Common People (song)

Common People (song)
"Common People"
Single by Pulp
from the album Different Class
B-side "Underwear"
Released 22 May 1995
Format vinyl record (7"/12"), cassette, 2 CDs
Recorded 1995
Genre Britpop
Length 5:50
Label Polygram
Writer(s) Nick Banks, Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey & Russell Senior
Producer Chris Thomas
Pulp singles chronology
"The Sisters EP"
"Common People"
"Mis-Shapes / Sorted for E's & Wizz"

"Common People" is a song by English alternative rock band Pulp. It was released as a single in 1995, reaching number two on the UK singles chart. It also appears on the band's 1995 album Different Class. The song is about those who were perceived by the songwriter as wanting to be "like common people" and who ascribe glamour to poverty. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as slumming or "class tourism". The song was written by Nick Banks, Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey and Russell Senior. In 2004, a cover version featuring William Shatner and produced by Ben Folds brought the song to new audiences outside Europe.



The inspiration for the song came from a Greek fellow student Sophia Phoca[citation needed], who Pulp singer/songwriter Jarvis Cocker knew at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Taking this inspiration, the narrator explains that his female acquaintance can "never be like common people", because even if she gets a flat where "roaches climb the wall" ultimately, "if [she] called [her] dad he could stop it all", in contrast to the true common people who can only "watch [their] lives slide out of view". In his lyric Cocker embellished the situation for dramatic effect [1] - in real life the woman in question said she "wanted to move to Hackney and live like 'the common people'", but in the song her character also declares: "I want to sleep with common people like you." A BBC Three documentary[2] failed to correctly locate the woman, who, Cocker stated, could have been in any fine art course but that "sculpture" sounded better. The lyrics were in part a response by Cocker, who usually focused on the introspective and emotional aspects of pop, to more politically-minded members of the band like Russell Senior. Furthermore, Cocker felt that 'slumming' was becoming a dominant theme in popular culture and this contributed to the single's rushed release. Cocker said "it seemed to be in the air, that kind of patronising social voyeurism... I felt that of 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."[3]


Cocker wrote the chorus melody on a small Casiotone MT-500 he bought from Music and Video Exchange in Notting Hill. He said it "seemed kind of catchy but I didn't think too much about it", while it reminded Steve Mackey of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's version of Fanfare for the Common Man. Eventually, the riff was championed by keyboardist Candida Doyle who recognised its importance. Cocker then wrote the lyrics inspired by his time in London.

The band realised they had "written something that had slight pretensions to anthemic" and wanted a production value that matched this description. Chris Thomas was chosen and the final single was produced in two weeks using over 40 tracks of recording with many layers of synthesiser added in the creation of the record. To keep the single at around four minutes, the final verses that begin "Like a dog lying in a corner" were omitted, although they appear on the album version. These include the peak of the crescendo where Cocker reduces to an intense whisper and describes the life of "common people".[2]

Music video

The accompanying music video featured an appearance from actress Sadie Frost and a dance routine improvised by Cocker on the day of shooting.[2] The video also features a homage to the Eleanor Rigby sequence in the film Yellow Submarine, with everyday people stuck in repeating loops lasting less than a second. For location shooting, it used Stepney's Nightclub on Commercial Road in the East End of London. The nightclub still has its original décor, including a 70s dance floor, and was described as a "cultural icon" when under threat of demolition in 2007.[4]

Sleeve Photograph

The Common People CD was released both as a 'day-time CD' (with the sleeve of the CD showing a day-time cafe picture), and as a 'night-time CD' (with the sleeve of the CD showing a night-time cafe picture).

Four posters available on the 2011 tour showed a classic Pulp record sleeve, with photography notes beneath. For Common People (day time) it read:

LOCATION: Frank's Sandwich Bar, Addison Bridge Place, London W4 (eat-in and takeaway available)
TIME: 4:05pm, Wednesday 30th November 1994
CAMERA: 1979 Hasselblad 500CM with 80mm lens
FILM STOCK: Fuji Super G-400 (pushed 2 stops)
DESIGN: The Designer's Republic™
ORIGINAL SLEEVE NOTES: "There is a war in progress, don't be a casualty. The time to decide whose side you're on is here. Choose wisely. Stay alive in '95."


"Common People" was Pulp's most popular single, and became a classic in the UK soon after its release. The song has featured on more than sixteen compilation albums since its original release[5] and in 2006, an hour-long documentary on the song's composition and cultural impact was broadcast on BBC Three. In 2007, NME magazine placed "Common People" at number three in its list of the 50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever. Rock: The Rough Guide said that on Different Class, Cocker was "[s]tripping away the glamour from Britpop's idealization of the working class" (it had been performed on a TV programme called Britpop Now), and described the song as the centrepiece of the album and "one of the singles of the 90s." [6] In a poll by the Triple J in July 2009, the Pulp original was placed at number 81 in their "Hottest 100 Of All Time" from over 500,000 votes cast.[7] In September 2010 Pitchfork Media listed "Common People" at #2 on their list of the Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s.[8]

Track listing

  1. "Common People (7" Edit)"
  2. "Underwear"
  1. "Common People"
  2. "Underwear"
  3. "Common People (Motiv8 Mix)"
  4. "Common People (Vocoda Mix)"
  1. "Common People (Full Length Version)"
  2. "Underwear"
  3. "Common People (7" Edit)"
  1. "Common People"
  2. "Razzmatazz (Acoustic Version)"
  3. "Dogs Are Everywhere (Acoustic Version)"
  4. "Joyriders" (Acoustic Version)

Other Pulp versions

Different versions, including the recording from Pulp's headline act at Glastonbury Festival, a "Vocoda" mix and a radically different "Motiv8 club mix", also appeared on the "Sorted for E's & Wizz" singles.[9] These later featured on the 2-disc version of Different Class released in 2006.

William Shatner cover version

In 2004, Ben Folds produced a cover version of "Common People" for William Shatner's album Has Been that brought the song to a new international audience, it previously being largely unknown in America.[10] This version begins with an electronic keyboard Britpop or disco sound, but quickly moves into a drum kit and guitar-heavy indie rock style. Shatner's spoken-word presentation of Cocker's tirade against class tourism surprised reviewers who were familiar with the fact that some of Shatner's previous work had been widely mocked.[10] [11]

Folds abruptly replaces Shatner's voice with that of "bitter Cockney" singer Joe Jackson, and then alternates and blends the two into a duet, bringing along a large chorus of young voices on the line "sing along with the common people" and finally replacing Shatner and Jackson in the song's concluding crescendo. This version won critical praise and widespread appeal and was the centre of a popular "viral video" phenomenon on YouTube which took the form of a wide variety of user-interpreted videos which used it as a soundtrack.[citation needed]

In a listeners' poll by Australian radio station Triple J, this cover version was ranked number 21 on their Hottest 100 of 2004.

In 2007 a ballet called Common People, set to the songs from Has Been, was created by Margo Sappington and performed by the Milwaukee Ballet.

Other covers

UK Dark Wave band Libitina covered the song as "Gothic People", with subtly altered lyrics referencing clichés of the goth subculture.[citation needed]

In the Indian-themed BBC sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, a parody called "Hindi People" is sung. Channel Four satire show Bremner, Bird and Fortune showed a version with David Cameron singing about how he wants the votes of "common people".

Australian music-based quiz show Spicks and Specks uses five rounds of different games chosen from a large repertoire of options, each named after a well-known song. One of these is "Common People", in which each team is given three celebrities and must figure out what they have in common.

Tori Amos has performed this song numerous times live in concert, on her "Original Sinsuality", "Summer of Sin" and "American Doll Posse" tours.

Catalan band Manel has also covered the song, translating the title into "La Gent Normal".[12]

Scouting For Girls performed an acoustic version of the song at V Festival 2010.[13]

My Chemical Romance performed a live version of the song on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge in 2011.

Chart positions

Chart (1995) Peak
UK Singles Chart[14] 2
French Singles Chart[15] 49
Swiss Singles Chart[16] 42
Swedish Singles Chart[17] 4
Norwegian Singles Chart[18] 5


  1. ^ BBC Radio 2 article and audio of September 1995 interview
  2. ^ a b c The Story of Pulp's Common People. BBC TV. 2006-01-21. Archived from the original on 8 February 2006. 
  3. ^ Phil Sutcliffe, "Common As Muck!", Q Magazine, March 1996
  4. ^ Saini, Angela (13 April 2007). "Stepney’s nightclub under threat". BBC London. 
  5. ^ Discography at
  6. ^ Buckley, Jonathan; Ellingham, Mark, eds (1996). Rock: The Rough Guide. Rough Guides. p. 699. 
  7. ^ "Hottest 100 - Of All Time". triple j. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  8. ^ Pitchfork Top 200 Tracks of the 90s
  9. ^ Discography at
  10. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Has Been: William Shatner". All Music Guide. Retrieved 8 October 2009. 
  11. ^ David James Young. "William Shatner: Has Been". sputnik music. 
  12. ^ "La Gent Normal", by Manel. Videoclip performed live at Boqueria market, Barcelona.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ "Pulp — Common People". Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "Pulp — Common People" (in French). Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  16. ^ "Pulp — Common People" (in German). Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  17. ^ "Pulp — Common People". Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  18. ^ "Pulp — Common People". Retrieved 29 June 2011. 

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