until they split in 2009, Brian Cannon is the unsung hero who made sure each quality single had an equally quality sleeve. Just like Noel had preached in the band’s prime, Cannon was creating sleeves, knowing he wanted images that would last long after he was gone.