The original version by British rock band Pulp is catchy, biting and satirical, but it's also kind of hiply aloof. And it really shouldn't be. The soft, airy instrumentals and Cocker's soothing, effete vocals still make the song seem like a condemnation, sure; but it's a half-hearted, almost fond one. That's not in line with the soul of the piece: "Common People" is about lower class rage at the poverty-tourism of hip young rich kids, and yet the wry, clever delivery and synth-pop sensibilities make the original come off more like a pretentious hipster damning the new scenesters who just don't know that Dante's is so over now, rather than the jaded diatribe of a working stiff finally sticking one to a rich girl.
I know this is going to sound ridiculous, impossible, and insane -- this sounds like somebody accidentally transcribed a drunken bet on the back of a sheet of Mad Libs and the ink bled through -- but Ben Folds and William Shatner made a fantastic album together, called Has Been. It's a bizarre orgy of conflicting priorities, equal parts beat poetry, punk rock and midlife crisis. And there is a f*****g amazing cover of "Common People" on there. William Shatner delivers the vocals in every way Cocker didn't: He's artless, forthright and furious. The cover is all driving guitars and Cockney screaming while Shatner whiskey-slurs a devastating tirade to an inappropriately young girl whom he wants to bang almost as much as he wants to murder and leave in a river.