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Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is the title of the debut album from Arctic Monkeys, but where did that phrase come from?
On 23rd January 2006, Arctic Monkeys released their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Riding high off the success of their Number 1 single I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, the LP also shot to the top in the UK and critics hailed frontman Alex Turner as one of the best new songwriting talents in the country.
The title of the album seemed to sum up the swagger and the confidence of Turner - opening the video to I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, Turner muttered: “Don’t believe the hype”.
Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (Official Video)
The album title reflected this desire not to be pigeonholed, but the truth went a bit deeper than that.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is a line from the novel Saturday Night Sunday Morning. Written in 1958 by Alan Sillitoe, the book tells the tale of Arthur Seaton, a man who works at the local factory, while drinking hard at the weekends and carrying on with various women.
The book as turned into a famous film in 1960, where Seaton - played by Albert Finney, who died in 2019 aged 82 - rails against people who claim to have got the measure of him.
At one point, he rants: “I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not because they don't know a bloody thing about me! God knows what I am.”
The line is slightly different in the original novel, as Seaton rails in his head against authority figures: "What am I? he wondered. A six-foot pit-prop that wants a pint of ale. That's what I am.... I'm me and nobody else; and whatever people think I am or say I am, that's what I'm not, because they don't know a bloody thing about me."
Alex Turner liked the sentiment and realised that the story of working class culture in the stifling atmosphere of the late 50s and early 60s reflected his own lyrics about Sheffield nightlife in the 21st Century. In fact, many of the tales on the Arctic Monkeys LP were taken from his own experiences in Yorkshire clubs.
The Smiths - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
But Arctic Monkeys weren’t the only band to be influenced by the film Saturday Night Sunday Morning: the classic Smiths song There Is A Light That Never Goes Out also makes a reference to the script as one of Arthur’s conquests claims: "I want to go where there's life and there's people”.