This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #192: Common People by Pulp.
If you think back a couple of decades ago, one of the most popular reality-based TV shows in America was a show starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie called, “The Simple Life”. The premise of that show was that billionaire hotel heiress, Hilton, along with the daughter of recording star, Lionel Ritchie, would tour America as rich girls who were trying to live the simple life that most, ordinary, common Americans lived. The two ladies played the show as a comedy. Whether that was intentional or not, I don’t know. But, what I do know is that they ended up making fun of the very people who were kind enough to share their lives with them. I always thought the show and, in fact, the idea of the show, was cruel. There was a term coined as a result of the phenomenon of the rich seeking pleasure by pretending to be poor and that term was “social tourism” or “slumming”. It was this idea of mocking “social tourism” that sparked Jarvis Cocker, lead singer of the band called, “Pulp” to write his band’s most famous song called, “Common People”. Let’s find out all about Britpop’s #1 rated song of all-time, shall we?
In the mid 1990s, Grunge music was taking America by storm, with bands like Nirvana taking the lead. Many people in the UK found the songs of the Grunge bands to be depressing and so, a movement was launched by the British Music Press to create a counter-balance from their end and so, “Britpop” was formed. There were four main bands who generated hits during the short era of Britpop: Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp. Oasis may have had the most hit songs and left the longest lasting legacy but, critics and fans all agree that “Common People” by Pulp was, in fact, the #1 Britpop song of them all. You may recall that in several posts, I have made reference to a band whose lead singer starts his performance of a song by stating that he is fine if people only remember him for this one song…because it is a really good song…well, “Common People” is that song and Jarvis Cocker is the man who said those words. You will see that performance when we get to the video for this song, below.
Jarvis Cocker wrote this song based upon a meeting he had at St. Martins College, during an Art course, with a young Greek girl (who ended up marrying a high-ranking government official back in Greece and who, of course, came from money). Cocker overheard this young girl speaking about what fun it would be to engage in some “social tourism” while in England. Needless to say, Cocker, who came from a working class background, didn’t see the humour in this rich girl mocking the hardworking people he had grown up around and so, he wrote this scathing rebuke that came to known as “Common People”. In the song, he starts by having the girl say that she wants to meet “Common People” like him and live the lifestyle. He isn’t sure about it but agrees because he wants to sleep with her. In the end, the point of view in the song changes from the girl to Cocker’s character, as he delivers a stirring defence of the common people of the UK. It isn’t exactly “Les Miz” but, it is a rousing song in the same vein and captured the hearts of listeners and concert-goers all over England as a result.
Pulp had some other, minor hits during their career but, by far and away, their biggest success came with “Common People”. The video I will post is from their performance at the Reading Festival in 2011. What a great performance! Wow! “Common People” starts slow. It has some moments when Cocker’s character makes asides to the audinece in whispery tones. But, once his indignation begins to rise, this song roars to life; picking up speed and volume as it goes along. It is a real showstopper of a song. As a bit of trivia, the real hero for me in this performance is the keyboardist who, apparently, has arthritis and yet, manages to hold the same note all throughout this song. Well done, Candida!
So, please enjoy Pulp’s greatest hit, Britpop’s #1 rated song and one of the best defenses of those of us living ordinary lives, that you are likely to hear. Here is “Common People” by Pulp. Have fun and remember, as Cocker says, “Nobody likes a tourist”. Enjoy, anyway.
The link to the video for the song, “Common People” by Pulp, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Pulp, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the best of Grunge and Brit Pop and everything else in between. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.