“It was such a big deal in those days even to scrape together the money to make a recording that it never entered your head at the end of it to think, ‘Well that’s crap, let’s not put it out.'” – Tony Perrin
“Pop Music” is a bit of a nebulous beast at the best of times – ever-present but indistinct and impossible to pin down. It’s an ever-shifting genre, this year’s set of musical tropes, somewhere on the bell-curve between the too-old and the too-new. At the same time, it’s used as a name for any muisc that’s popular with a mass audience, however odd and out of step it seems.
Everybody’s Problem fits the first of these definintions fairly well, but spectacularly fails to live up to the second. Never before or since has there been such a universal lack of goodwill towards what is, on the face of it, a harmless summery indie-pop song. The band hated it, the record company didn’t promote it, the radio stations didn’t play it, the public didn’t buy it.
To understand the reasons for this mixture of hatred and indifference we don’t really have to look much further than the song’s reason for existing. Tony Perrin, frustrated by the failure of ‘It’, told Jarvis that he thought it was time to break into the world of pop music by writing a song “like Wham!” Wham! were the big new breakthrough pop act of 1983, and Perrin appears to have been a fan. Jarvis evidently wasn’t, though, and the song he came back with didn’t sound like them in any way. Nevertheless, as soon as it was written, he started to hate it.
The group of musicians that arrived in the studio for the recording session was new and fairly untested. Garry Wilson had returned to his day-job in Artery and there was no Barry Thompson to add flute fourishes. In their place were the members of ‘In A Belljar’ – Michael Paramore and Tim Allcard – both members without portfolio in a band without set roles.* The exception to this was the new drummer, Magnus Doyle, a former member of many groups on the scene, and easily the most talented drummer the band had ever had. A year later, he would be the only remaining member from this session, apart from Jarvis, of course.
The recording didn’t go particularly well. Jarvis led the mood of “that’ll do” by recording a guide vocal, complete with fluffed lyrics (“choose what you believe in, but I’m not everyone” should be “It’s everybody’s problem, but I’m not everyone”), then deciding he wouldn’t bother re-recording it. After the parts were put down, there was a particularly unharmonious mixing session, with everyone trying to get their parts higher in the mix until Simon laid down the law and got everyone to leave the room except Jarvis and himself. Best to get this rubbish out of the way and move on to pastures new.
The strange thing is that Everybody’s Problem isn’t actually that bad. It’s no masterpiece, of course, but it doesn’t set out to be one – it’s just a lightweight indie pop song, perfectly inoffensive and perfectly likeable**. Perhaps this is the nub of the matter – Jarvis and Simon were serious musicians, trying to create something important rather than become pop stars whatever the cost. Trying to design a song to sell to a mass audience is anathema to this idea, and they may have felt they were playing with fire here. What if it had been a hit, would they have had to continue to make music like this for the rest of their careers?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, this attempt at breaking the big time failed spectacularly, despite radio play from John Peel and reviews in the music papers, like this one in ‘Sounds’:
“Pulp, recently rave reviewed in this paper, in reality purvey unmemorable lightweight fey drivel. I’ll bet they’re fresh-faced young boys, cloned from the wide-eyed and innocent likes of the Lotus Eaters. Their skulls deserve to be crushed like eggshells.”
It was time to move on.
*Michael Paramore’s role consisted of appearing on stage with the band a few times, and he’d already left the group by the time of this session – but it’s only fair to mention him as he designed the cover for this single.
**The way the song ends is immensely annoying, but the previous few minutes are fine.