Music Video of the Day: Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve (1997, directed by Walter Stern)


Does this seem familiar?  It’s because Val already shared her thoughts about this video.  This is a song that means a lot to me, especially on this day, so that’s why I’m sharing my thoughts now.  It’s either that or else I forgot to check on whether this video had been previous shared before I wrote and scheduled this post.

Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life
Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the 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’t change, I can’t change, I can’t 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, no, no

Bitter Sweet Symphony.  It’s a beautiful song that, on days like today, means a lot to me.  The lyrics were written by Richard Ashcroft, the lead singer of The Verve.  That’s him in the video, lurching Frankenstein-like down Hoxton Street in London.

The famous orchestral riff, which has been heard in so many movies and commercials, was lifted from a 1965 song by The Rolling Stones, The Last Time.  When the band tried to get permission to use the sample, there was a lot of confusion about who actually owned the rights.  You can read all the details on Songfacts.  It’s a bit too complicated for me to even try to put my mind around.

Well I never pray,
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 airwaves are clean and there’s nobody singing to me now.

The video,I assume, was very carefully orchestrated.  Personally, I’d love to imagine that Ashcroft just started walking down the street, intentionally crashing into anyone or anything that got in his way.  I especially relate to the woman who gets in Ashcroft’s face after he walks over her car.  That would be me.

The video was directed by Walter Stern, who has sixteen credits listed on the imvdb.  Supposedly the video was inspired by another music video, this one for Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy.  I’ve never seen the Massive Attack video but apparently it also features a lead singer lurching down a street.  Though Walter Stern didn’t direct Unfinished Sympathy, he did do a different video for Massive Attack (Tear Drop) shortly before doing Bitter Sweet Symphony.

No change, I can’t change, I can’t change, I can’t 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, no, no

(Well have you ever been down?)
(I can’t change, I can’t change)

When I rewatched this video for this post, I was struck by just how tall Richard Ashcroft is.  Honestly, I would probably get out of his way.  Unless he walked across my car, of course.  Then I’d get in his face and start yelling.

Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life.
Trying to make ends meet, trying 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.
No change, I can’t change, I can’t change, I can’t 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, no, no
I can’t change my mold, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
I can’t change my mold, no, no, no, no, no, no, no

Despite the fact that The Verve was opposed to having their music appear in commercials, they didn’t control the rights.  As such, Bitter Sweet Symphony was used in a campaign for Nike.  The Verve donated the money that they made to the Red Cross Land Mine Appeal.  Of course, the song’s appeared in a lot of commercials and movies since then.

It’s just sex and violence melody and silence
It’s just sex and violence melody and silence (I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down)
It’s just sex and violence melody and silence
It’s just sex and violence melody and silence
It’s just sex and violence melody and silence (I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down)
(It’s just sex and violence melody and silence)Been down
(Ever been down)
(Ever been down)
(Ever been down)
(Ever been down)
(Ever been down)

Enjoy!

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Music Video of the Day: Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve (1997, dir. Walter A. Stern)


The Verve was a group that I know a lot of people liked in the late 90s, but I never got into them. I had the album this song is on, but that was it. I actually enjoyed The Verve Pipe more. However, in both of their cases it was only one song. I probably caught a minute of the music video here and there, but that was it. This is the first time I have watched it all the way through carefully. There’s not much to talk about.

The video starts off with our lead singer deliberately standing on a sidewalk at an intersection where construction would block him from walking straight backwards. He can only go straight forward. After that, he continues to walk down the street without caring too much about who or what gets in his way. Wikipedia says he is a oblivious, but he isn’t. That’s noticeable when he does move around some people. Not to mention that if he were truly oblivious, then he would have walked into several cars. He is unconcerned because this walk isn’t just for fun, but a cathartic experience for him. This is most noticeable in the way he walks to where he needs to stand, and seems to have to work up the courage to walk down the street. He ends up walking the metaphorical street where in the end he is joined by the other members of the group. He might hurt some people along the way, but he can’t let that stop him from being who he is, and to move forward with his life. I did find it interesting that they deliberately show shots of his feet. I don’t think it’s meant to be a Saturday Night Fever (1977) reference, but to show that he is not avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk.

This is another music video where we know more than just the director.

The director is Walter A. Stern who seems to have done about 20 music videos, but that’s it.

Editor Nicholas Wayman-Harris has a done a few more music videos having edited about 25 of them along with directing one. He has also worked in other short films as well as feature films

Costume designer Emma Sutton did at least 7 music videos and a few additional shorts, but that’s all I could find.

The music video fits the song and is interesting, but it’s nothing particularly remarkable. That said, I’d say this is required viewing and listening for 90s music.