Certain Songs #1373: Oasis – “Little by Little”

Album: Heathen Chemistry
Year: 2002

Of course, one thing about being more democratic about songwriting credits was that Noel Gallagher ended taking more and more lead vocals on their albums in the back half of their career. While Noel was all over the b-sides from the start, on Definitely Maybe, he had zero lead vocals, and only one each on (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and Be Here Now.

However, on Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, he took two, and on Heathen Chemistry, that was up to three, two of which — “Little by Little” and “She is Love” — were combined for the only double-A side single in Oasis’ discography.

For the most part, neither song was a “typical” Oasis song, jumping out of the gate with a big guitar hook and a mid-tempo stop, cheekily swaggering into an unforgettable chorus for the ages. “She is Love” was especially atypical, being mostly keyboard-driven, with only a speedily-played tambourine (and later on, handclaps!) for the rhythm.

And as far as “Little by Little” goes, it’s one of those songs that starts off quietly — in the early verses Noel is singing in an almost hushed vocals over shimmering organ and acoustic guitar — but goes gigantic for the chorus, which is ostensibly about Noel’s eventual wife, Sara McDonald, but could also be addressed to his somewhat dwindling fanbase.

‘Cause little by little
We gave you everything you ever dreamed of
Little by little
The wheels of your life have slowly fallen off
Little by little
You have to give it all in all your life
And all the time I just asked myself
Why you really here?

“Somewhat” dwindling fanbase: here in the U.S., Heathen Chemistry didn’t get any radio play — the only Oasis album to not put at least one song on the U.S. Alternative chart — as we clearly had no time for them in the post-9/11 environment. Of course, that wasn’t the case in the U.K. where the “Little by Little” / “She is Love” single made it to #2, because there was never ever an Oasis backlash there, as far as I can determine.

In any event, the chorus of “Little by Little” is the usual instantly and eternally memorable chorus, with the shift from his inside voice to his outside voice easily one of his best singing performances.

I do know that, the other night at my birthday dinner, I was telling Rox about which post-millennial songs I was writing about for Oasis, and when she wasn’t sure if she knew “Little by Little” by the title, she instantly recognized it when I sang the chorus for her. (That also worked for “The Hindu Times” and “Go Let it Out,” though not so much for “Who Feels Love?”) (And of course, wasn’t necessary at all for “Lyla.”)

Of course, because they almost never content to just leave a song alone, the second time around, the drumbeat picks up, and Noel adds some sizzling lead guitar that winds its way around the song, which gets switched up a bit when he asks us why he’s really here instead of the other way around, and if its not quite fully transcendent, it’s still pretty great.

“Little by Little”

“Little by Little” performed live in London, 2002

“Little by Little” performed in Manchester

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