Jarvis Cocker once said, “I’m not Jesus, though we do have the same initials.” Nice one.
I can’t even remember who played this song for me first. Probably Ali. Isn’t it always?
This song is great. It’s about a cross-class romance and comes off as a lyrically a darker version of “Uptown Girl”. Why darker? In that song, Billy Joel flits about singing the praises and glories of dating an “uptown girl.” This song, on the other hand, tackles the underbelly of a relationship like this. Working class boy meets privileged girl. Working class boy resents privileged girl for “slumming it” just to be cool, constantly reiterating that she’ll never understand how shitty it is to be working class. Privileged girl never intends to stay with working class boy, instead viewing the relationship as a foray into the glamour of the gritty life of “common people.” The difference is stark; fairy tale vs. class tourism. Ouch.
The inspiration for the song came from a Greek fellow student Pulp singer/songwriter Jarvis Cocker knew at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Taking this inspiration, the narrator explains that his female acquaintance can "never be like common people", because even if she gets a flat where "roaches climb the wall" ultimately, "if [she] called [her] dad he could stop it all", in contrast to the true common people who can only "watch [their] lives slide out of view". In his lyric Cocker embellished the situation for dramatic effect  - in real life the woman in question said she "wanted to move to Hackney and live like 'the common people'", but in the song her character also declares: "I want to sleep with common people like you." A BBC Three documentary failed to correctly locate the woman, who, Cocker stated, could have been on any fine art course but that "sculpture" sounded better. The lyrics were in part a response by Cocker, who usually focused on the introspective and emotional aspects of pop, to more politically-minded members of the band like Russell Senior. Furthermore, Cocker felt that 'slumming' was becoming a dominant theme in popular culture and this contributed to the singles' rushed release. Cocker said "it seemed to be in the air, that kind of patronising social voyeurism... I felt that of Parklife, for example, or Natural Born Killers - there is that noble savage notion. But if you walk round a council estate, there's plenty of savagery and not much nobility going on.
Rent a flat above a shop.
Cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool.
Pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right,
Cuz when you're laid in bed at night,
Watching roaches climb the wall,
If you call your Dad he could stop it all.
You'll never live like common people.
You'll never do what common people do.
You'll never fail like common people.
You'll never watch your life slide out of view,
And dance and drink and screw,
Because there's nothing else to do.