The 10 best pulp songs (2023)

Long before optimism became something that transcended anti-rockism and always took every sound very seriously, I still disagree with the Schmaltz rock moments of the '70sRandom Access Memory— Pulp was a huge mix of uncool things. Grunge reigned supreme here, while England's Madchester gave way to artists like Oasis and Blur, who took their cues from the great British pop artists of the '60s and the great British punks of the late '70s. As all of this went on, Pulp slowly rising from years of obscurity, their literary and bumbling frontman Jarvis Cocker, not yet anointed into the sex symbol he'd become, offered a mix of disco and cheesy '80s synthesizer sounds and a decent helping of Scott Walker's idol worship for good measure. Cocker had once put his band on hiatus to go to art school and was the guy who knew how to make an intoxicating mix of high and low art. Somehow Pulp looked like some stranger touchstones than the Kinks and the Beatles and the Stones, and yet after a while he still ended up with one of the artists who defined her generation.

Even in their rise, Pulp have always seemed anomalous on the Britpop landscape. For one thing, so much Britpop was overwhelmingly boyish, at least at the beginning of its heyday in the mid-'90s. Oasis were busy fulfilling all the teenage tropes of a wild young rock 'n' roll band, and Damon Albarn had a sort of anxious irritability about him in his younger days. In contrast, Pulp had been around in various forms since the early '80s, only to finally figure out their identity around 1993 or so, the year Jarvis Cocker turned 30. That made him only four years older than Albarn and three older than Noel Gallagher, but it was enough of a gap to suggest a certain mature wit and attitude. From those early days of her second round, Pulp always seemed to grapple with fairly mature subjects, subjects that may not be absent from the work of the other Britpop stars but were certainly dealt with in a smarter and more experienced way. In Pulp's songs, sex was dirtier and less satisfying, relationships were constantly fracturing and only occasionally redeemed, and characters were treated more bitterly, but also not without a sensibility to step back and see a broader narrative.

While initially they didn't seem to keep up with the larger music scene, Pulp's development eventually followed the pattern of many other big British bands (Britpop and not) of the '90s. There was the double whammy of classic, career-defining records: Pulp'sHis and Her’94 udifferent class'95, Oasis'Definitely maybe’94 u(What's the story) Morning Glory?1995 and Blur'sModern life is garbage’93 upark life'94 or, depending on who you speak to,The Great Escapein '95. Then came the wave of either overdone or "more difficult" follow-ups. Oasis became full of classic rock excess with the cocaine flatulence ofBe here now. Spiritualized and The Verve offered comprehensive visions of everything they had been working on up to that point, while also breaking new groundLadies and gentlemen, we are floating in spaceAndUrban Anthemsor both also in '97. Radiohead Phase 1 culminated in an existential exploration of modern lifeOk calculatorin 1997.

It was Blur who ended up following a similar path to Pulp, each with a quintessentially English pop sound (they shared debts to Bowie, for one) and each making shredded comedown records. Blur was double distorted with 97s and drug and heartbreakingBlurand 99s13, while Pulp eventually offered a world-weary gasp of a successordifferent classin the form of 1998This is hardcore. After that, everything became fragmented and everything either of these artists did had little to do with the other, whether it was Oasis making a few records that only mattered to die-hard fans or Albarn dabbling in the genre-hopping Gorillaz worked and America had more success than he had with Blur. pulp releasedWe love the life2001 an album that musically had little to nothing to do with the material that made them famous.

With that in mind, I should take a moment to acknowledge thisWe love the life. It's a beautiful, expansive album that doesn't seem to get it's place when people talk about Pulp. Perhaps it just seems distant in time from their heyday, or perhaps its sonic divergence was a turn-off for some listeners. I tried to include a song from it in this list but I just couldn't fit it. The strength of their three albums from 1994 to 1998 is just too overwhelming. Like so many of the best British artists of the period, it seems as if Pulp not only churned out several classic albums back-to-back, but also a massive collection of B-sides that many bands would die of if they didn't have A-sides. Consequently, no B-sides made it onto this list either, although I'm a big fan of the deep cuts; For starters, I would highly recommend you check this outThis is hardcoreB-side "It's a Dirty World" which probably should have made it onto the record. In any case, you can pick ten songs from any of these albums from the mid to late 90's and easily have a defensible top ten. As the band continue to float the idea of ​​a James Murphy-produced comeback album into the distant airwaves, here we celebrate Pulp's history with ten of my favorites.

10. „F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.“ (akadifferent class, 1995)

There was a real war going on over whether it would become "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E." or "Sorted for E's & Wizz," which made this list, and almost won the latter purely because of that awesome synth thing that happens about two and a half minutes later. Ultimately I had to make a choice. It's one of my early favorites from Pulp, and happens to be one of the secretly (and most successful) most bizarre songs they've made. In other circumstances, with other lyrics, one would imagine the spoken verses of "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E." should be seductive. Here they are alternately disturbed and in love, the narrator sounds like he's coming off a bad trip and relationship but really just has a bad case of obsession. Unnerving violin screeches and distant percussion linger on the fringes of the verses, while Cocker delivers some of his best lyrics. Finally, it breaks into the chorus with almost theatrical drama, a catchy synth riff riding under incantations of the title, which might suggest the narrator is overwhelmed by his new feelings, but in a kind of positive way. As with most pulp songs, it's not that simple, and you can't help but feel like the cycle continues and the narrator soon finds himself as ruined as he was when the song began.

9. "David's Last Summer" (fromHis and Her, 1994)

Fittingly, I started listening to Pulp when I bought itdifferent classthe first time I visited England. Less appropriately, the point at which I really became obsessed with them was during the particularly brutal winter of my sophomore year in college, when I was late at night walking through Manhattan listening to musicHis and Her. In this context, the beginning of "David's Last Summer" used to seem outlandish; His initial hopping rhythm and Jarvis' spoken word struck me as odd for bitter winds and snow. That was before I listened more closely and discovered the category of "long, multi-part pulp songs with some spoken word" like the haunting and overlooked "Wickerman." "David's Last Summer" ended up being one of the best songs for these walks, largely because I realized it was one of the most unsettling pulp songs out there. All of Pulp's really long songs have a graceful development. They don't feel like a bunch of short songs sewn together, nor do they build into a bombastic chorus that then goes on for five minutes. Appropriately, they feel like stories unfolding, the vocal melodies and instrumentation gradually changing moods to follow the narrative. The lightness of the beginning, long summer days "Drunken on the sun I suppose" finally segues into Cocker screaming "I want you to stay!" as he is overwhelmed by ghostly fiddles and distortion. You don't really know why it was David's last summer, whether it's a song about the loss of youth or a person, but either way there are the last moments ofHis and Herimmediate gravity.

8. "The Fear" (fromThis is hardcore, 1998)

"This is the sound of someone losing the plot / imagining they're fine when they're not / you'll like it, but not much / And the chorus goes like this." And with that, "The Fear delivers “ the mission statement for the 1998sThis is hardcore, Pulp's darkest album. Having eluded them for so long, commercial success and fame quickly hit Pulp. After being catapulted to the forefront of the Britpop explosion in the mid-'90s, Cocker found himself the kind of celebrity he thought he always wanted but, like many rock stars before and after him, wondered about whether this was really what he finally wanted. Substance abuse, exhaustion and frustration in pursuing their seminal records lead to a dense, sealed-off storyThis is hardcore, an album perfectly represented by "The Fear", its outstanding opening track. Candida Doyle's lively keyboard tones, once a dominant feature of Pulp's music in its heyday, are barely audible here, hidden behind the weary moan of an electrified bow-assisted guitar lead. Not that Pulp was ever really an uplifting band, but whatever party there was, it passed quickly. "The Fear" is a signal for something darker, but it's also one of Pulp's most rewarding pieces of music.

7. "Babies" (fromHis and Her, 1994)

The development of Pulp was one of those things that was very gradual at the same time, all the fits and beginnings and different identities, and then suddenly and fully realized. The band had been around in some form for over a decade, recording off and on since 1982 and only recently recording with the 1992sseparations, moved from their early more folky recordings to a more synth-based sound. Then suddenly there's "Babies" and "Razzmatazz," two singles for Gift Records that were immediately the synthesis of everything this band wanted to be thematically and musically. "Babies" showcased Cocker's voice to the fullest, and Pulp used new-wave-y guitar and synths to punctuate his sex-driven drama perfectly. Career-wise, the slow build would continue as the band's infectious riff on "Babies" still would not bring it commercial attention and would not find chart success when it was originally released in 1992. A slightly modified version found its way into the 1994sHis and Herand the song was re-released as a single accompanied by three B-sides as thesistersEP. With that, Pulp finally cracked the top 20, with "Babies" charting at #19, becoming one of the most recognizable and quintessentially Pulp songs out there.

6. "This Is Hardcore" (fromThis is hardcore, 1998)

The centerpiece and title track forThis is hardcorewas another, born straight out of Cocker's frustration with sudden fame, and encapsulates everything about where the band stood at that point. Not that relationships were usually in good shape in older pulp songs, but the sex here is lurid, Cocker used the images of the porn he watched late at night after concerts in hotels as a comparison for how he first started dating musicians feel and other artists have been covered in the media. As he recently described it, “That's how people get used to it. You see the same people in movies and they seem quite alive, and then a year later you see a movie and there's something gone in their eyes.” Cocker turned to show how exhausted he felt himself not only to help with the topic he has chosen, but also with a song that pushes and pulls in different moody directions. Built on a horn sample from The Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra's 'Bolero On the Moon Rocks', 'This Is Hardcore' takes on a nighttime noir vibe and pulse that's simultaneously hypnotic and unsettling. Eventually it breaks down into a slew of curved, distorted guitar riffs before merging into a string-backed closing section that manages to feel elegiac and dejected at the same time. Befitting an album and song so concerned with the darker corners of life, alternatively they are some of the dirtiest, saddest sounds to ever make it onto a pulp song.

5. "Remember the first time?" (fromHis and Her, 1994)

Last April, the reunited Pulp finally made it to New York for a two-night stand at Radio City Music Hall. While the audience waited, projected messages rolled across the stage. "Is that crazy talk?" "Would you like a drink?" "Okay, I'll meet you at the bar." "Is that a joke?" "Is that someone's idea of ​​a joke?" "Is that legal?" And then : "Remember the first time?" Cue cheers. By this point, "remember the first time?" had already become a rallying cry for the pulp reunion, which was obvious but also odd considering the "first time" it was about actually their failure in the 1980s was. Then again, this was an almost completely different band and everyone was just happy to have them back, so why be picky? Anyway, they then opened the show with "Do You Remember the First Time?" which gave the song a third meaning. The title always hinted at the loss of virginity, of course, but the song's narration also had to do with a man addressing his lover who keeps going back to another man. The third and new meaning felt more triumphant, a crowd-pleaser ushering in what would hopefully (but not yet) be a new era in pulp music. I was a kid in the 90's. InotRemember the first time or the second time or whatever. I'll always prefer the third, most solemn meaning of this song, the one about the era of Pulp, which was a first, at least for me.

4. "Like a friend" (from theGreat expectationsaudio track, 1998)

Although it's a format they've only used on a few occasions (the other main example being thisWe love the lifeTitled "Sunrise," a close contender on this list), Pulp had a way with songs that start quietly and eventually erupt into a dramatic act two, usually a driving instrumental outro. Recorded for the soundtrack of the 1998 filmGreat expectations"Like A Friend" wasn't an album track, but a central pulp song. The beginning is good, but its clean-toned, vaguely wandering guitar part is somehow there to lead to the end. Then it happens at 1:43. The full band comes in, immediately emphatic with snare hits that sustain a 4/4 pulse, along with one of the few guitar parts in Pulp's catalog that could be described as 'chugging'. Jarvis rattles off a list of some of his best kisses ("You're the body that's hidden in the trunk," "You're the party that makes me feel my age") before ending in a final annoyed, "Leave it to you say now /It's lucky for you that we're friends.” It's a proxy piece, Primal Scream, sonically and lyrically everything you've ever wanted to unleash on someone who keeps letting you down. This may sound somber, but in reality the song is almost jubilant - as if both the narrator and the listener have kicked out the demons and can move on with clearer eyes.

3. "Razzmatazz" (fromHis and Her, 1994)

Not all of Cocker's stories of personal conflict were low-key and facetious. Occasionally, as in "Razzmatazz", the dialogue came from a spiteful, bitter side. "Am I talking too fast?/Or are you just playing dumb?/If you want, I can write it down," the narrator tells his ex early on, then gets angry at how she's let go of her since saying goodbye to him. Released in 1993 as the last of their singles for Gift Records, "Razzmatazz" had a luster that foretold the more thorough production standards of the following yearHis and Her. While not as sonically harsh as what they would later explore, "Razzmatazz" has a mean intensity not seen as often in their mid-'90s work. It has as indelible a groove as any of their other most memorable songs, but it's thoughtful, as if the narrator were dancing on the grave of a relationship that is clearly still aching from the loss. It borders on pettiness, but the wit that's still there and the infectious melodies keep it from getting downright nasty. Along with Babies, Razzmatazz helped define pulp when they came into their own. It remains one of their greatest achievements.

2. "Disco 2000" (bydifferent class, 1995)

One of several top ten singles outdifferent class"Disco 2000" is one of the ultimate pulp songs. Said to be inspired by Laura Branigan's 1982 hit "Gloria," Pulp transposed a disco lick into the slight crunch of a '90s guitar tone and built from there on one of her most unabashed and enduring pop songs. Cocker always seemed to have a more mature outlook for his age, and "Disco 2000" walks the line between a moment in adolescence looking to the future itself, and remembering that moment as that future fast approaches. The story - apparently mostly autobiographical - revolves around a boy who develops a crush on a more popular childhood friend and imagines them meeting years later, in the year 2000. There's a slight touch of nostalgia as he looks back on the coming of age trials and the projections he had as a younger man. This interplay with the romantic visions of youth is of course the terrain of many classic pop singles. "Disco 2000" takes that premise, but every glimmer of nostalgia is measured and suffused with a slight melancholy and uncertainty - "Oh, what are you doing Sunday baby? / Would you like to come and meet me? / Can you even bring it with you? your baby." That past and the future you imagined in that past can't be recreated. It's about youth and romance, but filtered through the perspective of a man already in his early 30s. That makes it a classic pop Single by Pulp.

1. "Common People" (fromdifferent class, 1995)

I can imagine anyone who ranks Pulp's songs challenging themselves early on: Seriously put "Common People" first, ehatWill? But if not, what can possibly come first? What song can you seriously single out that tops it? I thought for about ten seconds that anything could hit "Mean People" and then I dismissed that notion to use some terminology from the aforementioned pre-show projections on stage, certainly someone's notion of a joke, probably a scam, and probably not legal.

Although Pulp had and would have "big" sounding songs, "Common People" was one of their (and only) unflappably anthemic. And of course it was her breakthrough. Still, it had humble beginnings, with Cocker composing his lead synth riff while messing around with a new keyboard he recently bought, then reportedly writing the lyrics in one night. These lyrics were a perfect blend of Cocker's talents, blending personal narrative and social criticism and drawing on a real life experience from art school as a lens to comment on a cultural trend of the time. Namely, Cocker criticized the preponderance of wealthy children and artists, who then romanticized the struggles of working-class life, an attitude he called "paternalist social voyeurism." Perhaps that's why "Common People" feels like it's aged particularly well — that trend still seems alive and well today when you hear a Brooklyn magazine editor say he's quitting his job and riding an eighteen bike or will work on an oil rig or some nonsense. That being said, however, it lives on as a perfect example of all that Pulp has to offer. It's scathing but hilarious, deeply personal while also taking a sharp look at larger social issues, and intelligent yet simple enough to fit into an unflappable pop tune. Like many great pop songs, it's idiosyncratic while remaining flexible and universal enough for the final chorus to be triumphant enough to end a live set. It's not just her defining song, not just one of the absolute classics of the Britpop era, but one of the greatest British singles of all time.

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