Oh jeez, where to begin with this one, huh? Well, without this song, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Pulp. This blog certainly wouldn’t exist, and the band probably wouldn’t be currently embarking on a rapturously received reunion tour.
Seventeen years after its release, “Common People” is still a tricky thing to unpack. It applies the rage of punk rock to fabulous guitar-pop. It handily encompasses two of Jarvis’ main obsessions – class and sex. The song does this through the story of a Greek art student who expresses to Jarvis a desire to live fashionably poor. This inspires in him a brilliant, sustained rant against anyone who would think to live a life of working-class desperation casually, something for a curious outsider to try on like a trendy, faux-worn shirt.
If I am completely honest, I can’t describe this song better than this blog post by British music writer Dorian Lynskey. I would like to amplify, however, that the key line of the song isn’t when the girl says “I want to sleep with common people like you.” It’s near the end, when Jarvis, at the end of his rope, snaps, “You will never understand.” It’s pained and righteous, even if (or because) in some ways Jarvis’ own feelings about the working class are as confused as the girl’s.
“Common People” is also an example of a band seizing its moment at just the right instant. There are of course many, many YouTube videos related to this song, but here is the band’s famous rendition of the song at Glastonbury in 1995. The BBC documentary, The Story of “Common People” is excellent and required viewing for any Pulp enthusiast.