I didn’t know much about Pulp before I heard “Like a Friend,” and I still don’t, not really. I know that the band’s been around forever, and I know a handful of great, great songs, but for some reason, I never fully investigated them. I suppose I should.
In the meantime, there’s “Like a Friend,” a song that was originally written and recorded for the Great Expectations soundtrack and was later added to rereleased versions of the band’s record This Is Hardcore. I’ve written before about how much I admire and respect Jarvis Cocker’s writing ability, and this song is a good example of what I love about him: he’s pretty angry about this gone-wrong relationship, but there’s also a sense of acceptance about his own responsibility in the matter.
When the song kicks into high gear, it’s as if Cocker is simultaneously acknowledging his role in the toxic relationship: by saying “You are the car I never should have bought,” Cocker’s essentially saying, “You’re bad news, but I should have known that.” On top of all that awareness, which he and the band pound away at like an angry subconscious, there’s the fact that Cocker absolutely nails the frustrating thing about friendship. Feelings are hard, emotions are complicated. It’s not like a car accident, when an insurance company can just name one party as “at fault.” Though that would be nice.
I. Love. This. Song.
Why everybody doesn’t love this song and talk about it all the time is beyond me. I think the production is great, the arrangement is great, the vocals are great, the melody is great. Jarvis Cocker wrote the song for Nancy Sinatra, who sang it on her self-titled record (co-produced by Cocker). The best moment? When the Beach Boys harmonies come in for “he can kiss you where the sun don’t shine.” Sunshine, Jarvis Cocker style.
A friend of mine likes to say that Pulp won the Oasis vs. Blur “war” of the nineties, and I tend to agree. They came out of the scuffle looking like the cool kids who didn’t care about the hype, all while making great music. I don’t know why Cocker hasn’t done more solo work, because his two solo records (2006’s Jarvis, which this song leads off, and 2008’s Further Complications) are winners.
The video is also great, but I won’t spoil it for you.