Pulp, formed in Sheffield in 1978 by 15-year old schoolboy Jarvis Cocker, are little known outside the UK, with the exception of gangly Cocker’s unscheduled walk-on part in the Brits (for which he was held overnight by the police on suspicion of assaulting child performers), which does not altogether surprise me. Their sharp and incisive lyrics and choice of, shall we say, esoteric subject matter appeal rather more to Anglophiles. I Spy (FF 1995 #8), to take just one example, is positively sinister in its celebration of voyeurism coupled with the suggestion of a private detective on a stake-out, and this is cleverly underlined by its sonic build-up over Cocker’s knowing, sneering half-sung, half-whispered ‘I spy for a living and I specialise in revenge/On taking the things I know will cause you pain’. It’s the aural equivalent of arsenic in your PG Tips, and was a gambit he would deploy again.
That track came from Different Class, the album that propelled the band to Mercury award, Britpop stardom. The lead track and single of the same LP, Common People (FF 1995 #1 and All-Time FF 2000 #12), is their best-known song (which also reached number 2 in the UK charts), and deservedly so. Over 5 minutes, Candida Doyle’s synthesiser line provides the song’s momentum, but it is a perfect marriage of form and content. Cocker based the lyrics on a meeting with a Greek art student who wanted to indulge in ‘class tourism’ with ‘common people’, but he astutely skewers her with her own pretension by telling her that she could never be like them and would not want to (‘You will never understand how it feels…with no meaning or control and with no place left to go/You are amazed that they exist’).
The video naturally features the 7 inch version:
Common People performed a very rare feat, that of reaching the Festive Fifty with the same track on more than one occasion. From 1982 onwards, JP restricted his FF to records that had been released only during that year, thus making it nigh on impossible to get the same track in the chart more than once. However, Pulp’s Peel session of 9 September 1994 featured Common People (in addition to Underwear and Pencil Skirt) the year before it was re-recorded for Different Class, and this session version made the 1994 chart at #21. It comes from the recently released Peel Session box.