In June 1995, Common People by Pulp was one place higher than Michael Jackson’s duet with his sister Janet, which had been number one in the UK the previous week.
That sentence is astonishing given that when Pulp had their first hit in 1992, Michael Jackson had already been the biggest popstar in the world for ten years. The song that led to Common People becoming a ‘terrific two’, keeping it off the top, was a seven-week runner from two TV firemen, Robson & Jerome.
As Paul Gambaccini recently counted down the Pick of the Pops from June 9 1995, and announced Unchained Melody (great song, impossible to butcher), I turned it off within five seconds. Simon Bloody Cowell (it was his ruse to get two primetime stars to sing two songs, one by VERA LYNN!) had ruined pop again. Then again, nice guys do tend to finish second.
A bookish lad from Sheffield whose band had gained support from John Peel and BBC Radio 1, Jarvis Cocker briefly became Britain’s best-loved rock star not to be called Liam, Noel or Damon. He was literate like Morrissey, relatable like the Gallaghers and had a world view that prioritised the droll and debonair. He lived in Paris for several years in the 2000s, and until recently hosted a Sunday afternoon radio show, Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service, on BBC 6Music, which is a channel which I think plays the music of Pulp once a day, if not once a week.
Common People is, by common consent, a brilliant British pop song. It was lumped in with the Britpop movement, especially because Pulp were one of the five bands to be named on the cover of Select magazine in 1993 with the strapline: Yanks Go Home!! Denim, the Auteurs, Saint Etienne and Suede were the others, who all made literate or interesting, and quirkily British, pop. Pulp were the kings of this genre, which stood on its own island beside Noelrock and Blur’s cockernee offerings.
My friend Chris Imlach is a massive Pulp fan, and we had no hesitation in inducting Common People into the playlist when discussing NOW 31 on the podcast. Common People is heard during every documentary on 1995, where New Labour’s Blair-led project was in motion but the Conservative Party were still in government, Blur took on Oasis to top the UK charts and the sounds of Robson & Jerome filled the airwaves if you were over sixty.
Pulp stood in for The Stone Roses as headliners at that year’s Glastonbury festival, and because the BBC were there to document it on Radio 1, it became one of the musical moments of the year. A confident Jarvis showcased songs from the British Album of the Year, called Different Class, and basked in his moment. For once, no yobbery from Blur or Oasis could deny Jarvis some airtime.
A song about class (today he would have taken her to LIDL or ALDI) about a sculpture student who would go on to marry the former Economic Minister for Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, Common People will be the song that many will look back on most fondly of the mid-1990s guitar-rock revival. The album version includes a spoken-sung interlude that expands upon the famous third verse (‘we’ll dance and drink and screw/ Because there’s nothing else to do’), but the radio version is no less brilliant, especially with the guitar solo and ‘ba-ba-ba!’ bit just before the final chorus. The song is as witty and satirical as a Hogarth cartoon or a skit from That Was the Week That Was from the 1960s. No other country could produce a song like it, or nurture a talent like that of Jarvis Cocker, who signed on for government benefits well into his twenties while living in Sheffield and reading books.
Elsewhere on NOW 31, which documented the music of summer 1995, we have some returning heroes. The Outhere Brothers kick off Disc 2 for a second time with Boom Boom Boom (‘WAY-OOH!’). D:Ream return with Shoot Me with Your Love, Bobby Brown is now Humpin’ Around, Wet Wet Wet are singing Don’t Want to Forgive Me Now (a great vocal from Marti Pellow again) and Oasis are on there with their first number one, Some Might Say, which includes a patented Liam Gallagher ‘Shee-IIINE’ (‘shine’). More on Oasis a few essays from this.
Some of the best pop of the decade is in the middle of NOW 31. Buddy Holly by Weezer and Roll To Me by Del Amitri are both major-key marvels that stand up well in 2018. A Girl Like You is the best Bond theme that never was, as Edwyn Collins from post-punk act Orange Juice has his biggest hit placed second on Disc 1. Fourth on the disc is Alright by Supergrass, a song impossible to listen to without smiling or playing an invisible piano; it also had one of the best videos of the era, with the three lads riding bikes and getting into japes. Gaz Coombes has just put out another critically acclaimed solo album and has a huge catalogue of hits to pick from at his live shows. At the London Palladium in May 2018, he stuck to his solo material, though around Europe he obliged fans with Caught By the Fuzz and Moving.
With help from The Art of Noise, Seal put out Kiss From a Rose, which won GRAMMY Awards for Record and Song of the Year, meaning it was the best song and also sounded best of all songs released in America in that year. Its use in the film Batman Forever didn’t hurt Seal or Trevor Horn’s bank balance. In 2016, Seal gamely starred in the Lonely Island movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. He has also been a judge on The Voice Australia.
The song that taught me that 3 Is Family (‘one and one is two/ two is me and you/ two plus one is three’) took Dana Dawson into the top ten, a pure one-hit wonder as two follow-up songs both missed the top 20. She passed away from colon cancer aged 36 in 2010.
Summer bangers from 1995 include Son of a Gun by JX, Dreamer by Livin’ Joy (which went all the way to the top of the UK charts), Right in the Night (Fall in Love with Music) from Jam & Spoon featuring the vocals of Plavka and a remix of the mighty Your Loving Arms (‘put your loving arms around me’) from German singer Billie Ray Martin. Whigfield followed up Saturday Night with Think of You, which deserved to be a number one too. The end of Disc 2 features dance hits from Shiva (Freedom), Deuce (I Need You), Hyperlogic (Only Me) and Junior Vasquez (Get Your Hands Off My Man). Junior was a prolific remixer who spun his edits in New York clubs, a craze that was slowly making its way to the UK in the mid-1990s, and to England via Europe’s party islands thanks to the annual summer exodus on cheap flights to the continent.
Catalogue is plentiful on NOW 31, once more in dance music. Clock followed Axel F with Whoomph (There It Is), a cover of a Tag Team rap song. When you hear Whoomph, you must respond ‘There it is!!’ Baby D takes the Corgis hit song and renames it (Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime) I Need Your Loving; the song was ripe for both brackets in the title and a trance cover, though Beck would later record a version very close to the original for the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Over on the pop side, Duran Duran’s covers album included a version of White Lines (Don’t Do It) that isn’t as good as the track inducted into the playlist from NOW 3. EMF prolonged their career with a duet with surreal TV comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer on the Neil Diamond song I’m a Believer, originally a hit for TV popstars The Monkees. Jimmy Somerville released a white reggae version of the old soul song Hurt So Good and Kirsty MacColl’s 1989 version of the Ray Davies song Days was re-released but failed to make the top 40. The official song of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was hosted and won by South Africa, was a version of the negro spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot, where China Black helped out Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the group whom Paul Simon had brought to prominence on his 1986 album Graceland.
Reggae was there or thereabouts, with one original and one cover on NOW 31. Shaggy decided the world needed to hear his version of Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime, the first track on his third album Boombastic, which featured a contribution from Wayne Wonder. In the Summertime featured Rayvon, and it would not be their last collaboration… Ini Kamoze, the ‘lyrical gangsta’, sampled Wilson Pickett’s Land of a Thousand Dances on a song that made me dance and scream ‘MURDERER!’ Here Comes the Hotstepper was the Christmas number one in the US in 1994, where the music industry takes a holiday and has no interest in hyping records to number one. The song was produced by the mighty pair of Sly & Robbie. Ini, meanwhile, hasn’t put out a record in ten years. He need never etc etc. Indeed, Here Comes the Hotstepper was included on a collection of his biggest Caribbean bangers stretching back to the 1980s.
You want some new jack swing? NOW 31’s got a little something, or rather MN8 (‘emanate’) did, with their number two debut single I’ve Got a Little Something For You. Following that is Montell Jordan shouting This Is How We Do It, a song the TV host James Corden has professed his love for. though he always prefers manufactured boyband O-Town. Boybands on NOW 31 include Boyzone (Key to My Life) and East 17 (Hold My Body Tight).
For the first time on a NOW compilation, the UK Eurovision entry was given a slot. Love City Groove took a song with that title into the UK top ten and onto a NOW. This would begin a run of four inclusions for Eurovision songs on NOW compilations, with only Katrina & the Waves missing out after a win for the UK in 1997.
Also from the world of TV, in this case the kids soap opera Byker Grove, PJ & Duncan followed up their album Psyche (‘sike’) which included Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble with Stuck on U. Their next album would be released under the moniker Ant & Dec, which would begin twenty years of light entertainment success for Messers McPartlin and Donnelly.