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17th Jun 2017

20 years ago today, The Verve released the absolutely iconic Bitter Sweet Symphony

Paul Moore

The tribute to a goddamn masterpiece.

Despite what record companies will tell you about the charts and sales figures, there’s no quantifiable way to measure the abstract concept of what separates ‘good music’ from the rest. That’s why music is so great, the same song will undoubtedly have a different meaning for you than anyone else.

This being said, it’s very likely that the iconic Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve will resonate with you in exactly the same way as it does with everyone else.

On June 16th (almost 20 years ago today but three and a half months ahead of the release of Urban Hymns), the band from Wigan released their most iconic track as a single and quite frankly, it’s still as powerful as it was when we first heard those superb strings.

Don’t believe us?

Stick the track on now, turn the volume up to 11, and walk down the street. £10 bet that you feel like you’re 50ft tall and ready to take on the world. We also guarantee that you’re tempted to throw some shapes and strut down the road like Richard Ashcroft did in the video!

In terms of lyrics that are incredibly poignant and powerful, the opening words still resonate as deeply now as they did in ’97. “Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life/ Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die.”

When dwelling on that statement, one universal truth instantly dawns on me. We all know that life is going to throw an endless amount of shit in our direction. Listening to Bitter Sweet Symphony is like a metaphorical walk down life’s road while having two fingers raised to everyone else and screaming at the top of your voice ‘come at me, I’ll still be standing.’

Hell, it’s almost like Ashcroft even acknowledges the universality of his lyrics by singing “But I’m a million different people, From one day to the next, I can’t change my mold.”

He might have the same complexities, troubles and worries as everyone else, but he’s never going to conform and lose what makes him ‘him’.

He even stands on a car in the video without giving a single fuck about the consequences. How rock and roll is that?

In sheer musical terms, Bitter Sweet Symphony is just like A Hard Days Night (Beatles), Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones), Supersonic (Oasis) and countless other gems. How? Well, it’s opening chords are instantly identifiable because it’s like nothing that you’ve heard before.

In a split-second, you know that what you’re hearing is Bitter Sweet Symphony. It just grabs you and doesn’t let go until the final note.

All this without mentioning that glorious moment when the drums kick in and the trip-hop beat just keeps on driving and driving.

Regarding the famous passage of strings, that sample was actually mired in some controversy because the band sampled it from the 1965 Andrew Oldham Orchestra symphonic recording of  The Rolling Stones track The Last Time.

While stories conflict, the general idea is that The Verve had acquired the rights to use six seconds of the string part, but a former manager of the Stones, Allen Klein (who owned and controlled the copyrights from that era of the Stones) claimed that they used too much of the track.

Both parties eventually settled out of court and the song writing credits on the track were even changed to Jagger/Richards/Ashcroft.

Still though, the words are 100% the work of Richard Ashcroft and there’s something marvelous about the repetition of certain lyrics. It’s almost an affirmation of his swagger, defiance and melancholy.

At the time of its release, the single went to number two in the UK charts, but there’s no denying that it’s appearance during the final scene of Cruel Intentions boosted its popularity – and The Verve’s sales – around the globe.

Special praise should go to Sean Demery, music director of a radio station in Atlanta named 99x, who played it uninterrupted for nearly 30 minutes to an audience of puzzled listeners!

In the subsequent 20 years since its release, Bitter Sweet Symphony was ranked in Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, Q Magazine’s list of “Top 10 Greatest Tracks” and it was voted by BBC Radio 1 listeners as the ‘Best Track Ever”. Right now, the song has been played 318,784,268 times on The Verve’s official YouTube page.

In fact, when Coldplay collaborated with Richard Ashcroft at Live 8, Chris Martin introduced The Verve frontman by saying that he’s “the best singer in the world” and he described Bitter Sweet Symphony as “the best song ever written”.

Clip via – zonurb111

After listening to it again, it’s hard not to agree with the Coldplay singer.

It’s iconic. It’s uplifting. It’s euphoric. It’s defiant. It’s driven. It’s truth.

It’s a Bitter Sweet Symphony this life.

Give it another listen because in the immortal words of Richard Ashcroft “I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now.”

Clip via – TheVerveVEVO