Song of the Day: Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve

Knite Ch4 Bonus pg 2 by Knites

“Bitter Sweet Symphony” is a song by English alternative rock band The Verve, and is the lead track on their third studio album, Urban Hymns (1997).


‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die
I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places
Where all the veins meet, yeah

No change, I can change, I can change, I can change
But I’m here in my mold, I am here in my mold
But I’m a million different people from one day to the next
I can’t change my mold, no, no, no, no, no
[Have you ever been down]

Well I’ve never prayed, but tonight I’m on my knees, yeah
I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah
I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now
But the airways are clean and there’s nobody singing to me now

No change, I can change, I can change, I can change
But I’m here in my mold, I am here in my mold
And I’m a million different people from one day to the next
I can’t change my mold, no, no, no, no, no
[Have you ever been down]
I can’t change, I can’t change

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet, try to find some money then you die
I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places
Where all the veins meet, yeah

You know I can change, I can change, I can change, I can change
But I’m here in my mold, I am here in my mold
And I’m a million different people from one day to the next
I can’t change my mold, no, no, no, no, no

I can’t change my mold, no, no, no, no, no
I can’t change my, no, no, no, no, no

It’s such a sensual violence, melody violence
It’s such a sensual violence, melody violence

I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down
I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down, been down
Ever been down, ever been down, ever been down, ever been down
Have you ever been down? Have you’ve ever been down?
Have you’ve ever been down?


It is based on an Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral version of  The Rolling Stones’ song, “The Last Time” from which it samples a main theme, and involved some legal controversy surrounding plagiarism charge as a result. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was released on 16 June 1997 by Hut Recordings as the first single from the album, reaching number two on the UK Singles Chart. The song’s momentum built slowly in the U.S. throughout the latter months of 1997, ultimately leading to a CD single release on 3 March 1998 by Virgin Records America, helping the song to reach number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song’s music video, which received heavy rotation on MTV, focuses on Richard Ashcroft lip-synching the song while walking down a busy London pavement, oblivious to what is going on around and refusing to change his stride or direction throughout. At the 1998 Brit Awards, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was nominated for Best British Single, and at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, the song was nominated for Video of the Year, Best Group Video, and Best Alternative Video. In 1999, the song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.

Regarded as the band’s signature song and one of the defining tracks of the Britpop era, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has featured in best ever song polls; in 1998, BBC Radio 1 listeners voted it the third Best Track Ever. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it number 392 on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. In 2007, NME magazine placed the song at number 18 in its list of the “50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever”. In September 2007, a poll of 50 songwriters in Q magazine placed it in a list of the “Top 10 Greatest Tracks”. In the Australian Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time, 2009, the track was voted the 5th best song of all time. Pitchfork Mediaincluded the song at number 29 on their “Top 200 Tracks of the 90s” list. In 2011, NME placed it at number 9 on its list “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years”. The song featured at number one in Paste magazine’s poll of the 25 awesome one-hit wonders of the 1990s.

Although the song’s lyrics were written by Verve vocalist Richard Ashcroft, its distinctive passage for strings was sampled from the 1965 Andrew Oldham Orchestra symphonic recording of “The Last Time”, arranged & written by David Whitaker, inspired by the 1965 Rolling Stones’ song of the same title.

Originally, The Verve had negotiated a licence to use a five-note sample from the Oldham recording, but former Stones manager Allen Klein (who owned the copyrights to the band’s pre-1970 songs) claimed the Verve broke the agreement and used a larger portion. Despite its original lyrics and string intro (by Wil Malone & Ashcroft), the music of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was sampled from the Oldham track, which led to a lawsuit with ABKCO Records, Allen Klein’s holding company, and eventually settled out of court. The Verve relinquished all of their royalties to Allen Klein, owner of ABKCO Records, whilst songwriting credits were changed to Jagger/Richards/Ashcroft. It is worth noting that although The Verve vehemently disputed all the accusations, they chose to settle the matter outside the court because of the costs of a legal battle they were not certain to win.

“We were told it was going to be a 50/50 split, and then they saw how well the record was doing,” says band member Simon Jones. “They rung up and said we want 100 percent or take it out of the shops, you don’t have much choice.”

After losing the composer credits to the song, Richard Ashcroft commented, “This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years”, noting it was their biggest UK hit since “Brown Sugar”.

On Ashcroft’s return to touring, the song traditionally ended the set list. Ashcroft also reworked the single for VH2 Live for the music channel VH1, stripping the song of its strings. Ashcroft is quoted as saying during the show: “Despite all the legal angles and the bullshit, strip down to the chords and the lyrics and the melody and you realise there is such a good song there.”

In a Cash for Questions interview with Q magazine published in January 1999, Keith Richards was asked (by John Johnson of Enfield) if he thought it was harsh taking all The Verve’s royalties from “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” to which he replied, “I’m out of whack here, this is serious lawyer shit. If The Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.”


“This was certainly the most successful track I’ve done,” noted producer Youth. “I think Richard had actually cut a version with John Leckie but, by the time I came on board, he didn’t want to do the song. I persuaded him to have a go at cutting a version but at first he wasn’t really into it. It was only once we’d put strings on it that he started getting excited. Then, towards the end, Richard wanted to chuck all the album away and start again. What was my reaction? Horror. Sheer horror. All I could say was, I really think you should reconsider.”

Music Video

The music video (directed by Walter A. Stern) is an homage to the music video for Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ and focuses on Ashcroft lip-synching the song while walking down a busy London pavement, refusing to change his stride or direction throughout (oblivious to what is going on around him), except for one instance where he is forced to stop for a moving car and you see a reflection of him standing stationary in the car’s tinted window. He repeatedly bumps into passers-by (causing one young woman to lose balance and fall), narrowly avoids being hit by a car, and jumps on top of the bonnet of another vehicle stopped in his path (the driver gets out of her car and proceeds to confront him, while he continues unflinchingly). At the end of the video, the rest of The Verve join Ashcroft, and the final shot sees them walking down the street into the distance. This then leads into the beginning of the video for “The Drugs Don’t Work”. The music video was nominated for a number of awards, including three MTV Awards at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards.

Ashcroft starts walking from the southeast corner of the intersection of Hoxton and Falkirk Streets in Hoxton, North London, subsequently proceeding north along the east side of Hoxton Street. The British comedy band Fat Les would later release a direct parody for their 1998 song “Vindaloo”, an alternative anthem for England at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, where Paul Kaye takes the role of an Ashcroft look-alike who is mocked by a growing group of passersby as the video progresses.

Live 8

On 2 July 2005, at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, Coldplay invited Ashcroft to perform the song with them in their set. They played it after only one rehearsal in Crystal Palace. Ashcroft was introduced by Chris Martin as “the best singer in the world” and he described the song as “the best song ever written”. On 25 December 2005, a documentary entitled Live 8: A Bitter Sweet Symphony was aired reliving moments of the day featuring a portion of Ashcroft’s performance as the music for the show’s opening soundtrack.

Film and television

  • In 1999, the song was used as the final song in the teen film Cruel Intentions and is included on the film’s soundtrack.
  • The song appears in an episode of the television series The Simpsons in the episode titled “That ’90s Show.”


  • Since 2008, the song has been used by ITV as the background music to the opening sequence for England’s international football matches; the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and UEFA Euro 2012.
  • The Seattle Seahawks uses the song as their entrance music at home games, and have been using it for over a decade. Most notably, on February 2, 2014, the song was used as the entrance music for the Seattle Seahawks during the pregame festivities of Super Bowl XLVIII, played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It was also used by the Seahawks during their 1st Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl XL during the 2005 season.
  • The New Jersey Devils use this song after a home loss at the Prudential Center along with “Closing Time” by Semisonic

Video games

  • In 2009, DJ Hero remixed the Aranbee Pop Symphony Orchestra instrumental version of this song, with All Eyez on Me by 2Pac, and Rock the Bells by LL Cool J

Cover Versions

  • American recording artist Beyoncé Knowles mashed the song with her own “If I Were a Boy” during the set list of her The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour (2013). The string motif of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was used during the performances. Philip Matusavage from the website musicOMH gave a negative review for the performance of the song, writing that it finds Knowles alone on stage “just when distraction is needed most”.
  • Ace Enders and a Million Different People, in 2008, covered this song
  • John Mayer performed this song at the Hollywood Bowl
  • Mexican group Mexican Institute of Sound did a Spanish cover of this song on their album, Soy Sauce, called Sinfonia Agridulce
  • Brian Jonestown Massacre did a hardcore punk version of this song
  • OneRepublic covered this song in concert
  • American singer Madonna used a sample of the song on her 2001 hit Don’t Tell Me while on her 2004 Re-Invention World Tour.
  • American band Limp Bizkit covered the song in a medley with Mötley Crüe’s Home Sweet Home, called Home Sweet Home/Bittersweet Symphony, for their compilation Greatest Hitz (2005).
  • South African band Absinthe covered the song on their album A Rendezvous at Nirvana.

The Verve

Origin Wigan, England
Genres Alternative rock, neo-psychedelia, dream pop, shoegazing, Britpop, space rock
Years active 1990–1995, 1997–1999, 2007–2009
Labels EMI, Hut, Virgin, Parlophone, Vernon Yard
Associated acts Richard Ashcroft, Black Submarine, The Shining , RPA & The United Nations of Sound
Past members Richard Ashcroft
Nick McCabe
Simon Jones
Peter Salisbury
Simon Tong

image by yuumei

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