The Verve had been a much-admired force in modern rock music from the UK for more than five years by 1997, but nothing could have prepared them or their record label, Hut, for what would happen with their third album release.
The five-piece British outfit enjoyed great acclaim and moderate success with their first two LPs, 1993’s A Storm In Heaven and the 1995 follow-up A Northern Soul, the latter also yielding three top 40 singles. But their next set of new songs would not only reshape their careers, but become one of the defining UK albums of the 1990s.
Exactly 18 years ago, on the chart of 11 October, 1997, Urban Hymns entered the chart at No. 1, as it started a journey that saw it become one of the UK’s 20 bestselling artist albums of all time. The key to The Verve’s rapid elevation to the top table of British rock came with the two landmark singles that previewed the album’s release.
‘Bittersweet Symphony,’ surely one of the best-known anthems not to make No. 1, had entered, and peaked on the UK chart at No. 2 in late June, but it became a defining anthem on an album that kept on delivering them. It was followed by Richard Ashcroft’s powerful ‘The Drugs Don’t Work,’ which gave them that top spot they had narrowly missed a few weeks earlier when it debuted at No. 1 in September.
With anticipation for the parent album sky high, Urban Hymns began an extraordinary chart residency, first in the UK and then around the world. Its initial British reign lasted five weeks, followed by seven more in the top three, all the way to the end of 1997. December brought another top ten hit from the album with ‘Lucky Man,’ and in the new year, Urban Hymns accelerated anew, spending the first six weeks of 1998 at the summit, as it amassed an incredible 42 consecutive weeks in the top ten.
The album went on to truly spectacular sales around the world. It was quadruple platinum in the UK even before the end of 1997, and in 2013, trade body the BPI confirmed it as ten-times platinum. Its worldwide sales are now past ten million, and in 2014, the Official Charts Company named Urban Hymns the 17th bestselling artist album in UK chart history.