The British rock group The Verve really immortalized themselves in the music game with their 1997 song “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” The song is about life itself–all its perks and quirks. Maybe the song’s relatability to everyone had something to do with its never-ending popularity among the masses. Let’s dive into the song’s lyrics and its meaning.
“Bitter Sweet Symphony” was released as a single by The Verve on June 16, 1997, from the band’s third studio album ‘Urban Hymns.’ Through the ages, the song has become a cornerstone in Britpop music history.
The song reached #2 on the UK Singles Chart and #12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart. In 1999, the song was nominated for ‘Best Rock Song’ at the Grammy Awards ceremony. Apart from this, the song’s other crowning achievement is being listed on Rolling Stone’s list of ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time.’
“Bitter Sweet Symphony” samples the Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time.” Once the song was released, The Verve could not get the sample cleared from the Rolling Stones’ management. Following a lawsuit, the Verve had to give up all royalties from the song to Rolling Stones. In 2019, Rolling Stones members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards gave up all credits to the song back to the Verve singer and songwriter Richard Ashcroft. During this period, it is estimated that “Bitter Sweet Symphony” had generated over $5 million in publishing revenue.
Listen to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve
The Verve “Bitter Sweet Symphony” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
Richard Ashcroft wastes no bars to get to the point of the song;
‘Cause it’s a bitter sweet symphony that’s life
“Bitter Sweet Symphony” song is about life and everything it brings us. At times it can be bitter and at times it can be sweet. And when these two mix together, you get a bittersweet symphony of events.
Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die
Among all these bitter and sweet experiences, everyone in this world is walking towards the same end–death. It matters nothing if your life was filled with more bitterness or sweetness. At the end of it all, we all meet at the same gate that takes us to the beyond!
It is hard to say definitely, but this line might have been inspired by the personal experiences of the songwriter Richard Ashcroft. Frank Ashcroft, Richard’s father was an office clerk and died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage when Richard was 11.
Regardless, inspiration for this lyric can be found everywhere we turn our heads. Most people live to work and before they can turn back and see how much of their life has been wasted, they are already at the finish line. Some people do not struggle for money–but they lust for it, resulting in the same result. You can forever chase for more and never see the end coming at you.
The latter part of the song could be about a few things. Most notably, the singer might be talking about the common theme of the song–death. This is the path he is most familiar with–not because he has already taken it. But because he sees ahead of the curve. He stopped to look over the hill and sees where everyone is blindly walking to.
The other most common interpretation for “where all the veins meet” is the use of drugs. Maybe this is the path the singer is most familiar with. Why? Because he sees no other option than to numb the journey toward his own non-existence.
On a more positive tone, “where all the veins meet” could be a reference to the heart which pumps blood all throughout our body to keep us alive and functioning. And this could be the singer’s way of telling people to follow their hearts rather than be molded into a puppet of society. Maybe being a singer is what Richard always wanted and maybe his parents had other ideas for him. But he chose the path that he wanted to take and he wants others to do the same.
In the hook of the song, Richard Ashcroft gets even more helpless. He has a battle in his head if he can even break the molds put up by society. Can he change and be who he wants to be? Can he go against the grain? Will he be the one exception?
But I’m a million different people from one day to the next
A mold makes an exact replica of the one before. It cannot accommodate two different designs let alone a million changes. Society wants him to be perfect for everyone and in every instance. But he simply cannot be two or more people from today to tomorrow. This is how personalities get demolished and a puppet gets created. A mold should not shape or hold a person! But how many of us can break out of the mold? The singer seems to think not. He keeps screaming ‘no, no, no, no’ to emphasize the fact.
With this stark reality hitting him hard, an unbearable pain crushes him down. What is the point of all this? Is there anyone else out there who can relate to him? His knees weak, he falls on them.
It’s just sex and violence, melody and silence
Different people develop different methods of coping with life. For the singer, it is a combination of sex, violence, his music, and deafening silence. A great combination showcasing the emptiness of the life he leads that has pushed him over the edge.
‘Have you ever been down?’ is the question Ashcroft leaves us with. Maybe this is his final attempt to connect with any one of us and share his pain. Yes, Ashcroft, we have all been down. Some of us get back up and others don’t. Don’t let society break you. Break the mold instead.
Let us hear what you think about the song in the comments below. Read the complete lyrics to the song on Genius.