Covered: “Common People”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

Pulp never achieved the same success stateside as it did in its native UK, but if Americans ever heard one of their songs it was probably their classic “Common People”.  The reputation of the song has grown over the years, and is considered by many to be the shining moment of the Britpop era.  It’s a fantastically fun song, a synth-heavy dance rave-up in a scene fueled by guitar-driven rock.  It’s also a masterwork in perfecting the “build”, morphing from a sly and mysterious beginning into an explosive, anthemic second half.  It’s also the perfect showcase for vocalist’s Jarvis Cocker’s smart and sarcastic persona, as he incisively tears into “class tourism”–a topic that bears increased relevance today, as any article on an area facing the pressures of gentrification would show.  As Jarvis points out, while most people who live in the slum-like conditions are forced to do so by circumstance, the woman in the song can easily escape with a simple phone call to Dad.

If people were asked to name someone who could successfully pull off a great cover song, William Shatner would have to rank near the bottom of the list.  To be fair, there’s a perfectly good reason for this.  But all due credit to producer Ben Folds, who found an excellent complement for Shatner’s unique…”singing” style.  Shatner’s dramatic talk-singing is the perfect vehicle for the trenchant social commentary inherent in the lyrics, and he’s able to draw out every bit of sardonic humor and bitter sarcasm with each line that he can.  Even his unusual pauses help provide the right amount of emphasis with each verbal attack.  As for the music, keyboards are traded for guitars in this version, and they do a great job of driving the song and providing an extra bit of edge while still allowing for the natural beat to push through.  In the end, you’re still rocking out and dancing, all the while smiling at the humor of the lyrics as you sing along.

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