The Drugs Don't Work

Album: Urban Hymns (1997)
Charted: 1
  • There is a very literal interpretation to this song, but that's not the one Verve lead singer Richard Ashcroft prefers. The group took plenty of drugs and other enhancements (mostly amphetamines) as they developed, especially around the time of their second album, A Northern Soul, released in 1995. Drugs contributed to the anxiety and infighting that plagued those sessions and led to the band's breakup soon after it was released (they regrouped soon after for Urban Hymns). And from a pharmacological standpoint, drugs become less effective as the user builds a tolerance.

    But the song has a deeper meaning as well, which Ashcroft discussed a bit after the song was released. "I wrote that song out of love for someone and that's the way it came out," he said. "The thought that your love is predestined and if one of you dies you're destined to meet again."

    As it became clear that listeners were assigning their own often very personal meanings to the song, Ashcroft made a point not to discuss it. "What I've found with lyrics is sometimes people's own interpretations are on another level to mine, certainly with things like 'The Drugs Don't Work,' he said in a 2018 Songfacts interview. "I found that was the most sensitive tune to start. I realized then, 20 years ago, if I underline with a big marker pen, The Drugs Don't Work equals whatever, then I'm killing it for people."
  • In the UK, this was the follow-up to "Bitter Sweet Symphony," which went to #2 in the UK in June 1997, giving The Verve their breakout single in that territory. "The Drugs Don't Work" went to #1 in September making the group wildly famous in their home country of England.

    In America, the band didn't get much attention until January 1998, when Nike started running a commercial that used "Bitter Sweet Symphony." The song was released as a single two months later and climbed to #12, but it proved to be their only American hit - "The Drugs Don't Work" wasn't even released as a single in the US.
  • This was released in the UK on September 1, 1997, the day after Princess Diana's death. Until Elton John played his reworked version of "Candle In The Wind" at her funeral, this was the song that captured the grief of the nation the most.
  • This song took on different meaning for Richard Ashcroft over the years, but it remained a staple of his setlists. "When I perform, it's not a theatrical production and it's not your normal rendition of songs," he told Songfacts. "I wrote 'The Drugs Don't Work' and the thing is, s--t happened in the last 20 years, so when I sing 'The Drugs Don't Work' I can't remove myself from that song, so things take on an extra intensity."

Comments: 18

  • Murray from UkThis song is not about anybody dying of cancer. Lead singer Richard Ashcroft wrote the song in early 1995. He briefly mentioned it in an interview at the time, relating it to his drug usage: "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."
  • Jacs from London I lost my beautiful dad 2 years ago and can still remember in the last few hours before his death me asking the nurses to give him drugs just to keep him alive a few more minutes hours days even tho we knew the drugs didn’t work anymore.
    God bless you dad after 10 tired years
    Love and miss you xx
  • Steve from Basildon, United KingdomFor me this song will always be about drug addiction and drug 'come downs' and has helped me through many times when i've felt like 'a cat in a bag waiting to drown', this song has described the way i've felt before perfectly line for line and has given me hope that change is possible ' never comin down no more' and that someone out there gets it, it also reminds me of an old girlfriend i used to have and how i used to feel that without her i was better off dead, 'the drugs dont work they just make you worse' perfectly describes the cycle of taking of hard or recreational drugs to try and to deal with depression. I know richard ashcroft probably never meant this song to be taken in such a way but i believe a song can mean whatever you want it to and the meaning of the words can mean different things to different people, music is a drug in itself but one that actually works, music can get you through anything.
  • James from Liverpool, United Kingdomnorthern soul was a classic albumn too
  • Nikki from Avon, CtI think that while he wrote it about his father it also had some romantic aspects. It seems to me like his girlfriend is sick and the medicine wont work, and he's saying if she dies he wants to go and be with her in heaven, and he "knows he'll see her face again"
  • Dave from Melbourne, AustraliaI remember once being at the office one day and this song come on the radio at my old job. We all went very quiet as we had been blasted in a sales meeting by the National Sales Manager who told us we were all crap. I felt pretty useless myself at the time and one of the guys in the team broke down at his desk and began to cry. We were all really depressed by our situation and yeah this song came on. I just wanted to cry too :(
  • Jared from Long Island, NyI think this song might also be about a man saying that whatever he does to kill himself, like doing drugs, doesn't work. And possibly there is someone he loves up in heaven and he the drugs just won't work killing him and bringing him to her again. Like these lines:
    'Cause baby, ooh, if heaven calls, I'm coming, too
    Just like you said, you leave my life, I'm better off dead

    He just wants to kill himself to be with her again. That's my opinion
  • Jade from Washington D.c., Dc One Saturday evening, I was sitting in a chair at this small coffee house that had something of an odd custom. What the customers and employees did there on Saturday evenings was, they would raise their hand and ask to be allowed to sing! They would sing after the other person was finished performing. Most of the people who made the choice to sing brought musical instruments and used that as background music.
    However, there were a few people who had prepare, other than their voices. I was one of those few people in that little coffee house who only had their voice to use, rather than some type of really cool musical instrument to go along with it. A few minutes before, my mother and I had sang a duet.
    The song had been "Maggie" by Rod Stewart. However, after my mother and I were finished with that song, one of the other customers asked me an interesting question. He asked me, "What other songs do you know?" I thought that he was just kidding around! My jaw snapped shut because it was so extremely rare that anyone would ask me that question. I didn't want to be rude. Therefore, I felt that I had to reply to the person's simple question. "Well, I do know a some other songs." I replied nervously. "What is your next song going to be?" Another customer asked me in a loud, laughing voice. I became really nervous again! Still, I managed to speak clearly, without getting too much stage fright. "Well, the song that I am going to sing didn't come from the United States. Nobody knows it around here." This made most of the people watching suddenly crack up for five long seconds! One of them even actually teased, "Where's it from? Is it from Zimbabwae or somewhere like that?" I pretended not to hear his question. Then I finally managed to explain it, "It's from England." The people watching nodded. "Oh, it's an English song." Replied the person who had asked the rude Zimbabwae question. I nodded. "Yes, it hit #1 in the United Kingdom in 1997." He asked, "What is it called?" I told him, "It's called, "The Drugs Don't Work"". He laughed, and one of the other customers repeated the unusual title. He sounded very confused. I guess that they didn't know that the song was about cancer treatment.
    I finally sang it! When I was done singing, everyone cheered for me! It felt great! I felt completely noticed!
    As for the song itself, the lyrics have helped me get through some difficult times. I am glad that such a beautiful song exists! I am so grateful that Richard Ashcroft wrote such an amazing ballad! Thank you!
  • Nadia from Austin, TxIt was written to his father who died of cancer. The drugs they gave him couldn't save him. I also believe it was written to a loved one who was addicted to drugs, since some of the lyrics reference a romantic relationship. Great song, great album, great band. I can't believe they're back!!!
  • Kevin from Athlone, IrelandThey made three albums, Urban Hymns was by far the best, Probably one of the greatest ever released, Northern Sould wasnt bad either
  • Steven from Winchester, VaI believe this is an excellent song because it will help out people going through the same situation and help out the people who are really taking drugs that don't work.
  • Ariana from Lima, PeruI´ve got a question, does anybody know if Radiohead has a cover on this song?
  • Tiffani from WinnipegI totally love this song. It seems like he is looking forward to death b/c he'll be able to see his fathers face once again.
  • Ryan from Westerville, Ohpitty they only made one album?.. i'd expect a comment like that from an American, but your English. why don't you check out Northern Soul and a Storm in Heaven - the two albums made BEFORE Urban Hymns..
  • Ben from Ringwood, Englandwhat a band, what an album, what a song. pitty they made only one album
  • Paul from London, EnglandI love the line "like a cat in a bag waiting to drown, this time I'm coming down" Brilliant song. The Verve's very best followed by Bittersweet Symphony.
  • Jade from London, EnglandBrilliant song!!!
  • Si from London, EnglandThe best rendition was that given by Arthur on Mrs.Merton and Malcolm!
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