"Sorted for E's and Whizz" was released in September 1995 in a double-A-sided single with "Mis-Shapes" and reached #2 in the UK singles chart - Pulp's second successive #2 single, after "Common People
" in May 1995.
The song and lyrics refer to a rave, "somewhere in a field in Hampshire" and getting hold of ecstasy (E's) and speed (whizz), before the brutal comedown off taking the drugs the following morning. Singer and lead songwriter Jarvis Cocker noted the title came from how a friend had recounted her experience of the famous Stone Roses gig at Spike Island: "She'd been to Spike Island when the Stone Roses were playing, which she said was full of dodgy blokes walking round going, 'Is everybody sorted for Es and whizz?' The phrase stuck in my head, and since we were replacing the Stone Roses at Glastonbury, it all seemed to fit in perfectly."
Cocker has expanded on the story behind "Sorted for E's and Whizz" several times. In an April 1996 interview with Q magazine, he went into greater detail: "The story behind 'Sorted For E's & Wizz' is that when I went to London, living in a squat, I kept hearing about acid house parties and eventually I went to one in a hangar at this Santa Pod dragster raceway. We did some Ecstasy. The whole thing blew my head off. It was magical, especially because I'd left Sheffield where I felt I had the measure of the place and I wasn't sure about London – and my girlfriend had left me, just to get that one in as well. We went to quite a few raves after that, though it was never as good as the first. In the end it came full circle: the one at Santa Pod where I got split up from my friends, as it says in the song, and suddenly all the people who'd been going 'nice one' and 'empathy,' when you're trying to get a lift home they're all 'No mate, sorry mate, no chance.' The 'common people' goes out the window then."
In a December 1995 interview with Melody Maker, Cocker explained about the song: "Me being a naive get, when I first went to raves I thought there was some change in people's attitudes going on, that people had decided that they'd got fed up of boozing and looking for birds and fighting, that they'd prefer to go out and have a good time and be nice to other people. And 'Sorted' is actually about that disillusionment, that one minute. People'd be shaking your hands, saying, 'Yeah, all right, geezer, you're my best mate,' and then as soon as the thing had finished and you were trying to thumb a lift off these same people, they'd be like, 'F--k off'!'"
Just before the release of the single, the Daily Mirror newspaper launched a campaign to have the single pulled from sale, leading with the headline 'BAN THIS SICK STUNT'. The controversy surrounded the CD's cover which carried an illustrated guide to making a special envelope to hide the drug speed - the 'whizz' of the title. Journalist Kate Thornton led a 'crusade' against the single - in the original article there were condemnations from DJ Neil Fox, who stated that he would refuse to play the song on his show, and the father of a young man who had recently died after taking speed at a rave. Under this pressure, the band agreed to change the sleeve to protect the release of the single. The Daily Mirror campaign, of course backfired and built anticipation for the single - pre-sales increased thanks to the coverage.
Jarvis Cocker released a statement two days after the original article in response to the outrage: "'Sorted' is not a pro-drugs song... Nowhere on the sleeve does it say you are supposed to put drugs in here but I understand the confusion... I wouldn't want anything we do to encourage people to take drugs because they aren't a solution or an answer to anything. I don't think anyone who listens to 'Sorted' would come away thinking it had a pro drugs message. If they did I would say they had misinterpreted it."
Cocker expanded on his feelings on the controversy in an April 1996 interview with Q magazine: "It was the day after my birthday (his 33rd). When those kind of people take an interest in you, it's quite bad. They're very immoral. They rang up a bloke whose son had died at a rave a few weeks earlier and they're not offering sympathy, they just want a quote. Obviously he's going to say it's terrible because anything that reminds him of the way his son died is going to upset him. It was a horror story to be brought into the tabloid world. But it sold us loads of records."
"That song has been totally misinterpreted," Cocker told Melody Maker of the controversy. "The whole thing it's trying to say is that no matter how greater time you have on drugs, you know that it's been artificially induced. You've introduced a chemical into your brain and that's what makes it such a hollow experience. It's sad that you've had to rely on something other than yourself. I would like to think that you could arrive at that pitch of excitement on your own. And of course, there's that other feeling, the idea that however great you're feeling you want to make it that much better. Which is another danger. It's like the first rave we ever went to was absolutely brilliant. It really knocked me out. But then after that it was never the same again. You're searching for that illusory thing, where you're always trying to get back to that state, but you know you never will. And you start to see through it, notice how it's a bit frayed at the edges. And that's what that song's about. Drugs aren't a magical thing. Just chemicals that leave you feeling hollow."