Those who argue that class struggles were a feature of Victorian Britain alone are too far up the social ladder to understand how the other half live. Under Conservative rule, the level of poverty is increasing. With the rising number of families part of the ‘working poor’ – an umbrella term to describe those who are employed but their level of income is not akin to a living wage – it’s hard to not be angry at those in charge.
The idea for this feature came from an intense Pulp singalong. About half way through ‘Common People’ I remembered when my socialist parents sat me in front of the TV, where I watched the glittering, lanky creature that is Jarvis Cocker dance across the screen. This was about ten years ago, and the simple instruction I given was “listen to the words.” The words became all the more real to me as I grew up and began to understand the class system, and I saw first-hand how the gaps between the classes is a problem, despite some loop holes and the socialist legislation that has been passed.
Music is most powerful when it is used as a rebellion. There is a high number of British bands, among the best of all time, from low income backgrounds, and it’s their music that will transcend any given time period; as long as there are people suffering in the same society as those who have too much, there will be a mistrust in the establishment. This is the sound of the working class.
Common People // Pulp
Pulp’s most famous song is a rebellion, a rant about social tensions in the UK following the rise of social tourism – an idea adopted by a batch of ignorant youth, wholly dependent on their parents’ money and opinions, taking it upon themselves to live the life of the lower class. A modest way to live, right? Well, no. The sickening thing is that they only did this to fulfill their belief that “poor is cool.” And obviously it’s not. ‘Common People’ is a song that became an anthem for the angry working class just five years after the fall of the Thatcherite Conservatism that tore right through the foundation of working class pride and community values, while polarising British society into clear distinctions between the rich and the poor.
The band cleverly links quirky lyrics with serious political tones in this song, detailing a conversation between lead singer Jarvis Cocker and a girl he met at Central St Martins in London. “Her dad was loaded,” explains Cocker, amidst almost spoken descriptions of how she wants to sleep with common people and see whatever they see. These ideas angered the band, prompting the famous description of the monotony of life without the glamour of wealth: “Rent a flat above a shop / Cut your hair and get a job…” This is repeated throughout, exposing brutal, unvarnished truths about the everyday. The full-length version of the song is angrier than the popular track, with lyric “You’ll never understand / how it feels to live your life / with no meaning or control / and with nowhere left to go” standing out as particularly truthful. I’d love to know if George Osborne has ever heard this song.
The power of this song comes with the questioning of the people you’ll meet in life, whether that’s in university or in a job, and gaining insight into their backgrounds. This tension will stay for as long as there a class struggle in Britain.
Words by Caitlin O’Connor