Another band who were extremely successful in the 90s (despite being formed many years previously) were Pulp. Many of you 90s fans will remember drunkenly singing Disco 2000 on the way home from the pub on a Saturday night, in the days when the year 2000 seemed futuristic. Jarvis Cocker formed the band back in 1978 at the tender age of 15. Early gigs were fairly unsuccessful and when many of the band’s original members left to go away to university, Cocker was left as the single surviving member. Undaunted, he persevered with the band under a range of different lineups, until in the early 1980s he met up with Russell Senior, who is currently the band’s other longest serving member. At this point the musical direction the band were taking changed from one which produced folky, romantic pop tunes to something more experimental.
The eighties continued with a more consistent lineup, but still success largely eluded the band. Throughout the decade the most memorable events were Cocker appearing onstage in a wheelchair after falling out of a window and injuring himself, unsuccessful relationships with different record labels and a changing style which incorporated everything from ballads to acid house. Towards the end of the 80s the band had begun to appear in the mainstream media and were mentioned in successful music publications such as NME.
The height of Pulp’s popularity came in the 90s of course, with anthemic songs like Common People, a song which just begged to be belted out at student nights after several pints of cider and black had been downed. Thousands of university students ironically bellowed the lyrics about living in poverty, “cos when you’re laid in bed at night, watching roaches climb the wall…” Cocker’s song created a social commentary about how the rich could never comprehend the way the poor actually lived: “…if you called your dad he could stop it a-all.” The fact that the majority of the students singing along to the song probably regularly called their parents for extra cash to tide them over when they were short, all the while complaining about being ‘poor’ students didn’t matter, and as the band’s popularity soared, they probably didn’t care either.
No stranger to scandal, Cocker’s song Sorted for E’s and Wizz also caused a political storm and led to the media labelling the band as being pro-drugs. Cocker found himself having to defend the song’s lyrics and, as the press called for the song to be banned, it shot to number two in the UK chart, its perceived ‘rebellious’ message only serving to gather more devoted Pulp fans.
Jarvis Cocker at The Brits
Jarvis Cocker’s reputation as a prankster was cemented with his stunt at the 1996 Brit Awards when he invaded the stage as Michael Jackson was performing Earth Song for the crowd. Cocker ran around like a child, wiggling his bottom at the crowd, pulling up his top to flash his chest, evading capture by security and finally appearing in silhouette in front of powerful images of ‘earth being destroyed by man’ accompanying Jackson’s ‘heartfelt’ song. Luckily Jackson was singing atop a raised platform throughout this episode so was mostly unaffected by the trick, but clearly felt that the integrity of his song had been ruined. Cocker was later arrested and spent several hours at a police station before being defended by comedian and former solicitor Bob Mortimer and released without charge. Much like the controversy caused by E’s and Wizz, this episode only served to sell more records for the band, and Pulp’s popularity grew.
Later releases were again less successful and by the late 90s Cocker was struggling with a cocaine addiction and failing to cope with the celebrity lifestyle. Russell Senior left the band and later songs were darker and created less of a ‘party’ mood than the mid-90s classics. After several songs failed to become chart-toppers, in 2002 the band played their last gig and split up, reuniting for a tour in 2011, where fans were thrilled at their surprise appearance on the Glastonbury stage.
Disco 2000 took on a whole new meaning when sung twelve years post-millennium. But the fans could ‘laugh along with the Common People’ once more, and were thrilled.