Jarvis Cocker formed Pulp in 1978, when he was 15 years old. Originally called Arabicus Pulp, the first lineup consisted of schoolmates of Cocker. After a year, the band's name was truncated to Pulp. While they were in school, Pulp performed a handful of gigs. The band recorded a demo sometime in 1980-1981, giving the tape to John Peel at one of his traveling shows. Peel liked the tape and invited the band to appear on his show. Pulp had their first Peel Session in November 1981. Instead of leading to record deals and pop stardom, Pulp's appearance on Peel led nowhere. Discouraged by the band's lack of success, every member but Cocker left the band in 1982 to go to university. The following year, Cocker assembled a new lineup which featured eight members, including keyboardist Simon Hinkler, who would later join the Mission. In this incarnation, Pulp had distinct folk overtones, as well as new wave underpinnings.
The group landed their first record contract, releasing their debut album, It, in 1984. It didn't make much of an impact and the band fell apart again. After the second incarnation of Pulp disintegrated, Jarvis Cocker formed another version of the band, with guitarist/violinist Russell Senior, who became Cocker's first full-fledged collaborator. Cocker and Senior added drummer Magnus Doyle and bassist Peter Mansell to the group, as well as Tim Allcard, who did nothing but read poetry. Musically, Pulp backed away from the folky inclinations of It, adding keyboardist Candida Doyle in 1985, which led to a darker sound; shortly after her arrival, Allcard left the group. In 1985, Pulp released a series of singles on Fire Records. Just as their fortunes were looking up, Cocker became injured severely. As he was trying to impress a girl, he fell 30 feet out of a window, injuring his pelvis, foot, and wrist. For two months, he was confined to a wheelchair, but he performed concerts anyway.