How The Drugs Don't Work captured the mood of the nation in 1997

1 September 2023, 08:00

The Verve - The Drugs Don't Work (Official Video)

We look back at one of Richard Ashcroft's most moving and poignant tracks.

Radio X

By Radio X

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The Verve's Urban Hymns stands out as one of the most important British albums of all time, with arguably almost every track achieving sonic perfection.

From it comes the emotive and string-filled ballad, The Drugs Don't Work, which no doubt could be up there with some of the most memorable British singles ever. Remind yourself of its video above.

Richard Ashcroft onstage with The Verve
Richard Ashcroft onstage with The Verve. Picture: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

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Written by frontman Richard Ashcroft in 1995 and released on 1st September 1997, the track itself has been known to reduce The Verve fans to tears - which perhaps isn't that surprising when thinking about its origins...

Speaking about the song in 1995 to Select magazine, Ashcroft is quoted as saying: "There's a new track I've just written [...] It goes 'the drugs don't work, they just make me worse, and I know I'll see your face again'. That's how I'm feeling at the moment. They make me worse, man. But I still take 'em. Out of boredom and frustration you turn to something else to escape."

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Though then it was attributed to recreational drug use, the single has since been linked to both the passing of his father - who died from a blood clot when he was just 11 years old - and his wife Kate Radley's father, who died of cancer.

In fact, some sources even claim the song was written by his father-in-law's bedside- with the most compelling lyrics to support this claim being: "And I hope you're thinking of me/As you lay down on your side" as well as "Now the drugs don't work/They just make you worse/But I know I'll see your face again".

Revisiting the lyrics with this reading, it's impossible not to think of the heartache of losing a loved one.

Now the drugs don't work
They just make you worse
But I know I'll see your face again

The Verve's Urban Hymns album
The Verve's Urban Hymns album. Picture: Ben Molyneux / Alamy Stock Photo

However, that's not where the story ends. Released just one day after Princess Diana tragically died on 31st August 1997, it helped capture the spirit of the nation before Elton John went on to release his re-working of Candle In The Wind 13 days later.

Despite clearly not inspiring the song itself, the shocking death of Diana ahead of its release only made the nation connect with the track even more.

And the lasting power of the song isn't lost on Ashcroft till this day, either.

Speaking to Radio X's John Kennedy about their Urban Hymns album on the whole, he said: "I know from meeting people some of those songs have have played a big role in some of the serious times in their lives, whether they be joyous or they be sorrow, and that sort of thing as a songwriter [...] it's an honour and also a blessing".

For this reason, and many more, the poignant single gave Richard Ashcroft and his Verve bandmates their only chart-topping single, and a well deserved one at that.

Watch as Ashcroft explains why he doesn't play every Verve track live:

Richard Ashcroft talks why he doesn't play more Verve tracks

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