This song is based on a girl lead singer Jarvis Cocker met at St. Martin's on the sculpture course. Jarvis revealed that nothing actually ever happened between them and that in fact, he just overheard her say that she would like to live in the East end of London. Some believe that the song reflects Jarvis' thoughts, as he does not come from a working class background.
As this was a catchy pop song, Jarvis Cocker wanted to come up with a dance routine to go with it, which can be seen in the video.
Rachel - London, England, for above 2
This was the commercial breakthrough for Pulp, who were formed by the then 15-year-old Jarvis Cocker in 1978. In Q magazine, Cocker said: "It was clear 'Common People' was a significant song. Eight other songs on the album were written while it was in the charts. Knowing that you had a mass audience for once in your life gave me the confidence to bring certain things out of myself."
The video to the song featured Sadie Frost and was produced by Jarvis himself. He has a degree in film-making from St. Martins College of Art.
Richard - Newport, United Kingdom
Jarvis Cocker told the story of the song to Uncut magazine August 2010: "It all started with me getting rid of a lot of albums at the Record And Tape Exchange in Notting Hill. 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."
Cocker told Uncut about the Greek girl who inspired the song: "On that BBC Three documentary (2006's The story Of… Pulp's Common People), the researchers went through all the people who were contemporaries of mine at St Martins and they tried to track her down. They showed me a picture and it definitely wasn't her. I dunno. Maybe she wasn't Greek. Maybe I misheard her."
Pulp debuted this at the Reading Festival in 1994. Jarvis Cocker recalled in Isle of Noises
: "I was up trying to finish the words the night before. If a song doesn't work you know after about 20 seconds but you've got to finish it, five minutes or whatever, then feel really embarrassed."
The song only made it to #2 in the UK charts. It was denied the top spot by Robson Green and Jerome Flynn's version of "Unchained Melody
Jarvis Cocker told a funny story of the day it was revealed at #2: "The Sunday they announced the charts it was presented live in Birmingham, and all the chart acts had to mime to their songs. We didn't know what position we were, so we waited in this back room for them to call us. So time went on, it got to 6 p.m. and everyone was getting shaky. I went to the toilet to put my contact lenses in, but I hadn't rinsed them properly, so my eye went bright red. Anyway, we had to go on, and I was still in quite extreme physical pain, and my eye was streaming, so people obviously thought I was crying because we were #2! And, of course, by that time my makeup was running and looked like non-set cement... It'd been raining, so there were big puddles in front of the stage, and just as 'Common People' reached its, erm, climactic chorus, I jumped off the monitor quite spectacularly, as you do, landed in a puddle, slipped and fell flat on me arse! So I'm left thinking, 'F--k me, this is meant to be your ultimate triumph, and you're flat on your back in a puddle, your eye killing you, face falling off, on a wet Sunday afternoon in Birmingham!' Not quite what I'd been dreaming of for 20 years."
Initially the song didn't go down too well with Cocker's bandmates when he presented it to them - drummer Nick Banks admitted during an appearance on BBC 5 live Breakfast that when he first heard Jarvis Cocker's initial demo, he thought it like "a tuneless dirge." He only began to appreciate this song when the band started recording in a studio.
Bassist Steve Mackey noted that it reminded him of the 1977 Emerson, Lake & Palmer song "Fanfare for the Common Man." However, keyboardist Candida Doyle saw the potential in the song from the start: "I just thought it was great straight away. It must have been the simplicity of it, and you could just tell it was a really powerful song then."
In an April 1996 interview with Q magazine, Jarvis Cocker went further into the genesis of the theme behind "Common People": "I really felt – especially after being out of step for so long – if you had a song that was in the right place at the right time then you'd be an idiot to let that moment pass. It seemed to be in the air, that kind of patronizing social voyeurism, slumming it, the idea that there's a glamour about low-rent, low-life. I felt that off Parklife, for example, or Natural Born Killers – there is that noble savage notion. But if you walk round a council estate, there's plenty of savagery and not much nobility going on. In Sheffield, if you say someone's common, then you're saying they're vulgar, coarse, rough-arsed. The kind of person who has corned-beef legs from being too close to the gas fire. So that's what attracted me to calling it 'Common People,' the double meaning, 'Oh, you're common as muck."
The song was actually released before the album it was on was completed - more of a rarity in today's music world. There was a good reason for that, as Cocker explained to Q magazine in 1996: "It was written in about June of '94 and the first time we played it it became clear to me it was a significant song. But then we had trouble writing the rest of the album. If you think, 'Oh God, my livelihood depends on this chord sequence!,' it can come out a bit stilted. In the end we forced Island to release 'Common People' as a single before the rest of the album was done. The other eight songs were done while 'Common People' was in the Top 10. That state of excitement, knowing for once in your life you had a mass audience, gave us the confidence, certainly gave me the confidence, to bring certain things out of myself."
Many bands come to resent the song that they are most known for, but evidently Pulp have never had that problem with "Common People" - at their comeback show at Reading Festival 2011, Cocker noted before they performed the song that "if Pulp are only ever remembered for this song, I don't care, it's a good song. Black Lace are only ever remembered for 'Agadoo,' could be a lot worse!"
According to Greek newspaper, The Athens Voice, the identity of the mystery Greek girl portrayed by Jarvis Cocker in the song is Danae Stratou, the wife of the Greek finance minister. The newspaper reported in April 2015 that Stratou studied at St. Martins College of Art and Design between 1983-1988, the same period that Cocker enrolled in a film studies course at the London university.