Pulp

 

Pulp photo 1

Pulp (l-r): Candida Doyle, Nick Banks, Jarvis Cocker,
Mark Webber, Russell Senior, Steve Mackey

 

 

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Pulp playlist

 

 

Contributor: Jonathan Westwood

It’s happened three times. So far.

The first time was in late December 1978: I was seven years old, in a hot, sandy country 4,000 miles from home, and I listened properly to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline for the first time.

The last time was on 13 February 2006, in Manchester, when I was 34. And I’ll say more about that another time.

The middle time was in March 1994. Late one night Channel 4 broadcast a short documentary entitled Do You Remember The First Time? It opened with a shot of some grass. The narrator – Jarvis Cocker – drawled: “The patch of grass that you can see on the screen is in Weston Park, Sheffield. It was filmed at around four o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in February … This is the patch of grass where, on a summer’s evening sometime during 1983, I first had sex.” Sir, you have my attention. Proceed.

In the film, John Peel, Vic Reeves, Alison Steadman, Terry Hall, Vivian Stanshall and others related tales of losing their virginity. Immediately after the film, they played the nausea-inducing video to Do You Remember The First Time?, the new single by Pulp. And that’s when it happened.

Three times. Three knees to the nuts; three punches to the solar plexus. Three times I could say: “Yes. That. There. This is some music, this is an artist/band, that is going to change my life.”

I’ve chased that rush ever since first experiencing it in December 1978. And let me tell you: three times in 44 years is a pisspoor return on the emotional, financial and temporal investment I’ve put into pop music in that period.

It is alien to me that there are people walking the planet unfamiliar with the music of Jarvis Cocker and Pulp. Logically I know this is true. But Pulp’s music is so woven into the fabric of my essence that I cannot really conceive of it not having played an equally significant part in other people’s lives for the past 28 years.

It remains my contention that Pulp’s Common People is the last entry into the ranks of those few singles known by folk of all ages; a song everyone can sing along to; a record that fills wedding reception dance floors; a song fit to stand alongside Hey Jude and Heroes in a celebration of British pop music at an Olympics opening or closing ceremony; the last single to benefit from the effects of the analogue monoculture.

I might be prepared to give Gen Z a pass. But if you were sentient during the band’s mid-90s imperial phase: how the hell did you miss Pulp? Actually, don’t tell me – I don’t think we could be friends anyway.

 

So how do you introduce someone to one of the two or three most brilliant and important British bands since The Beatles? To the greatest English lyricist since Ian Dury? Do you go with the big hits, the singles I assume everyone knows? Do you go wilfully obscure and mine deep cuts from the lesser-known albums? Can you walk a happy middle ground with just ten tracks?

If you ignore Toppermost’s ten tracks rule, it’s quite easy. There is only one way, with four steps, to properly introduce yourself to and familiarise yourself with Pulp:

1. Listen to Pulp’s Mercury Prize-nominated 1994 album His ‘n’ Hers in full, in sequence.
2. Listen to Pulp’s Mercury Prize-winning 1995 album Different Class in full, in sequence.
3. Listen to Pulp’s 1998 album This Is Hardcore, in full, in sequence. (Except Party Hard. That’s shit.)
4. Listen to Pulp’s 2001 album We Love Life, in full, in sequence.

That’s it. Come back to me when you’ve done that and I’ll hold your hand and talk you down.

But just ten tracks? From a band that released seven albums? And operated on and off (mostly off, to be fair) for 35 years? That’s a whole different ballgame. In attempting to give it a broadly chronological go, we’ve wound up with six singles and four deeper cuts.

 

Babies was Pulp’s first exceptional single. Originally released without commercial success in 1992, a remixed version eventually became their first top 20 hit in 1994 as the lead track on The Sisters EP. Earlier singles and albums showed promise; Babies is where the band’s touch paper was lit and Cocker truly found his métier, hiding in a wardrobe to spy on his girlfriend’s older sister. The track was later included on His ‘n’ Hers.

Earlier in 1994, the aforementioned slice of genius Do You Remember the First Time?, also an exploration of sex, also taken from His ‘n’ Hers, became the band’s first top 40 hit.

The first single from Different Class was the greatest single of the 1990s, Common People, prevented from achieving chart-topping status in June 1995 by Robson and Jerome’s execrable version of Unchained Melody. The album’s version, with the glorious scabrous final verse omitted from the single edit, is just shy of six minutes of sonic delight.

Different Class’s second single, which also peaked at number two, was a double A-side. One cut, Mis-Shapes – a delightful ode to social misfits and outcasts – is something of a lost classic, being left off the band’s compilation album Hits. The other track, Sorted For E’s And Wizz, exquisitely deconstructs the superficiality of drug culture in the late 80s/early 90s warehouse scene. This time Pulp were denied a number one by the appalling Simply Red’s unspeakable Fairground.

The third single released from Different Class, in a slightly remixed version with additional lyrics in the bridge, was Disco 2000. A delicious slice of indie disco with guitars that more than nod in T. Rex’s direction, it tells the tale of the teenage Cocker falling for his childhood friend Deborah and became the band’s third consecutive top 10 hit.

 

Something Changed, the final single from Different Class became its fourth top 10 hit. The song’s music first emerged in the mid-80s; Cocker’s second set of lyrics salute the importance of randomness in the course of our lives.

Anne Dudley provided characteristically sumptuous string arrangements for both Something Changed and its sublime fellow album track F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. A gritty look at the early stages of a relationship, it’s high on musical theatricality and lyrical realism: “This isn’t chocolate boxes and roses. It’s dirtier than that.”

Different Class’s closing track Bar Italia is a true gem. Our rheumy-eyed narrator, coming down from an all-nighter, lurches through the early morning streets of London to the titular café in Soho’s Frith Street, “where other broken people go”.

Like A Friend was neither a single nor featured on a Pulp album, instead appearing on the soundtrack to 1998’s Great Expectations, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft and Robert De Niro. To quote Stereogum’s Ryan Leas, this “exultant” song’s lyrics are “everything you ever wanted to unleash at someone who’s let you down again and again”. In some ways it’s a companion piece to McAlmont and Butler’s majestic Yes. (Like A Friend would eventually appear as a bonus track on the 2006 deluxe edition of Pulp’s This Is Hardcore album, also first released in 1998.)

The band’s final album We Love Life was produced by Scott Walker and disappointed commercially, but may be their best after Different Class. Its two singles, Sunrise and Bad Cover Version, both very nearly made this list. But the album’s jewel in the crown is The Night That Minnie Timperley Died, the (fictional) story of a 16-year-old girl, bored by a rave, murdered after accepting a lift from an older man who “thought he was still dangerous; paunchy, but dangerous”. Dark, certainly. But magnificent.

It feels wrong – so, so wrong – to omit so many wonderful Pulp tracks. But taken together I feel these ten best encapsulate Pulp’s musical and lyrical strengths for newcomers. I truly hope you relish them.

 

TrackAlbum
BabiesHis 'n' Hers
Do You Remember The First Time?His 'n' Hers
Common PeopleDifferent Class
Sorted For E's And WizzDifferent Class
Disco 2000Different Class
Something ChangedDifferent Class
F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.Different Class
Bar ItaliaDifferent Class
Like A FriendThis Is Hardcore (Deluxe Ed)
The Night That Minnie Timperley DiedWe Love Life

 

If you’re hungry for more, my next ten – in alphabetical order – were Bad Cover Version, I Spy, Last Day Of The Miners’ Strike, Mis-Shapes, Razzmatazz, She’s A Lady, Sunrise, This Is Hardcore, Underwear and We Can Dance Again. They’re just as worthy of your time.

 

Pulp photo 2

 

Pulp’s first three albums, ‘It’, ‘Freaks’, ‘Separations’,
were recorded between 1983 & 1989

 

 

 

 

 

Pulp (Wikipedia)

Jarvis Cocker official website

Acrylic Afternoons – The Pulp Fansite

Pulp, one song at a time

Pulp biography (AllMusic)

Jonathan Westwood is old enough to know better. He presents weekly shows, populated only by 20th century music, on Mixcloud.

TopperPost #1,026

1 Comment

  1. Gary Gahan
    Jun 23, 2022

    Excellent curation; impossible choices.
    Dug yr T-Rex observation re. “Disco 2000”; I’ve always just heard the Umberto Tozzi/Laura Branigan “Gloria” riff and never thought past it.
    Another wonderful soundtrack contribution (also available as a HARDCORE deep cut) is “We Are the Boys” // VELVET GOLDMINE). I think I actually prefer it to “Like A Friend,” tho the latter’s also terrific.

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