“Common People” by Pulp is probably the consensus pick for best British pop single of the 1990s, and there’s little doubt that not many songs share its exultant and biting qualities. Brimming with intelligence and anger, “Common People” has become the definitive Britpop anthem, securing Jarvis’ status as a rock and roll dandy of the first order forevermore.
Pulp had four albums before Different Class, and two after, but even if you were to pay close attention to “The Story of ‘Common People,’” a 2006 BBC documentary about the song, you might be forgiven for not noticing. The documentary, directed by Paul Grant and Colin Stone, ratchets up the world-historical importance of the single, portentously giving credit to keyboardist Candida Doyle for identifying the seeds of greatness in the tinkly melody around which the song was built, even as drummer Nick Banks and bassist Steve Mackey rather thought that it was “rubbish.”
The program probably inflates the significance of the song, but has the sense to pad out its hour with home footage of Jarvis as a teenager and snippets from a 1994 episode on the U.K. show Pop Quiz on which Cocker made a memorable impression. Towards the middle of the program, the high-stakes voiceover dies down a bit and the song’s composer finally weighs in: “Part of the song is that I am sexually attracted to this woman, as well. So you know, it’s not as cut and dried. I didn’t want to kill ‘er, I wanted to shag ‘er.”
In effect the show is a compressed history of Pulp, and that’s always welcome. The band visits its old rehearsal space, an attic in some sort of ceramics warehouse, where they immediately discover what appears to be a handwritten lyrics sheet for “Seconds” (a marvelous, face-scaldingly bleak song off of The Sisters EP) and a package of sugar that appears to have been used by the band in 1995 (which is the same year “Common People” came out!!!!!).
Interestingly, “Common People” never made it to #1 on the U.K. charts. The phenomenal success of a cover of “Unchained Melody” by Robson & Jerome (featuring the actor who would later become Bronn on Game of Thrones) locked it out. (As of the filming of the show, Jarvis’ mum is still pissed off about it, God bless her.)
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Common People’: Identity of slumming Greek socialite in Pulp song revealed at last?