In the summer of 1995, it had been reduced to this -- Blur versus Oasis. The two bands represented polar opposites of the pop audience -- elite versus the working class, art school versus blue collar, and art school versus gut instinct. It was a brilliant pairing, better even than the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones, because these two bands actually hated each other. Blur leader Damon Albarn would claim that the animosity began when Oasis singer Liam Gallagher taunted him at a party after Oasis' "Some Might Say" reached number one. According to Albarn, Gallagher spotted him, then got in his face, screaming "number one!" This very well may be true -- Liam is not known for his humility -- but it lets Albarn off the hook when he wanted the face-to-face, High Noon showdown that emerged in August of 1995 more than any of the other major players.
As it turned out, both Blur and Oasis were set to deliver the sequels to hit albums in the fall of 1995. Blur was offering their fourth album, while Oasis was set to prove that their debut wasn't a fluke. Originally, they weren't going to release their lead singles -- the songs that touted their upcoming releases -- on the same day, but when Albarn discovered that Blur's "Country House" and Oasis' "Roll With It" were going to be released within a week of each other, he decided to ditch all pretense and have his band's single released the same week as Oasis'. A real risky move, since if his band stiffed, the other band would have vaulted beyond anyone's expectations.
Most observers believed that the rivalry would be contained to Britain's weeklies, but a strange turn of events happened. Brit-pop became a cultural phenomenon, transcending indie culture and dominating the mainstream. That meant that everybody knew about Blur versus Oasis, that they were anxiously awaiting the results of the August release of "Country House" and "Roll With It." National news broadcasts devoted precious time to the rivalry, and everybody awaited the results of the charts with baited breath. In the final few days, it was revealed that Oasis had a major problem when their label, Creation, had a problem with the bar codes on their singles, thereby meaning their single simply wasn't registered as many times as Blur's. And Blur claimed the number one slot -- the first in their history -- with "Country House."
In hindsight, it has become chic to dismiss "Country House" as the product of those crazy times, particularly by Blur's guitarist, Graham Coxon, who seems to be embarrassed to be associated with a song that had either the words "country" or "house" in its title. That's completely unfair. The detached observer could reasonably offer the explanation that Blur won the battle because they offered the most distinctly British single since the Kinks made "Sunny Afternoon" a national singalong. Even if that was true, "Country House" is a brilliant piece of British pop. Yes, you already have to have an inclination for British pop to be enamored with "Country House" -- if only Andy Partridge was half as cute as Damon Albarn, the defiantly British eccentrics XTC would have registered a hit nearly as big as this -- but once you do, it instantly seems like a classic. Apart from the detached, postmodern viewpoint (something any Blur fan will take as second nature by this point, even in 1995), it's hard not to get suckered in by the wonderful hooks and the impeccably detailed production, courtesy of Blur and their producer, Stephen Street. Together, they recorded a layered single where the details -- not just the horns, but the vocal harmonies, rhythms, and guitar parts -- were buried underneath the stomping hooks, melody, and Albarn's caustic wit. This is a single where the rhymes are as natural as the offhand wit and melody -- not only does he offer the wonderous put-down "He's reading Balzac/Knocking back Prozac," he disses his rivals with "He's got Morning Glory/And life's a different story," and it's virtually impossible not to sing along.
"Country House" may have been the perfect record for its time -- it certainly was smarter, funnier, and catchier than "Roll with It" -- but it wouldn't be quite as intoxicating (it wouldn't have elevated beyond its role as a period piece) if Blur didn't know how to write and record a pop record at this point in time. They did. They knew how to maximize a distinctly British and proper record like "Country House" and make it a number one.
They wound up winning the battle, but losing the war. "Roll With It" was dismissed, but after "Wonderwall" was released, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? became a phenomenon not seen since Thriller (at least in the U.K.), and all the bad reviews Oasis received since "Roll With It" and Morning Glory disappeared. Oasis triumphed over Blur. But during that brief moment in late August/September of 1995, Blur was the victor with "Country House," and it remains the best of the two singles released that week.