Pulp’s breakthrough in the mid-1990s saw the band quickly evolve from cult Sheffield heroes, a group that had been on the grind for over a decade, into a headline set on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage. In 1995 Pulp and had become an unstoppable force as this footage of the band performing ‘Common People’ in London from the same year proves.
When people discuss the topic of Britpop it is very much a discussion of the age-old—and rather dull—discussion of ‘Blur or Oasis?’ but Pulp was just as important in defining the ’90s musical landscape. The band undoubtedly brought something fresh into the mix and the Yorkshire outfit’s significance is often unfairly overlooked.
The Jarvis Cocker led group shared their debut album It all the way back in 1983 to very little fanfare. With 1987 effort Freaks and 1992’s Separations also failing to chart anywhere in the world, it would require more than a decade of grafting for things began to finally change. The release of ‘O.U.’ through legendary Sheffield label Warp Records, which was made Melody Maker song of the week, resulted in the band gaining their much-deserved break when Island Records came calling.
Next came 1994’s His ‘N’ Her’s which not only spawned the band’s first Top 10 album but also featured the mercurial singles ‘Babies’ and ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’, tracks which helped the band achieve a nomination for the much revered Mercury Music Prize.
After waiting so long for commercial success, the band weren’t going to rest on their laurels when it was finally achieved. Returning in 1995 with the seminal record Different Class, Pulp had released an album which went on to sell over 1.3 million copies to date, reached number one and bettered His ‘n’ Her’s by claiming victory at the Mercury Music Prize.
To round off a triumphant year, the band performed a lap of honour with a run of seaside dates before Christmas in Bridlington, Blackpool and Bournemouth before finishing off in London for a two-night residency at Brixton Academy.
Typically, the band finished their sets with a jubilant 10-minute rendition of ‘Common People‘ which was elected as the lead single of Different Class. The track embodied everything that Pulp stood for whilst Cocker’s charming self-deprecating lyrics that resonated with people far and wide was on full show.
Cocker discussed the story behind the song to Uncut magazine in 2010: “It all started with me getting rid of a lot of albums at the Record And Tape Exchange in Notting Hill,” he commented. “With the store credit, I went into the second-hand instrument bit and bought this Casio keyboard. When you buy an instrument, you run home and want to write a song straight away. So I went back to my flat and wrote the chord sequence for ‘Common People,’ which isn’t such a great achievement because it’s only got three chords. I thought it might come in handy for our next rehearsal.”
He added: “Steve (Mackey, bass) started laughing and said, ‘It sounds like (Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s version of) ‘Fanfare For The Common Man.’ I always thought the word ‘common’ was an interesting thing. It would be used in ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’ as this idea of the noble savage, whereas it was a real insult in Sheffield to call someone ‘common.’ That set off memories of this girl that I met at college. She wanted to go and live in Hackney and be with the common people. She was from a well-to-do background, and there was me explaining that that would never work. I hated all that cobblers you got in films and magazines in which posh people would ‘slum it’ for a while. Once I got that narrative in my head it was very easy to write, lyrically.”
Take in Pulp in their pomp at Brixton Academy, below.