Song 214: The Verve, “Velvet Morning” (1997)


I know I’ve touched on this before, but it’s amazing how a single moment in a work of art – a song, a movie, a book, whatever – can sustain one’s love of that art for a long time. This happens to me all the time, especially with music (the acoustic break in R.E.M.’s “So Fast, So Numb,” for example). This is a common enough phenomenon that Pitchfork has a newly inaugurated blog devoted to the subject.

One such moment for me is in the Verve song “Velvet Morning.” At first blush, it doesn’t seem like a very interesting song: the overall sound is kind of mushy, and singer Richard Ashcroft sounds detached and uninterested. But then, in the measure before the chorus, something briefly clicks, as Ashcroft sings “into the headlights.” The melody, even in just five syllables, is very pretty, leading the way for Ashcroft to sing the title phrase in the most animated vocals on the song. It’s a very brief respite from the emotional disengagement found elsewhere in the song, one that I always anticipate the second the song starts.

I first heard this song, and the rest of The Verve’s record Urban Hymns, which also features “Bittersweet Symphony” in the haze of high school. I remember driving around, using my brand-new driver’s license, listening to this song in the wake of two student deaths – a car accident and a heart attack, one happening very soon after the other – and thinking, What the fuck is going on? There was surely some high school emotional drama going on, but I think it was also a moment of some genuine confusion.

The song fit the mood perfectly, especially as I was wondering if I was reacting correctly. I didn’t even know these people; was it disrespectful that I was feeling so affected by it? Was I not affected enough? It seems strange and overly simplistic in retrospect, but I remember this song actually helping with that. Confusion is okay; ambiguity is normal. It sucks, and it’ll always be there, but it’s normal. Look forward to the good parts of the song, whether or not you know they’re coming.


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