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You think it’s cuddly but it will tear your insides out
November 11, 2010 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Pulp's Common People - the great class-based song of the 90s?
posted by Artw (119 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, come ON. How can you make a post like this and not include any mention of, or link to, the version by Joe Jackson and that Canadian guy?

Ironic? Not ironic? Post-irony?
posted by Madamina at 2:20 PM on November 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


and the (surprisingly good) William Shatner cover
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


The happiest day of my 10 years of living in Los Angeles was finding a karaoke bar on Sawtelle that had Common People in their songbook.
posted by cazoo at 2:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite songs ever. I discovered pulp late after being completely wowed by This Is Hardcore late at night on MTV. The whole Brit pop thing completely passed me the first time around. Sorted out for e's and whizz is another favorite, but Dishes is a song that's somewhat haunted me since I've been old enough to understand it.
posted by empath at 2:21 PM on November 11, 2010


bah, beaten to it.
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:21 PM on November 11, 2010


Ironic? Not ironic? Post-irony?

Essentially neutered novelty cover version.
posted by Artw at 2:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


What, no link to the Jamie Hewlett comic?
posted by kipmanley at 2:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


A song that gets more prescient every time I hear it. Just like Radiohead is "doomed" to be forever associated with "Creep" despite their better, later work, so it is with Pulp.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2010


You've got to link to the David Cameron version.
posted by enn at 2:24 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Upper Classes" by The Auteurs for me.
posted by Kinbote at 2:24 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


CAN THIS THREAD BE ABOUT THE REUNION THIS THREAD IS NOW ABOUT THE REUNION!

WOOOOHOOOOOOO!!!!!


ILL BE RIGHT BACK!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:24 PM on November 11, 2010


REUNITED!

http://www.pulppeople.com/
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:25 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I always loved the rhyming of "supermarket" with "had to start it." The man's a genius.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:27 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Madamina: How can you make a post like this and not include any mention of, or link to, the version by Joe Jackson and that Canadian guy?

Because not everyone is immediately reminded of Joe Jackson or William Shatner or fucking David Cameron when thinking about Common People. I certainly never am. That song defined a certain time for me and it makes me think of my teen years. Ultimately, for me, Blur and Damon Albarn's other projects has been what means most to me of that particular movement in pop music, but Pulp occupies a rather large space in my head. That song and Mis-shapes and Sorted For E's & Wizz will forever be dear to my heart.
posted by Kattullus at 2:29 PM on November 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


I prefer Jarvis Cocker's later and more accurate song about modern class systems: C*nts Are Still Running the World [nsfw]
posted by benzenedream at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


I must admit that this is never that far from my mind when Jarvis Cocker is mentioned.
posted by Artw at 2:33 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I prefer the William Shatner cover to the original. Then again, I never heard the original when it came out.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:37 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just thought it was a nifty dance tune. Never paid much attention to the lyrics at the time.

And as interesting as British class politics might be, it was/is certainly inapplicable to me, and even more so while double-fisting it closing in on last call.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:39 PM on November 11, 2010


The Story of "Common People" 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:40 PM on November 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


I'm never reminded of "Common People" when I think about David Cameron, either about the song or about any other possible associations therefrom. I'm reminded that he haunted Oxford at about the same time I was there and probably got drunk in some of the same dingy pubs and puked on some of the same High Street cobblestones, though his puke was undoubtedly posher than mine was.
posted by blucevalo at 2:40 PM on November 11, 2010


I heard that when you make a contribution to the Chamber of Commerce's political fund, they send you a free copy of the mp3 of that song. Pirated, of course.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:42 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dunno, Sorted for E's and Whizz for me really captures my life circa 1993. Anyway, Pulp are absolutely underrated, especially We Love Life:

Yeah, the trees, those useless trees; they never said, that you were leaving.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:43 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was at uni in Sheffield when Jarvis was knocking around there... even went to a couple of the same clubs and pubs.

And he was from Intake which always make me smile when I saw it on the buses
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:43 PM on November 11, 2010


Ironic? Not ironic? Post-irony?

I love it and him unironically. <3
posted by adamdschneider at 2:44 PM on November 11, 2010


"Common People"? William Shatner? I thought you meant this.
posted by kipmanley at 2:46 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whilst Oasis was for the working class / Northerners and Blur for the middle class / Southerners, Pulp were for the weirdo nerds - the Broken Biscuits - who didn't fit in... so (whilst I do have some affection for Oasis's first two albums) there always won the battle of Britpop for me
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:48 PM on November 11, 2010


benzendream, I would like to think that honourable north american mefites would be prepared to excuse an englishman for his use of that word.

Truth is the defence.
posted by wilful at 2:49 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of my favourite bits of music trivia is that after Jarvis was nicked for upstaging Michael Jackson at the Brits, his legal representation was provided by Bob Mortimer of Reeves and Mortimer fame.
posted by permafrost at 2:52 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always thought if you're so angry about this greek class tourist girl you didn't have to take her home and fuck her did you.
posted by Not Supplied at 2:57 PM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Hrmph. All well and good but they're no Half Man Half Biscuit.
posted by Abiezer at 2:58 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


2bucksplus: Just like Radiohead is "doomed" to be forever associated with "Creep" despite their better, later work...
I would recommend "Happy Song" from the days before Radiohead discovered minor keys.

I see St Martins College now offers not sculpture but "three dimensional design". Try getting that to scan Jarvis!
posted by rongorongo at 3:05 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, my generation doesn't have much by way of protest songs, so we take what we can. I love this song, but it makes me uneasy because in the equation presented I would be the Greek heiress rather than drinking rum and coke and I feel bad that I haven't made much of my privileged position.

I listened to the Shatner version for the first time ever, and I can see there's something in-jokey and pleasingly unexpected there...but he throws away the whole point of the song:

I said "Yeah. Well I can't see anyone else laughing in here. Are you sure?"

I also think that you underestimate Blur if you think they're only for the southern middle classes, who Damon Albarn didn't seem to esteem much (They Thought of Cars, Starshaped). I honestly think that no one will understand at all why we bothered with Oasis in a small amount of time. Pulp were wonderful always, but just as good at unsettling perviness (Babies) as unsettling social comment.
posted by calico at 3:07 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love Pulp half to death but class? no. The beginning of hipsters slumming it ironically, possibly.
posted by shinybaum at 3:08 PM on November 11, 2010


Surely it's about Jesus' inability to suffer and atone for the sins of man, because if he called his dad he could stop it all, yeah?
posted by edd at 3:14 PM on November 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Er. The point of the song is about someone who is slumming it ironically, isn't it?
posted by calico at 3:15 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also adore this song. Something about that part where he starts yelling "you'll never fail like common people, you'll never watch your life slide out of view" that just kills me. I don't think I've heard a more sincere song about class struggle.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:16 PM on November 11, 2010 [21 favorites]


Please sir, may I have some more ROCK?
posted by sriracha at 3:19 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw: "Ironic? Not ironic? Post-irony?
Essentially neutered novelty cover version.
"

Possibly but I and I guess most Americans would never have heard the song if Shatner hadn't done it. It's not like they play Pulp on (non-college) radio.
posted by octothorpe at 3:24 PM on November 11, 2010


What Do the Simple Folk Do?
posted by puny human at 3:25 PM on November 11, 2010


A couple of related videos: first the video of Common People borrows from Zbigniew Rybcznski's animation short "Tango". Secondly the choice of "Rum and Coca Cola" as a drink may have been a reference to song of that name - again about cultural imperialism - made famous by the Andrews Sisters.
posted by rongorongo at 3:33 PM on November 11, 2010


-- You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship: a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes...

-- Oh, there you go, bringing class into it again.

-- That's what it's all about!
posted by maxwelton at 3:38 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I had no idea that this wasn't originally done by Shatner/Jackson. Now I know it was just done better by Shatner/Jackson.
posted by Sternmeyer at 3:51 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pulp's catalogue has aged better than both Blur's and Oasis's.

(Admit it, if Blur hadn't made the brilliant Parklife none of us would give a shit about their other records either.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:54 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the link:
His hysteria reminds me of Ian Curtis in Transmission, his contempt of Jello Biafra in Holiday in Cambodia and his careening violence of John Lydon...

Thank goodness we're not being hyperbolic or anything.
posted by dersins at 3:54 PM on November 11, 2010


You have to have been raised working class to get this song.

Those of you who didn't grow up on food stamps and have to endure the shame of saying "free" to the lady at the school cafeteria cash register can fuck off, because you do not get this song.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:59 PM on November 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


But I was raised working class and I think pretentious twats are pretentious whether they're on my side or not. And I still love Pulp, and I love this song, but it isn't a great class song any more than I think John Lennon wrote great class songs.
posted by shinybaum at 4:09 PM on November 11, 2010


You're entitled to not like the song, but "pretentious" sort of implies Jarvis didn't come from a working class background, when in fact the song is speaking from his own experience.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:11 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


ethnomethodologist: "Those of you who didn't grow up on food stamps and have to endure the shame of saying "free" to the lady at the school cafeteria cash register can fuck off, because you do not get this song."

shinybaum: "But I was raised working class and I think pretentious twats are pretentious whether they're on my side or not."

If you ever post "You wouldn't understand unless you're x," someone on the internet will respond "I'm x, and I disagree."

It's one of those laws of internet discussions.
posted by yaymukund at 4:17 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do like the song and I do think he's pretentious. I wasn't trying to say you're favourite band sucks, but I don't see how it's all mutually exclusive.
posted by shinybaum at 4:17 PM on November 11, 2010


You have to have been raised working class to get this song.

Isn't understanding that we can't get it, part of getting it? Or is that just too recursive?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:18 PM on November 11, 2010


But why pretentious? Where does the pretence come in to it?
posted by calico at 4:19 PM on November 11, 2010


Random daat point - the station Pandora builds for Pulp is much more fun than the one it does for Blur.

(I assume the Oasis one would be hideous and full of Bush and Kula Shakar and crap like that)
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on November 11, 2010


This is great. Thank you.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:20 PM on November 11, 2010


I do like the song and I do think he's pretentious. I wasn't trying to say you're favourite band sucks, but I don't see how it's all mutually exclusive.

I think you're misunderstanding me here. I don't care if you don't like the song. Saying it's "pretentious" means that he wasn't actually working class, and didn't actually write this song from his own experience. Maybe you meant "smarmy" or "sneering"?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:26 PM on November 11, 2010


Pulp's catalogue has aged better than both Blur's and Oasis's.

(Admit it, if Blur hadn't made the brilliant Parklife none of us would give a shit about their other records either.

Well actually I disagree. Apart from the fact that Leisure was better than Parklife, more recent (post britpop) blur albums such as think tank are highly listenable, haven't dated at all. Not as popular, sure, but that's hardly the metric to use. Of course, they haven't produced an album since 2003.

Incidentally, having seen both blur and pulp live quite a number of times, I can confidently state that they're both pretty much rubbish live. I have a live common people single from a festival somewhere, and it sounds fantastic. Not my experience though.
posted by wilful at 4:27 PM on November 11, 2010


There's No Other Way was pretty darn huge for a while, wasn't it?

Does the Gorillaz project count? Weirdly I think it may outlive Blur.
posted by Artw at 4:39 PM on November 11, 2010


Saying it's "pretentious" means that he wasn't actually working class

No, it's saying he was a professional Northerner, like a lot of bands.
posted by shinybaum at 4:39 PM on November 11, 2010


Oh, and bloody Song 2 of course... Woo hoo!
posted by Artw at 4:42 PM on November 11, 2010


Let's not talk about Gorillaz.
Still pissed at them for ruining night 3 at Coachella this year.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:42 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


hell, Modern Life is Rubbish was better than Parklife, as was Blur. I thought I was entirely over Blur and really have never much liked Damon Albarn. But then one night I was in, No Distance Left to Run was on the box and I was annoyed and charmed and frustrated and soothed by Blur like I was when I was in my early twenties. Blur were really not a bad band at all, if you can get past thinking they're smug gits, and some of the smug gittery is a double-bluff about how awful smug people are...which makes them smug on another level: triple-recursive smuggery.
posted by calico at 4:44 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


You have to have been raised working class to get this song.

I was raised working class/borderline poor and it doesn't really speak to me at all. Dancing, drinking and screwing are what the middle class kids got to do in their copious spare time, I had to go to work after school.
posted by octothorpe at 4:51 PM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


When my cats are getting the better of me, in their devious cat ways, I have been known to sing at them, loudly, "YOU WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND, HOW IT FEELS TO LIVE YOUR LIFE, WITH NO MEANING etc etc etc."

They just ignore me and keep on being assholes.
posted by Danf at 4:52 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Artw: the station Pandora builds for Pulp is much more fun than the one it does for Blur

I've found it to be generally true that bands that have a more stable sound generate better Pandora stations than bands who didn't.
posted by Kattullus at 4:56 PM on November 11, 2010


I discovered pulp late after being completely wowed by This Is Hardcore late at night on MTV.

the same thing happened to me...i love that video and song! i also love help the aged, which gave me a new karmic perspective on my attraction to older men; hopefully as i become one younger men will flirt with me as shamelessly as i flirt with the older dudes now.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 4:57 PM on November 11, 2010


I always most related to the roaches, and to the whole thing about not having a safety net or an escape. I educated into the escape and married into the safety net, but my mother is still suffering terribly from the roaches.
posted by jb at 4:59 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


So glad I'm not the only person whose only exposure to this song was William Shatner's version. I knew it was a cover -- just no idea whose. And, as stated above, Shatner's version is kick ass.
posted by foxinsocks at 4:59 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pulp's catalogue has aged better than both Blur's and Oasis's.

Meh. Everything Oasis ever did was crap from the moment it was created. Blur had some brilliant moments hidden among the mess, but they got sucked into the "Blur versus Oasis" nonsense and wasted a lot of their talent putting out music that was a waste of notes.

Pulp's catalogue has aged better because it was always better.
posted by The World Famous at 4:59 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have this rant, which I do when I'm with the right crowd, and have had two too many drinks, that Jarvis Cocker should be considered one of the yBa school of artists, and is actually more interesting than the rest of them, and will have a more lasting impact on the Culture at Large. I've thought about turning it into an essay, but really, there's not much more to say than the basic proposition, so I'm happy to leave it as drunken chatter.

The really great Pulp song is "Babies," though.
posted by neroli at 5:03 PM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Which group did that Woo-Woo-Woo Starship Troopers song? That was good.
posted by jonmc at 5:07 PM on November 11, 2010


Pretentious means to pretend to something to which you weren't previously familiar. In Jarvis's case I guess it's about pretending to a level of cultivation which his social origins would have typically denied. The fact that he strays into other (people's) territory is the thing that makes it pretentious, whilst his illustration of the ensuing anguish is the thing that makes it giddyingly honest, thereby obliging the deadpan delivery of a sand dune. Any sort of social mobility is going to bring up issues of pretence. Contrary to the what the article suggests hipster slumming is not new it's just the latest iteration of petite bourgeois aspiration, manifest today in a desire to improve your social position in a society that has a lot of difficulty acknowledging class. But pretence isn't a problem - everyone starts out a neophyte or put another way, everyone pretends, it's just that the upper classes are born into a world of cultural familiarity that makes blagging it easier, whilst everyone else either feels anxious and lacking or they rule themselves out of the game and deny any pretence to that capacity/interest in the first place.

To put it another way (again) the importance of pretence isn't so much the acquisition of knowledge as it is the dynamic between blagging, entitlement and shame. So to 'get' this song - to identify with the same feeling of impotence and yearning for a station to which you are actually sort of ambivalent being as you are saddled between modest origins and less modest ambitions, you do have to be part of a fairly specific demographic, yes.
posted by doobiedoo at 5:09 PM on November 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


That's an interesting point about the song, and a point that's come up in related discussions: is the speaker "envious" of the Greek student's background? Or is he just pissed off by her condescension? Maybe both? Considering his background, and the emphasis that he places on his rage, I'm leaning towards the latter interpretation.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:13 PM on November 11, 2010


The really great Pulp song is "Babies," though.

I was always partial to I Spy, myself. ("Skilfully avoiding the dog-turd"...)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:23 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's one of the great singles of the 90's, and the Shatner version is one of the great cover versions of the...erm...oughts. I love it completely, and unironically. Hell, that whole Shatner album is ridiculously good.

And yes, the Pulp back catalogue has aged extremely well.

One of my favorite Pulp singles, A Little Soul. I went to youtube since it's the quickest way to present the audio track, and was pleasantly surprised to discover the video is actually worth watching.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:06 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Zero to Shatner in one comment. I love the shit out of Metafilter.
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


So to 'get' this song - to identify with the same feeling of impotence and yearning for a station to which you are actually sort of ambivalent being as you are saddled between modest origins and less modest ambitions, you do have to be part of a fairly specific demographic, yes.

I'm not sure this is true, and I think you might be reading stuff into the song based on what you know of Jarvis Cocker rather than what's in the song. We don't know anything about the background of the narrator; we know what the Greek student thinks is his background (I want to sleep with common people like you). There's nothing in the song about what the narrator feels is his part in this; whether he feels himself that his life is sliding out of view.

The narrator meets a student with an odd request: she wants to 'be like common people'. He has half an eye on a way to exploit the situation for his own ends ('In that case, I'll have rum and coca-cola') but also thinks that there is something he can teach the student about the realities of life when your dad isn't loaded, which is why he goes through with his idea about the supermarket. The switch in tone that the linked article talks about comes just after 'but she just smiled and said 'you're so funny'. We (and the narrator) now realise that we're not dealing with someone who genuinely wants to understand why the people around her make the choices they do, but with someone who wants to tell stories about 'oh the year I lived in London with the common people'. What is particularly insulting to the narrator (and to the listener who has a social conscience, whether they are originally of the working class or not) is that the student does not understand that what she sees around her is a result of poverty, and not as a result of a culture that exists away from those conditions. That is: the student thinks this is a cultural matter, she wants to experience an 'authentic' working-class London with its drinking and fags and pool-playing and shops above flats. She is attracted to the people of this London because 'they burn so bright'. The narrator sees that perhaps the hedonism that the student sees around her is only a result of the lack of hope for a better tomorrow.

Sorry for all the words. Song's been stuck in my head for many years...(I have also been thinking for many years that the way she asks to be like 'common people' is an interesting and not very idiomatic choice of words, perhaps because she's not speaking her first language. The Greek student as I think of her is clueless rather than deliberately insulting, so she probably doesn't mean what my mother would mean if she called someone 'common'. So the Greek student might just want to be a 'normal' person, but we hear it both in the normal (common or garden) sense but also in the common-as-muck sense.
posted by calico at 6:14 PM on November 11, 2010 [29 favorites]


I could go on for hours about this song, and every other Pulp song (Babies and Mile End and Do You Remember The First Time etc. etc. etc.), but you know my favourite moment in Common People?

1:34 into the song, there's this slight clicking sound, the sound of someone plugging in their guitar while the amp is already on. And then the guitar kicks in.

Fucking grand.
posted by Jimbob at 6:27 PM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


That's an interesting point about the song, and a point that's come up in related discussions: is the speaker "envious" of the Greek student's background? Or is he just pissed off by her condescension?

Or, does he just want a shag?
posted by Jimbob at 6:30 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somehow I get the feeling that's not the only thing going on in that song.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:31 PM on November 11, 2010


Those of you who didn't grow up on food stamps and have to endure the shame of saying "free" to the lady at the school cafeteria cash register can fuck off, because you do not get this song.

England has food stamps?
posted by Hoopo at 6:34 PM on November 11, 2010


Somehow I get the feeling that's not the only thing going on in that song.

Well, yes, but I always interpreted the narrator's voice as completely internal. I always felt he's thinking "You could call your dad and he'll stop it all." to himself, not saying it out loud to her. Because it might ruin his chances.

But the final chorus, to me, indicates he's not envious.

Sing along with the common people,
sing along and it might just get you through,
laugh along with the common people,
laugh along even though they're laughing at you,
and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.

posted by Jimbob at 6:41 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's the version of the song from which the angriest bits have not been removed.
posted by Anything at 6:48 PM on November 11, 2010


Because not everyone is immediately reminded of Joe Jackson or William Shatner or fucking David Cameron when thinking about Common People. I certainly never am.

Well, sorry, I guess. To me, the song perfectly captures the theme-park view of class as a "cultural heritage," something akin to wearing lederhosen for Oktoberfest, instead of as a social role in a social system, that makes it possible for people like David Cameron to convince voters that they're on their side. Which is exactly why the Cameron-themed parody works so well.
posted by enn at 6:55 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I guess I always considered the only important line to be "because everybody hates a tourist"; in the sense that it is someone who considered you and all you represent only in the context of the temporary amusement you afford them; who can pick and choose amongst lifestyles that are completely out of your reach, and so you envy them, and even as you acknowledge that they can never truly be a part of the lifestyle you are a part of, no matter how badly they may claim they want to be, ultimately when they fail they return to the top, whereas when you fail you return to the bottom. In essence, she may be dipping her toe into waters she can never truly swim in, but he's struggling to get his head out of the water, and can only do so for brief moments before being sucked back under. Futile struggle vs casual opportunism, really.

But then, I overthink everything. So, um, it's a fun song.
posted by davejay at 7:13 PM on November 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


So she's like George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London?

I honestly think that no one will understand at all why we bothered with Oasis in a small amount of time.

I was a big Beatles fan as a kid, and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? was almost like getting a new Beatles album in 1995. I went on a trip to London that year, when it was my favorite album, and it was playing everywhere you went. It was like being in a movie. It was like what I've always heard it was like in 1967 when Sgt. Pepper came out (and I was 3). So it was all watered down, second hand stuff in more ways than one, but that year it felt really, really good.

Dancing, drinking and screwing are what the middle class kids got to do in their copious spare time, I had to go to work after school.

Dancing, drinking and screwing doesn't really sound all that bad.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:23 PM on November 11, 2010


Here's the version of the song from which the angriest bits have not been removed.

Umm, interesting version, but the lyrics sound the same as the original.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:37 PM on November 11, 2010


You guys remember this post? The rich kid who played poor for a while, and miraculously "pulled himself up by his bootstraps?" I had "Common People" stuck in my head for months after reading that article.
posted by honeydew at 7:59 PM on November 11, 2010


I only just discovered that Pulp are reforming (okay, just for a handful of gigs) yesterday.. CLASSIC Pulp with violinist extraordinaire Russell Senior. The first time since 1996. I've never been so excited EVER!!!

(More on topic, Jarvis Cocker is a sharp songwriter and, his songs -- whether Pulp or solo -- straddle the line of deft social commentary with a gloss of sex and, at times, drugs. See 'Cocaine Socialism' for one of.. quite a few.. examples. I don't know about 'Common People' being the best class-based song of the 1990s, but I think Jarv was one of the most important songwriters of the decade, not that he is/was truly appreciated on that level, necessarily.)
posted by Mael Oui at 8:09 PM on November 11, 2010


... working-class London with its drinking and fags and pool-playing and shops above flats.

Hold it right there, calico. Or, if I may... Charles "Chip" Rockebilt-Mellyle III!

Yes, Chip. I'm afraid we know. We're wise to your operation. We know about your training camps, hidden deep in the wilds of Luxembourg. Perfect recreations of working-class neighborhoods, where you practice working with your hands and hone your accent, innit? Where you work with turncoats and abductees from the working classes themselves, who teach you how to wear a cloth cap and roughen your hands and watch King of Queens.

But all it takes is one slip, one fatal error like "shops above flats," to betray yourself as a man who's never even seen a real working class neighborhood.

The flats go above the shops, Chip.

Oh, I don't have the authority to take you prisoner. You're free to go. But know this: You'll never live like common people. You'll never do what common people do. You'll etc. [Music kicks in, credits roll.]

Well, that or it was just a brain fart.
posted by No-sword at 8:32 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


the great class-based song of the 90s

No, that would be Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, who decided to sing about real emotions and people instead of hot women, fast cars, expensive drugs and easy money, and rocked harder and louder than the hair-metal poseurs who were into hot women, fast cars, expensive drugs and easy money. Kurt Cobain shouted down Axel Rose - and yes, it was as tectonically awesome as that sounds.

Pulp was part of the British Invasion II that rode in on the wake of Grunge, which blasted apart the radio playlists for a decade, letting in oddballs like Soul Coughing, Cake and The Pizzicato 5. Kula Shakur and Suede did upper-class-twit-brit with class and panache, but Pulp was trying too hard and everyone knew a middle-class middle-child playing make-believe when they heard one. They had an awesomely catchy hook, tho.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:43 PM on November 11, 2010


No, that would be Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, who decided to sing about real emotions and people instead of hot women, fast cars, expensive drugs and easy money, and rocked harder and louder than the hair-metal poseurs who were into hot women, fast cars, expensive drugs and easy money.

This is funny on so many levels. One being I would love love love to have someone identify one real person or real emotion in any Nirvana song- there's just nothing there lyrically.

But mainly (and I grew up loving metal), heavy metal was by and for white trash- ie, common people. They unironically wanted cars and women and all that stuff because they *actually grew up poor.* Irony is a luxury of cultural tourists.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:04 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Have we really gone this far without the Archie version of "Common People"?
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those of you who didn't grow up on food stamps and have to endure the shame of saying "free" to the lady at the school cafeteria cash register can fuck off, because you do not get this song.

I'd say that if you think class struggle is about money then you don't get it.

It's a nice song but it was written by a reasonably well off guy in a country with one of the highest standards of living on earth. he poorest English people are fantastically wealthy by the standards of 99% of the rest of the world. They are much better off then poor Americans that's for damn sure.
posted by fshgrl at 10:25 PM on November 11, 2010


Once upon a time you dressed so fine....
posted by bonefish at 11:07 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dancing, drinking and screwing are what the middle class kids got to do in their copious spare time, I had to go to work after school.

octothorpe: It's the structural unemployment, plus the dole.

This is easily my favorite Pulp song (and I love the Shatner cover, too, even though he admittedly had no experience of the song before it was suggested/selected by Ben Folds). It was actually the only Pulp song I knew for the longest time until a once-dear friend burned me copies of This is Hardcore and Different Class, well into the aughts, and I realized that holy shit this was the bit of the 90s that I missed that bridged what I liked in the tail end of my music-listening and what I liked now that I was listening again.

In relation to Cocker's writing skills, the bit I remember from somewhere was that he "writes songs in complete sentences". No, it's not unique, but it's an interesting way to listen to him. So many of his songs are story-songs in one way or another.

Since then, even, I've had the experience of "watching my life slide out of view" as I had to abandon my urban IT career for family caregiving in my hometown. The modest safety net I thought even my family had was decimated by dementia and bad economic timing. I am now taking the US equivalent of "the dole" even as I work my tail off to keep things from getting worse. I fully realize, more than ever before, the futility felt by the lower classes, who don't even have the benefit of a liberal arts college education. (Heck, I flunked out of mine, so I already knew how fragile that pillar could be, but for a long time in my industry it didn't matter.) There's definitely something real in this song -- not real politics in the Marxist class struggle sense, but real "yob" vs. "snob" in-your-face resentment. Like a lot of nouveau riche comers, Cocker probably has never shed, no matter how much the cash poured in during the heyday, a worrying sense of not measuring up, not being good enough. He has a weird confidence about him, of course, and charisma, but I don't think so many of his songs would be about what they're about if he really felt that all the time.
posted by dhartung at 11:17 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


This song really speaks to me, and I grew up in roughly the same area as Jarvis Cocker as a lower middle class kid with no money but parents who pushed education hard. I'm not sure what Jarvis Cocker's background is, but the UK (or maybe the North) has a long tradition of working class polymaths. Gruff Socialists with half a lifetime spent labouring and the other half spent doing cheap college arts courses and borrowing books from the library.

Cocker came from Sheffield, this song is set in Sheffield and I think you need to know what happened to Sheffield in the '70s and '80s to get more a feel for the man. Sheffield *was* steel city. It's foundries were the best in the world and everyone had a job. In the 70s, with increasing industrial action and cheap steel coming in from abroad, the steel industry started to shut down. Thousands of men were put out of work and by the end the only worthwhile thing about the area was the coal mines. Then Thatcher closed down the mines in the 80's and suddenly nobody had a job. This hit the middle classes as well as the working classes.

Cocker would have been quite young when all this happen, but I've no doubt that it hit him and his family hard. I've no doubt that when he turned 18, he and everyone he knew was on the dole or had full educational grants for whatever college / university he went to. Everyone will have been time rich and money poor.

Anyway - the song really speaks to me. Interestingly, the g\f (who's proper working class) absolutely detested it. When the chorus is "sing along with the common people", it's remarkably easy to be Grar enough to think that this is a song mocking poor people and to refuse to listen to it further.

Also - if you're trying to work out if it's ironic, then it might be. I suspect not, but don't know. But it's definitely sarcastic, and I think that may be what you mean. That's the main feature. Sarcasm.
posted by seanyboy at 12:34 AM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Maybe the song isn't set in Sheffield.
Note to self: Research your assumed shit. Moron.
posted by seanyboy at 1:10 AM on November 12, 2010


Shatner, Folds and Jackson did a storming version of it - yeah, I know that's been linked already, but not this version. Live on Leno.

I was always a bit underwhelmed by Pulp, although I do see the appeal. Cocker's solo album was pretty good, though. I still play that occasionally.
posted by Decani at 1:14 AM on November 12, 2010


I can see myself spending a lot of time reading 33 revolutions per minute - thanks for the link.


I was never a big fan of Pulp, but have always loved Common People and Like A Friend from the Great Expectations soundtrack. Jarvis can certainly write an anthem.
posted by Foaf at 1:48 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Pulp was part of the British Invasion II that rode in on the wake of Grunge, which blasted apart the radio playlists for a decade, letting in oddballs like Soul Coughing, Cake and The Pizzicato 5. Kula Shakur and Suede did upper-class-twit-brit with class and panache, but Pulp was trying too hard and everyone knew a middle-class middle-child playing make-believe when they heard one. They had an awesomely catchy hook, tho."

What ARE you going on about? For a start, Suede weren't remotely upper-class - all their debut album was about rough, possibly gay, sex. Secondly, Kula Shaker were racist twits. Thirdly, if you think Jarvis is a 'hipster' you are Wrongy McWrongerson. Maybe you were hearing all this music divorced from its context - just as we did with grunge, which always sounded like hair metal that had cracked a Sartre novel.

The 'dance and drink and screw' line was what summed up being a teenager for me - I could work hard and get out, or I could have a life of doing only this because there wasn't supposed to be anything there for me. And yet if I left it, I'd never be one of them either, because I never grew up in a place where people did other things.


"It's a nice song but it was written by a reasonably well off guy in a country with one of the highest standards of living on earth. he poorest English people are fantastically wealthy by the standards of 99% of the rest of the world. They are much better off then poor Americans that's for damn sure."


I don't think you get it either. If Jarvis had written a song about that, then we'd get Bono, and nobody wants that.
posted by mippy at 3:40 AM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I should comment more here on Metafilter, I've been a member and follower for so long.

I'm one of those lucky folks who has found opportunities to have helped him climb out of poverty to middle class, or to put a little differently, the creative/urban class.

I'm a self-taught programmer who spent nights sleeping on trains, and in roach infested apartments and squats because there was nowhere else to go. Yet I have a family now. And a decent wage. And the respect of my peers.

Yet I can't shake that feeling of not really measuring up. I think you nailed what's behind the song @dhartung.

I can't express how much I can relate. The frustration of being 'in-between' and dealing the ignorance and fear from both sides - those who want you to stay immobile and remain in your beginnings - and the lack of understanding from those who can't understand what its like to live without a safety net - and their judgment that maybe the poor deserve circumstances 100%. Then there is that nagging worry that someday, the rug will be pulled out and you will be revealed for the white trash you know you are. And I am. My originally family tree isn't that much of a tree but a field of grass. I hope that I am part of building a tree right now and hope the game isn't stacked against me and us.

@dhartung - my heart goes out to you and I hope you find a pathway to keep what matters in all this dear and safe.
posted by kmartino at 3:45 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Foreign listeners should note that living somewhere where "roaches climb the walls" in the UK is not that terrible. Our roaches are small and, unlike those you have back in Greece, probably not a reason to get on the phone to your dad.
posted by rongorongo at 4:43 AM on November 12, 2010


I had no idea that this wasn't originally done by Shatner/Jackson. Now I know it was just done better by Shatner/Jackson.

This makes me so sad.
posted by seventyfour at 5:07 AM on November 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


@rongorongo - roaches in Philadelphia *are* pretty terrible. They might not be all that big, but they are aggressive.
posted by kmartino at 5:38 AM on November 12, 2010


Never liked Pulp that much musically, but Jarvis is a great lyricist and performer, favourite track (in collaboration with Barry Adamson) here.

The comments on the piece are a lot better than Dorian Lynskey's purple prose, particularly liked this one by Jim Stringer.

For me the song was always about a working class bloke trying to punch above his weight in circles that might have been considered ‘too good’ for him, and winging it weighed down by the dread of being rumbled and exposed
posted by SyntacticSugar at 6:05 AM on November 12, 2010


hey did you know shatner covered it
posted by Legomancer at 7:15 AM on November 12, 2010


Cocker probably has never shed, no matter how much the cash poured in during the heyday, a worrying sense of not measuring up, not being good enough.

I deal with this ALL THE TIME from a dear near-Sheffield-born-and-bred friend who is ULTRA-talented at what she does and yet cannot, for the life of her, come to realize that it's true. Only by living in the States for the past 20-something years and having all of us pounding it into her head that she is damn good at what she does and worthy of praise has she even started to open up a little smidgy bit on this point and -- occasionally -- admit that yes, in fact, she is pretty awesome.

She and I got in trouble with the rest of the car on a long road trip for blasting and dancing along to this song when we were in command of the radio and front seat, incidentally.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:45 AM on November 12, 2010


Can anyone decipher the barely audible talking in the mix underneath the lines about the dog that'll tear your insides out? Always wondered about that.

Thanks rongorongo for link to the happy Radiohead song. Part of me feels they should do an all-major-key album, just for a change.
posted by dust of the stars at 8:44 AM on November 12, 2010


stitcherbeast: "Have we really gone this far without the Archie version of 'Common People'?"

I put the two together a while back (needs Flash, scroll down past my grumbling about stupid copyright crap).

Or maybe here, I can't tell if only I can see it on YouTube 'cause I'm the owner, or if the copyright issue was relaxed and other people can see it too.

Stupid music labels. Insert rant about fair use, parody, and all that.
posted by djwudi at 8:47 AM on November 12, 2010


but Pulp was trying too hard and everyone knew a middle-class middle-child playing make-believe when they heard one.

It was a good troll, but you kind of lost it there with being so ridiculous no-one could take it seriously as the product of anyone who actually knew anything about British music.

But the final chorus, to me, indicates he's not envious.

Yeah, the Because you think that poor is cool. line is the one that speaks to me - because I am a middle class kid, and my does it get up my nose watching other middle/upper class kids patronisingly squeal about how nifty it is to be so poor, so authentic; most of my friends who were actually raised in poor backgrounds have spent their lives working their arses off to get the hell away from being broke and desperate.
posted by rodgerd at 10:42 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


but Pulp was trying too hard and everyone knew a middle-class middle-child playing make-believe when they heard one.

You know you're describing about 80% of the successful rock bands in the world, including many of the greatest ones ever, right?
posted by The World Famous at 10:48 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't have particularly strong opinions on Jarvis Cocker one way or another, but recently heard, quite by chance, this on Radio 4 in the UK. It was so good I sought it out on iPlayer and listened to it twice!

If you're at all a Jarvis / Pulp fan (or even just want to listen to some quality, funny radio) I highly, highly recommend it - he was frequently downright hilarious (you just _have_ to listen to the story about the time he decided to try and impress a prospective girlfriend by doing an SAS-style trick on the window ledge of her apartment), self deprecating, quirky and warm. I thought he was terrific, an awesome raconteur. Give it a whirl.

Looks like it's not on iPlayer any more but a quick Google suggest it can perhaps be downloaded from various places - e.g. here. (I haven't checked the content of that download though).
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 12:01 PM on November 12, 2010


I think the thing about Shatner's cover is that it shows that there is a kind of genius to his vocal patterns, how they pause, then speed up, and yet always hit the key parts of the song's rhythm and yet never sound in a hurry to get there. It doesn't sound forced at all, but it must have taken him at least a few tries to get that right.

I'm another who had never heard Pulp's original (because, in the words of Marge Simpson, "Music is none of my business"), and I do like Shatner's version a little better, but I don't think it takes anything from the original at all.
posted by JHarris at 12:24 PM on November 12, 2010


but Pulp was trying too hard and everyone knew a middle-class middle-child playing make-believe when they heard one.
No. Cocker was the child of a solo mother in a working-class bit of Sheffield. A bright boy (very much in the Northern autodidact tradition), he narrowly missed out on a place reading English at Oxford, so stayed in Sheffield and went on the dole instead (it being the '80s and there being no jobs in an ex-steel town). His mother's now a Tory councilor. Like many things in Britain, it's a little more complex than it looks at first.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:40 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service
posted by Artw at 2:51 PM on November 12, 2010


I'm one of those lucky folks who has found opportunities to have helped him climb out of poverty to middle class, or to put a little differently, the creative/urban class.

I'm a self-taught programmer who spent nights sleeping on trains, and in roach infested apartments and squats because there was nowhere else to go. Yet I have a family now. And a decent wage. And the respect of my peers.


kmartino, you remind me of my father. And I bet your kids do/will respect you as much as we all respected him, which is a hell of a lot. So you measure up in the eyes of the people who truly matter to you, and don't you ever forget it.
posted by davejay at 9:16 PM on November 12, 2010


I love Shatner's version, but it would be pretty bad without the Joe Jackson or choral vocals. You need the back and forth between the passionate vocals and Shatner's dry delivery to sell the snarling denouement. I've heard it a few times and am always surprised to be moved by it. (Of course it's a pale shadow of the original, but sometimes we need our pale shadows).
posted by donkeybear at 9:19 PM on November 12, 2010


@davejay - thank you very, very much for that.
posted by kmartino at 11:31 AM on November 13, 2010


I would recommend "Happy Song" from the days before Radiohead discovered minor keys.

...or were (mostly) out of their teenage years. [/trivia]

posted by jokeefe at 1:26 PM on November 13, 2010


Girls of Saint Martins College
posted by The Devil Tesla at 2:22 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


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