Bitter Sweet Symphony

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For the album by Jade Valerie, see Bittersweet Symphony (album).
"Bitter Sweet Symphony"
The Verve - Bitter Sweet Symphony CD1.jpg
Single by The Verve
from the album Urban Hymns
Released 16 June 1997 (1997-06-16)
Recorded 1996 at Olympic Studios, London
  • 5:58 (album version)
  • 4:33 (radio edit)
Label Hut
The Verve singles chronology
"Bitter Sweet Symphony"
"The Drugs Don't Work"
Music sample
A sample from "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by The Verve
Music video
"Bitter Sweet Symphony" on YouTube

"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). 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 a plagiarism charge as a result. Consequently, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were added to the songwriting credits. "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 and stayed in the chart for three months.[1] The song's momentum built slowly in the US 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.[2]

MTV played the video of the song frequently. In it, Richard Ashcroft sings 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.[3][4] 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.[5][6] In 1999, the song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.[7]

Song credits[edit]

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 and written by David Whitaker, inspired by the 1965 Rolling Stones' song of the same title.[8][9] The Rolling Stones' song is itself strongly inspired from "The Last Time" from the Staple Singers.[10]

Originally, The Verve had negotiated a licence to use a six-note sample from the Oldham recording, but former Stones manager Allen Klein (who owned the copyrights to the band’s pre-1970 songs) claimed that The Verve broke the agreement and used a larger portion.[11][12] Despite its original lyrics and string intro (by Wil Malone and Ashcroft), the music of "Bitter Sweet Symphony" was sampled from the Oldham track, which led to a lawsuit with ABKCO Records, Klein's holding company, and eventually settled out of court. The Verve relinquished all of their royalties to Klein, owner of ABKCO Records, whilst songwriting credits were changed to Jagger/Richards/Ashcroft.[13]

The Verve bassist Simon Jones said, "We were told it was going to be a 50/50 split, and then they saw how well the record was doing. They rung up and said we want 100 percent or take it out of the shops, you don't have much choice."[14] After losing the composer credits to the song, Ashcroft commented, "This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years",[15] noting it was their biggest UK hit since "Brown Sugar".[14] 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: "It's very interesting stripping that song down and actually taking away all the strings, and just taking it down to the chords and my lyrics and my melody, and doing that kinda version it becomes much more bluesy. Also shows that ultimately take away the dressing, take away the strings, take away the sample, there's an actual song there."[16]

In a Cash for Questions interview with Q magazine published in January 1999, Keith Richards was asked if he thought it was harsh taking all The Verve's royalties from "Bitter Sweet Symphony". 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."

In 1999, Andrew Oldham also sued for royalties after failing to receive the mechanical royalties he claimed he was owed.[17] After receiving his royalties, Oldham joked that he bought "a pretty presentable watch strap" compared to the watch Jagger and Richards would get with the money. In an interview with Uncut Magazine, Oldham stated, "As for Richard Ashcroft, well, I don't know how an artist can be severely damaged by that experience. Songwriters have learned to call songs their children, and he thinks he wrote something. He didn't. I hope he's got over it. It takes a while."[18]


"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."[19]

Music video[edit]

A screenshot at the beginning of the music video showing Ashcroft, standing on a pavement. The video was noted as one of the most recognisable videos in the 90s.

The scripted, 50+ cut music video (directed by Walter A. Stern) is an homage to the single continuous shot docu-fiction 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 a reflection is seen of him standing stationary in the car's tinted window.[4] He repeatedly bumps into passers-by in a laddish-like fashion (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".[20] The music video was nominated for a number of awards, including three MTV Awards at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards.[6]

Ashcroft starts walking from the southeast corner of the intersection of Hoxton and Falkirk Streets in Hoxton, North London,[21] subsequently proceeding north along the east side of Hoxton Street until he reaches Hoxton Gardens. He then crosses to the corner of Purcell Street and walks back the way he came, before being joined by the rest of the band at the corner of Crondall Street, opposite where he started. 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.[22]

Live 8[edit]

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.[23]


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.[24] The same year, "Bitter Sweet Symphony" was named the third-best single of 1997 by New York City weekly The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop annual critics' poll. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it number 392 on their list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[25] In 2007, NME magazine placed the song at number 18 in its list of the "50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever".[26] In September 2007, a poll of 50 songwriters in Q magazine placed it in a list of the "Top 10 Greatest Tracks".[27] In the Australian Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time, 2009, the track was voted the 14th best song of all time.[28] Pitchfork Media included the song at number 29 on their "Top 200 Tracks of the 90s" list.[29] The publication also included "Bitter Sweet Symphony" in its collection of The Pitchfork 500.[30] In 2011, NME placed it at number 9 on its list "150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years".[31] The song featured at number one in Paste magazine's poll of the 25 awesome one-hit wonders of the 1990s.[32]

In popular culture[edit]

Film and television[edit]

  • In 2015, the song was mentioned in a second season episode of Mozart in the Jungle, an Amazon Series, by Rodrigo before he and Thomas indulge in mushroom and frog gland Psychedelics... calling out the Bitter Sweet Symphony, with Rodrigo saying "The Verve, yes, excellent!"
  • In 1999, the song was used as the final song in the teen film Cruel Intentions and is included on the film's soundtrack.[33]
  • Also in 1999, the song was mentioned in the tenth episode of the first season of Charmed, 'Wicca Envy', when Rex says he is friends with The Verve, and Phoebe claims that the track "is, like, the best song ever."
  • The song appears in an episode of the television series The Simpsons in the episode titled "That '90s Show."[34]
  • Megan Hilty performed a cover of the song in "The Surprise Party", the tenth episode of the second season of Smash.
  • Nike commercial in early 1998.[35] "Two weeks after the Nike commercial debuted, during the NFL playoffs, the Verve's Urban Hymns jumped thirty-four spots on the Billboard 200, hitting Number Thirty-six, the album's highest point since its release last September. Summers concedes that the ad may help generate the Verve's U.S. breakthrough: "If this music is being played during football games and 20 million people are listening to it for a minute, it's going to have an effect.""


Video games[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

Knowles performing a mash-up of "If I Were a Boy" and "Bitter Sweet Symphony" during The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, 2013
  • Ace Enders and a Million Different People did a cover in 2008 with Mark Hoppus, Matt Thiessen, Craig Owens, Alex Gaskarth, Kenny Vasoli, Bryce Avary, Aaron Marsh & Duane Okun.

Track listings[edit]

  • CD 1 HUTDG 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (original) – 6:00
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:51
  3. "Country Song" – 7:50
  4. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (radio edit) – 4:35
  • CD 2 HUTDX 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (extended version) – 7:52
  2. "So Sister" – 4:11
  3. "Echo Bass" – 6:39
  • Cassette HUTC 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (radio edit) – 4:35
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:51
  • 7" HUTLH 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (radio edit) – 4:35
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:51
  • 12" HUTT 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony (original) – 6:00
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:51
  3. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (James Lavelle Remix)
  4. "Country Song" – 7:50
  • Promo CD HUTCDP 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (radio edit) – 4:35
  • Promo 12" HUTTP 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (alt version)
  2. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (MSG)
  • Remix 12" HUTTR 82
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (James Lavelle Remix)
  2. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (James Lavelle Instrumental Remix)

US version[edit]

On 10 March 1998 Bitter Sweet Symphony was released in the United States. The single was distributed by Virgin Records.

  • CD V25D-38634
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (original) – 5:58
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:52
  3. "So Sister" – 4:11
  4. "Echo Bass" – 6:39
  • Cassette 4KM-38634
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (original) – 5:58
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:52
  • Promo CD DPRO-12727
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (radio edit) – 4:16
  2. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (original) – 5:57
  3. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (Call Out Research Hook 1 Vocal) – 0:12
  4. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (Call Out Research Hook 2 Instrumental) – 0:11
  • Promo 12" SPRO-12775
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (James Lavelle Remix) - 5:50
  2. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (album version) – 5:57
  3. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (James Lavelle Instrumental Remix) - 5:50

Japanese version[edit]

  • CD VJCP-12077
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (original) – 6:00
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:51
  3. "Country Song" – 7:50
  4. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (radio edit) – 4:35

Dutch version[edit]

  • CD 8943752
  1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (original) – 6:00
  2. "Lord I Guess I'll Never Know" – 4:51
  3. "Country Song" – 7:50
  4. "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (radio edit) – 4:35

Electro version[edit]

  1. Dayze – "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (Original mix) – 6:13


Chart successions[edit]

Preceded by
"3 a.m." by Matchbox 20
Canadian RPM Rock/Alternative 30 number-one single
January 26 – February 2, 1998
Succeeded by
"3 a.m." by Matchbox 20


Region Certification
Australia (ARIA)[42] Gold
France (SNEP)[43] Silver
Italy (FIMI)[44] Gold
United Kingdom (BPI)[45] Platinum
United States (RIAA)[46] Gold


  1. ^ "The Verve's bitter sweet career". BBC News. Retrieved 8 March 015
  2. ^ Billboard Hot 100 (line 17). The
  3. ^ Verve Single Tops Charts But Success Is Bittersweet Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 12 2012
  4. ^ a b Craig McLean (14 Jan 2006) "Still crazy" The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 February 2012
  5. ^ The Brit Awards: The Verve Retrieved 11 February 2012
  6. ^ a b 1998 MTV Video Music Awards Rock on the Net. Retrieved 11 February 2012
  7. ^ 41st Grammy Awards - 1999 Rock on the Net. Retrieved 12 February 2012
  8. ^ [1] Sound On Sound. Retrieved 19 March 2014
  9. ^ [2] The Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2014
  10. ^ "The Last Time by The Rolling Stones Songfacts". Retrieved 2016-12-04. 
  11. ^ The Verve - Bitter Sweet Symphony: the controversy
  12. ^ "Horror Stories of Sampling" Archived June 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony". allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Powell, Betsy. "Bitter, Sweet Success"
  15. ^ Archived January 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Bitter Sweet Symphony (Vh2 Live) on YouTube VH2. Retrieved 10 March 2012
  17. ^ Christopher O'Connor (January 11, 1999). "The Verve Sued Again Over 'Bitter Sweet Symphony'". MTV. 
  18. ^ Adam Bychawski (October 7, 2008). "Rolling Stones' manager derides The Verve". NME. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  19. ^ Q January 2001
  20. ^ "The Verve - Bittersweet Symphony". Parlophone. 23 July 2008. Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  21. ^ "Music video - Bittersweet Symphony"
  22. ^ Irene Morra (2013). "Britishness, Popular Music, and National Identity: The Making of Modern Britain". p. 138. Routledge,
  23. ^ Live 8: A Bittersweet Symphony (TV 2005) IMDB. Retrieved 10 March 2012
  24. ^ Radio 1 - Best Tracks Ever Rock Retrieved 10 February 2012
  25. ^ "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  26. ^ The Greatest Indie Anthems Ever - Numbers 30-11, Accessed on 23 June 2007.
  27. ^ Songwriters reveal top 10 tracks BBC News. Retrieved 31 August 2007
  28. ^ "Countdown | Hottest 100 - Of All Time | triple j". Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  29. ^ Pitchfork Top 200 Tracks of the 90s
  30. ^ Plagenhoef, Scott; Schreiber, Ryan, eds. (November 2008). The Pitchfork 500. Simon & Schuster. pp. 143–144. ISBN 978-1-4165-6202-3. 
  31. ^ "150 Best Tracks Of The Past 15 Years". Nme.Com. 30 April 1997. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  32. ^ Barrett, John (28 September 2011). "25 Awesome One-Hit Wonders of the 1990s". Paste. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  33. ^ Cruel Intentions OST All Music. Retrieved 10 March 2012
  34. ^ The Simpsons - "That 90's Show" (Season 19, and episode 11) Fox. Retrieved 10 March 2012
  35. ^ Bitter Sweet Sympony US Debut! Fox. Retrieved 10 March 2012
  36. ^ Richard Ashcroft - From urban hymns to united nations The Independent. Retrieved 10 March 2012
  37. ^ "Beyoncé makes nod to The Verve at London's O2 Arena". NME. IPC Media. 30 April 2013. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  38. ^ Archived June 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved May 2009
  39. ^ Top Singles of 1997 (Italy)
  40. ^ "Billboard Top 100 - 1998". Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 28 August 2010. 
  41. ^ "Rock/Alternative - Volume 68, No. 12, December 14, 1998". RPM. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  42. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 1997 Singles". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  43. ^ "French single certifications – The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  44. ^ "Italian single certifications – The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 9 January 2015.  Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter The Verve in the field Filtra. The certification will load automatically
  45. ^ "British single certifications – The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 9 January 2015.  Enter Bitter Sweet Symphony in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Platinum in the field By Award. Click Search
  46. ^ "American single certifications – The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 9 January 2015.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH

External links[edit]