#115 – Stacks

16 Nov

Jackie Magazine 002

Stacks (b-side to Razzmatazz, 1993)
Stacks (Hit The North, 1993)
Stacks at Pulpwiki

A recent article in ‘Entertainment Weekly’ put forward the idea that Common People would be a good basic for a film adaptation.

She’s rich (and beautiful). He’s poor (and beautiful). And he worships the privileged ground she walks on. Obviously they must end up together.You’d think that all love stories were really about class.
Because what’s more appealing than a tale of a scrappy, devilishly handsome fellow from the wrong side of the tracks who lusts after the privileged, sheltered beauty raised with silver spoons and gold forks and strands of pearls and eventually wins her pretty little heart?
Maybe what we need is a devilishly handsome fellow from the wrong side of the tracks who realizes that the privileged, sheltered beauty raised with silver spoons and gold forks and strands of pearls was full of sh-t? That’s why we should adapt Pulp’s “Common People.”

Obviously this is a terrible idea. Can you imagine the thing? Richard Curtis would have to write and direct it, then there would be some goofy tousled-haired actor doing his best to sound northern, and after a few difficulties we’d find ourselves at a tacked-on romantic ending, lessons learned by all, messages – political, social, personal – diluted to homeopathic levels. In other words, it’s the sort of thing UK film doesn’t need more of. Let’s not spread the idea any further, ok?

Having said that, though, we can’t deny that Pulp did tend to lean towards longer-form narratives. From Being Followed Home to Sheffield: Sex City we’ve seen a variety of stories play themselves out across a vividly defined urban landscape. Recently we’ve even seen a story (of a sort) with a sequel (of a sort) – and now the group were ready to embark on a conceptual suite of songs (of a sort) – three sequential polaroid snaps of a girl’s life on the b-side of Razzmatazz, and a follow-up on the ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ single – not quite a concept album, but as close as we’re going to get.

Stacks is, then, the introduction to this story, and that’s very much what it sounds like – i.e. barely a song at all, but in the best possible way – a great rush of teenage excitement about the possibilities of life, all squelchy synths and pop chords, it starts out with a chorus, then piles on another and another, only pausing briefly for breath in-between. There are no verses – verses would be boring. There are even hand-claps throughout – it’s easily as Pop as anything from Different Class, though in a sense, you could say it’s as experimental as anything else on Intro. Well, that might be stretching the point a little – basically it’s an idea, a sketch, as developed as it needed to be.

There’s something a little worrying about Stacks though, and I suspect it may be the reason the song quickly disappeared from setlists. The subject – who we will be following into her thirties – is at this point a young girl, perhaps no older than 13 or 14. We can tell this from the details listed – chewing gum, navy dress, sky blue trainer bra. Much of the lyric concerns her indiscretions with different boys, addresses her directly, asks for details.

‘Stacks’ is set in the 70s, and it was recorded over twenty years ago. Those were different days, of course, and entertainers of all sorts were not subjected to the kind of scrutiny that we expect in the age of the internet and Operation Yewtree.* It would be unwise to release anything like this in the post-Saville era, it’s true, but thankfully Stacks steers clear of the line of inappropriateness. The protagonist is not an adult onlooker, but either a boy of the same age or – more likely – the girl’s internal monologue. In the next episode we’ll join her in her own thoughts, and find them to be very much concerned with the same things – observing herself from the outside, imagining what others are saying about her, working as a well-realised proxy for teenage Jarvis, in other words. It’s that empathy for the character that stops the song being creepy – ultimately we aren’t looking at her, we are her – and we’re going to follow her through a couple of decades.

*Only yesterday folk musician Roy Harper was arrested for offenses related to a 13-year-old girl, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s related to his song ‘Forbidden Fruit’ (lyrics / cover version) – clearly about a relationship with a very young girl – or his 2006 explanation of the song’s content, now deleted, all too much concerned with ideas of poetry, beauty and context, all sounding too much like an excuse made too early or too late, lacking denials, regrets or apologies. Of course, I hope it all turns out not to be true, but he’s not making a great case for himself there.


One Response to “#115 – Stacks”

  1. D.S 16/11/2013 at 8:32 pm #

    This is one of my favourite Pulp songs. I think of it as their equivalent of ‘William, It Was Really Nothing.’ in how it sums up all that’s wonderful about the group in just two-and-a-half minutes.
    I always thought of Susan at this stage as being about 16, not least because that’s the age I was when I first heard the song and probably knew a few girls just like her. This is one of those songs where I was struck by A)How the words seemed to relate to the environment I grew up in. It felt like Pulp were one band who were familiar with the world that I recognised and B)The frankness about sex while still retaining a very British coyness in lines like ‘You let him touch too much ‘ and ‘Did you do it? Was he ace? ” – part Carry On, part Women On Top.
    Overall though this seems affectionate and the glam-disco backing track matches it well. Something like ‘Stacks’ is the essence of Pulp, marvellous.

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