“We’re the Arctic Monkeys, and we’re the next big thing,” scoffs a spotty Alex Turner at a packed Portsmouth leisure centre just days before ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ skyrockets to the top of the UK singles chart in October 2005. Thus began the Sheffield four-piece’s astronomical ascent after months of demo swapping among fans.
Back then the buzz and excitement snowballing around this lot was beyond ridiculous. Kids would bellow every word to their songs at gigs and indie clubs, pre-debut album gigs sold out in a flash and early demos were swapped online for ridiculous amounts of money. The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party had already kickstarted a new British guitar movement. But when four unlikely working class lads from Sheffield dropped ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, 10 years ago, it became the generation-defining debut album of the new millennium. Not since ‘Definitely Maybe’ had there been this much hype around a British debut LP. And so it went on to prove, shifting 360,000 units in its first week, smashing Oasis modus operandi to become the fastest-selling debut album in British music history (it still currently holds the record for fastest selling debut album by a band). Here are five reasons why it was such a masterpiece.
Alex Turner was a wordsmith genius
While teenage troubadours like Jake Bugg continue to turn to professional co-writers to help them polish up their lyrics these days, Turner was spitting out couplets like Mozza, Jarvis and [Mike] Skinner from the outset. Fed on a diet of hip-hop during his teenage years, the Monkeys frontman was a master of observation, waxing lyrical about aggro bouncers (‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’), rock star wannabes (‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’), moody girlfriends (‘Mardy Bum’) and “dickheads scrapping with pool cues in their hands” (‘A Certain Romance’). These were universal anthems that resonated with every adolescent and working class lad.
Their gigs were spine-tingling choral experiences (sort of)
The early Monkeys gigs took your breath away. Literally every back room toilet they turned up at, saw packed crowds barking back every word of their anthems in waiting. Pints were launched, fights were averted (most notably at their London debut gig at the Astoria) and future marriages were formed. Plus the band were an incredibly tight unit at such a tender age, so every song sounded frenetically brilliant.
The record was packed with hits
Much like ‘Definitely Maybe’, ‘Whatever People Say I Am,’ had very few fillers sitting alongside the likes of ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, ‘Dancing Shoes’, ‘Fake Tales’, ‘A Certain Romance’, ‘When The Sun Goes Down’, ‘The View From The Afternoon’. Even, the likes of ‘Riot Van’ and ‘Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured’ had an infectious lyrical charm which resonated with every lad on a Saturday night out.
They were working class heroes
Not since Oasis, had a bunch of tracksuit clad northerners gatecrashed the charts in such a dramatic fashion. While, Turner may have lacked Liam Gallagher’s swagger, his bullish on stage cocksureness, still made every teenager want to pick up a guitar.
The album’s iconic artwork may have caused controversy (Scotland’s NHS criticised it for “reinforcing the idea that smoking is okay”) but it ranked alongside The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’, ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘The Stone Roses’ as one of the great debut album covers. The fact the band gave their mate Chris McClure some cash to go out and get smashed so they could take his picture afterwards just added to the album’s cheeky charm.