Plus One: The 11 best Pulp songs
Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our favourite Pulp songs, ranked
Pulp are coming back. Not that they were ever really gone. Anyone who grew up within a night bus distance of an indie disco has probably had Pulp on repeat their whole life.
Jarvis Cocker became pop’s kitchen sink poet back in 1978, while still at school, but his band didn’t break until the 90s with His ‘n’ Hers, Different Class and This Is Hardcore becoming the defining albums for anyone who didn’t like to call them Brit-pop. These were songs about failed affairs, dirty dishes, and sex with the lights on. A mix of glam, house, Europop and smart humour, Pulp cut through fame and class (and the Brit awards…) to stand apart from everyone they charted above.
With the band now set to return to Ireland with a date in St Anne’s Park next June, we rank the best Pulp songs from great to greatest.
What’s more kitchen sink than a song about washing up? Jarvis really should have opened This Is Hardcore with ‘Dishes’, since it has the best first line he ever wrote (“I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials”). There’s a touch of John Cooper Clarke to JC’s poetic ode to middle-aged mediocrity, but the orchestral sweep of his grandest album makes it feel like its own vintage film score – one of Pulp’s best nods to John Barry.
10. ‘Pink Glove’
The opening synth shimmer and thick bass-line feels almost filthy enough for a song full of some of Pulp’s dirtiest lyrics (“he doesn’t care what it looks like, just as long as it’s pink and it’s tight…”), but ‘Pink Glove’ is much more than schoolboy sniggers. While other classics hide Jarvis under the bed, this one leaves him out in the cold – left to sing a perfect sad banger about missed opportunities and regrets that last too long.
9. ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’
Talking of hiding under the bed… The (slightly?) happier flipside of ‘Pink Glove’ comes right before it, telling the story of an affair that’s sort of still live and kicking (“as long as you save a piece for me”). The hint of actually getting laid brings its own energy too – bouncing to one of Pulp’s best floor-filling riffs in a dizzy disco hit that builds from desperation to full-throated passion in one of the best songs ever written about coming second.
8. ‘Something Changed’
Different Class has its own double bill, this time in two beautifully downbeat confessionals about the sweet start and bitter end of a relationship. ‘Something Changed’ seems inseparable from ‘Live Bed Show’, even if the unhappy ending runs the wrong way around, but it’s easily the tenderest of the two. Pulp rarely do old fashioned love songs, but ‘Something Changed’ is the only track of theirs you can play at a wedding without worrying about who’s eyeing up the bride.
Pulp have more than a few radio hits to their name, but while the bulk of the brit-pop crowd were screaming the choruses to the band’s biggest singles (see below…), ‘Mis-Shapes’ was quietly becoming an anti-anthem for anyone who preferred singing into a hairbrush. As much about outsiders as was about class, it’s a song that belongs to anyone who was ever bullied at school. “They think they’ve got us beat, but revenge is gonna be so sweet…”.
6. ‘Bar Italia’
The closing track of Different Class is also the perfect end to any good indie disco – a song that looks like bright lights suddenly cast on sticky floors, smelling of spilt drinks felt on the way to Frith Street’s best after hours espresso. There’s a lounge bar lilt to Cocker’s voice as he rings in last orders, and nobody wears it better.
Cocker is pop’s greatest storyteller, and he’s never been on better form than on this sharp little vignette from His ‘n’ Hers. Almost starting with “once upon a time…”, ‘Babies’ begins as a classic tale of unrequited love (Jarvis hiding in a wardrobe this time) before bursting into a scream of teenage kicks. The best, though, is saved for the bitterest punchline of all, Pulp’s best self-putdown: “I only went with her ‘cause she looks like you, my god!”.
4. ‘Disco 2000’
It only takes three chords to get everyone on the dancefloor. Everyone knows the words (and even if you don’t, you’ll still do an impression of Jarvis when he says “Deborah!”), and everyone feels the pang of nostalgia every time it’s played, remembering just how long ago it really was when the millennium felt like the future. Despite the date in the title, ‘Disco 2000’ seems ageless, with another classic cry/laugh Cocker punchline that’s impossible not to sing: “You can even bring your baby!”
Pulp’s back catalogue is practically built on sexual awkwardness. Tapping into the moments no one else wants to sing about, ‘Underwear’ is the most intimate few minutes on Different Class – a glimpse into the mind of someone who really isn’t sure if they want the thing they desperately want. Brimming with sadness and sweetness and horniness, it still feels like opening someone else’s teenage diary, not quite able to stop yourself from reading.
2. ‘This Is Hardcore’
Pulp’s swoony late 90s sex opera would be the band’s crowning achievement if it didn’t feel slightly like we shouldn’t be listening in. Writhing with Bond cool and Soho sleaze, the title track off Cocker’s anti-pop opus is a mini-epic that flashes a big red light in the face of all expectations. Still as raw and cinematic today as it was it in 1998, it’s a song that has to be heard in the dark. Always the highlight of any live show too.
1. ‘Common People’
What else did you expect? It might be the most obvious choice but there’s really no other option. Melding the best of Pulp’s storytelling with the greatest slow-built disco release of all time, ‘Common People’ is a tragic masterpiece – one of the greatest pop anthems of all time, if not the greatest. Just as good screamed in the shower as it is into a sky full of confetti over a muddy field, ‘Common People’ belongs to us all.
Pulp have announced a major comeback tour for 2023, including an Irish date at St Anne’s Park on Friday 9 June 2023. Pulp tickets are on sale here from 9am on Friday 4 November.