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The Drugs Don't Work
The Verve
Given the troubled history of The Verve, it's a wonder this song got made at all. A disastrous slot on the Lollapalooza tour in summer 1994 had resulted in wrecked hotel rooms and hospitalisations.
The Verve
Song facts
Composer Richard Ashcroft
Genre Rock
Album Urban Hymns
Year of Release 1997

A Northern Soul, released in 1995, was seen as a swansong - decimated by drugs and disillusioned by public apathy, the band split later that year.

Ashcroft, though, didn’t take defeat lying down. Reassembling the group in late 1996 (albeit without ace guitarist Nick McCabe), he set about writing a batch of songs which were a long way from the psychedelic space jams of previous albums. Foremost among them was The Drugs Don’t Work, an aching acoustic ballad inspired by the death of Ashcroft’s father.

McCabe’s eventual return to the band in early 1997 came after the basic track for The Drugs Don’t Work had already been recorded, but his contribution was crucial. His guitar embellishments add to the song's mellow country ambience, further enhanced by a sweeping string arrangment. Throughout, Ashcroft’s singing displays a wounded vulnerability striking a chord with a public concurrently in thrall to the dying groans of Britpop triumphalism. 

Producer Chis Potter maintains it's the best vocal he's ever recorded. Remarkably, it was nailed in one take, Ashcroft’s performance no doubt helped by the intensely personal subject matter. It provided the band with their first number one single, eventually propelling Urban Hymns to multi-platinum sales. Unfortunately, internal tensions, not least between Ashcroft and McCabe, eventually led to another, seemingly final, split in 1999. 

The Verve: "It's been a long time coming."
The Verve
Richard Ashcroft and bassist Simon Jones of The Verve talk to Mark Goodier about the song and being #1.

Listen Listen to Richard Ashcroft

Other versions
Ben Harper
Listen Ben Harper has a folk/blues tinge to him so let's see what he makes of The Verve's Indie ballad.

I remember seeing The Verve perform this at some festival or other. It was the most incredible live gig I've ever seen. My heart was in my mouth.


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