Music

Pulp - "Common People" (Singles Going Steady Classic)

This ageless anthem was one of those moments when the outsiders took over and everyone wanted in.

Ian King: "Common People" was, and still is, the cherry on top of the 1990s. It topped the year-end polls in 1995, it topped the decade-end polls when those came out, and it regularly tops the nostalgia polls that the British press regularly regurgitate. BBC 6 Music named it the "top Britpop anthem" in 2014. NME placed it at #1 in their 100 Best Tracks of the Nineties in 2012. In the US, it made #1 in a Rolling Stone reader's poll of the "10 Best Britpop Songs". It is one of the most witty, intelligent left-of-center pop songs to have ever achieved such widespread consensus. When all these readers and critics vote for it in whatever poll they are participating in on a given day, they can always rest assured they've done the right thing. "Common People" isn't simply a great song, it is an occasion. That synth streaking out of the sky is like the snare whack in "Like a Rolling Stone", signaling that a story is about to begin, and it will hold you through every word. Pulp had made a long career up to this point representing for the outsiders. They didn't change anything to get to this point, they just got better and better, and this ageless anthem was one of those moments when the outsiders took over and everyone wanted in. [10/10]

Morgan Y. Evans: This song is practically beyond classic. It is basically as close as European pop not already written by Morrissey got to perfecting reverse class warfare, taking to task bougies into "slumming" while ironically making Jarvis tabloid worthy. Don't worry Jarvis, there was room for you and Moz. It will sadly likely always go over the heads of American numbskulls how important a moment this song was in other parts of the world. I would kindly play this for everyone into the stars wearing grindcore patches movement but it is 2016 and even post modernism has been chewed up, digested, spit up and swallowed again. I'm not sure where or what that leaves us but at least we are all connected, if amalgamated as fuck yet somehow also more divided than ever. The world is shrinking but the stakes haven't shrunk. Let's try and have more empathy. Anyway, this is still one of the catchiest songs ever, in a good way. [10/10]

Emmanuel Elone: When the Britpop craze of the '90s began, who would've thought that the signature song of one of those bands would be a reflection on class and its effect on society? As a title, "Common People" is irony at its finest, since the entire song revolves around people who want to act like "common people" by having sex with lower-class persons and imagining an idealized, Hollywood version of poverty and struggle. So, yeah, the song's concept is about as unique as it gets, but the song itself is also nothing to laugh at. Jarvis Cocker might just be the only person who can pull this song off, with a voice that commands serious attention yet is sprinkled with just a hint of sarcasm and humor as well. It fits the guitars and drums as well, which -- while not anything out of the ordinary -- serve well as a backdrop to the story that the lyrics are trying to tell. So even though nobody would have imagined wanting to listen to a song that revolves around societal analysis, Pulp somehow achieved the impossible with "Common People". [8/10]

Evan Sawdey: No, this isn't Pulp's greatest song, but it is their most accessible, and perhaps that's good enough, because when the band rocked this during their iconic Glastonbury slot in 1995, it certainly felt like the biggest pop hit that the world had ever seen. Yes, it's about slumming and economic class structure and (of course) sex, but can you think of a pop single with a greater rising action in that entire decade? While Jarvis Cocker wrote poppier songs ("Do You Remember the First Time?"), funnier songs ("Bad Cover Version"), and arguably more outright gorgeous songs ("A Little Soul"), this remains the finest distillation of their entire aesthetic, and for extremely good reason. This is the Pulp we got but absolutely didn't deserve, and we, as mere common people, are all the better for it, 'cos blasting this song is just something that common people do. [10/10]

Pryor Stroud: Next to the other Britpop mega-stars - Oasis, Blur, and Suede - Pulp and their headline-grabbing frontman Jarvis Cocker seemed anomalous, like left-field eccentrics living among thrash-brained revelers. Drawing more from Bowie-era glam than Beatles-era pop, they crafted a distinctive genre-defying indie rock sound that defined the direction of British popular music for years after their dissolution. "Common People", while perhaps not their best song, seems like their most emblematic. Narratively dense, catchy, and restlessly dynamic, it holds your attention through its nearly six minute duration, and the final, rafters-shaking chorus resounds in your memory long after the song ends. [9/10]

Chis Ingalls: Hard to believe that Jarvis Cocker and his merry band of misfits foisted this on us more than 20 years ago. It still stands up today and will continue to do so for a long time because it's an edgy, brilliantly conceived indie pop single -- Cocker's lyrics about class warfare on the dating scene have the intelligence and wordplay of Elvis Costello and the sarcasm and dry wit of Morrissey. The song starts quietly and doesn't just build up: it positively soars. Often identified as one of the most essential Britpop singles, it seems unfair and inaccurate to tag it that way. It stands apart from that ultimately dated genre -- it's too good to label. [10/10]

Jedd Beaudoin: This is one of my all-time favorite songs. The insistent rhythm, the lyric, the vocal performance, all of it, top to bottom. It’s one of those rare tracks that I finish listening to and then immediately want to hear again. It’s a song that, at the end of the day, is about slumming. Whatever it’s about nothing changes the way I feel when the chorus kicks in and I start singing along. Quite the mood elevator, this one. [10/10]

Chad Miller: I like this song, but probably not as much as I'm supposed to. It's kind of funny, and the ending is a blast of energy, but it doesn't really stand out to me much past that. Perhaps it greatly shaped future music, and that's why it doesn't seem all that special to me so many years later. Regardless, I did find it to be a really catchy song though, even if I wasn't blown away. [8/10]

SCORE: 9.38

Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.