The title of Pulp's magnum opus can be taken in two ways. It could just be a slightly tongue-in-cheek comment on their own brilliance, but if you've heard Common People, you've probably realised that, hey, the title of its parent album doubles as a reference to social classes, too! Different classes rub up against each other many times over the course of this record; DC's Wikipedia entry suggests that "the British social class system...was a theme of some of the songs on the album", but today I'm going to argue, track by track, that there's a tiny class war being fought on every song. No exceptions.
A pretty straightforward one to start off with: you've got the nerds like Jarvis Cocker, and you've got the thickos who terrorise him. They daren't go into town, they perpetually afraid of getting "a smack in the mouth", but Jarv & Co are determined to turn the tables with "the one thing we've got more of...and that's our minds!" It's brain versus brawn, simple as that.
- Pencil Skirt
I've read one interpretation of Pencil Skirt which suggests that the song's protagonist is, in fact, a dildo. I reckon it's just a guy who's seeing an engaged woman, providing her with something wild and bad and fun to make up for the fact that her husband-to-be is a little ho-hum. She feels bad about cheating, but he doesn't care - he comes over anyway and gives her the rough love that her fiancé can't provide. He's a different class of lover; it's a battle between dull-yet-reliable husband material and fierce, adulterous pleasure, and the woman is struggling to pick a winner.
- Common People
The class war in this one is kind of self-evident, so let's just have a listen and remind ourselves of what a great song this is:
- I Spy
I've never been entirely sure of what's going on in this song, but here's my best guess: the narrator is a proud working-class chap, and he's kind of annoyed that his former best friend has gone on to become a successful, wealthy businessman. He feels betrayed that his pal "made it out" while he stayed "stuck" in his humdrum existence, and so he takes revenge on his chum by shagging his wife. The lyrics are packed with disdain for middle-class BS; witness this little excerpt:"Grass is something you smoke, birds are something you shag, take your year in Provence and shove it up your ass!"
We then hear him talking to the wife, offering to "take her from this sickness, dinner parties and champagne" and make her body "sing again". Much like the narrator of Pencil Skirt, he's offering unhinged pleasure instead of the comfortable, boring lifestyle to which she's accustomed.
- Disco 2000
My favourite example of the 'class war' theme. The big paradox of this song is summed up in four lines:"Your house was very small, with wood chip on the wall, when I came 'round to call, you didn't notice me at all"
Deborah (deb-uh-ruh) is a working class lass, but while her house is far smaller and more squalid than what the protagonist is used to, she's still immeasurably more popular than he is. School life has a social system all its own, and while our man is probably pretty well-off in his home life, he's a complete nobody in the school yard. In the musical Blood Brothers, twin boys live completely different lives after one is adopted by a rich couple and the other is left with his working-class mum; Deborah and Jarvis were born within an hour of each other, and yet he can never hope to reach the same social standing as her.
- Live Bed Show
Financial situations aside, one of the biggest class divides is the one that lies between those who are getting laid and those who aren't. The lady in this song made the uncomfortable transition from one side to the other, and she didn't go in the right direction. Landing in the singles bin is not much fun at all, and given how bland her life sounds now ("if this show was televised, no-one would watch it"), she might as well be in the poorhouse.
I'll tackle the second half of the album on Monday. Brace yourselves - it gets a bit complicated on Side 2.
Click here for part two.
Click here for part two.