The Song That Changed My Life – Suede, ‘The Drowners’

The Song That Changed My Life continues with Henry Yates reflecting on the Brett Anderson effort that rocked his world.

September 1992. I am a cherub-faced debutant at a minor Midlands public school. I have two tapes in the world – inexplicably, they are U2’s ‘Rattle And Hum’ and Eurythmics’ ‘Revenge’ – and no concept that music exists outside car journeys with my parents.

At this school, art is secondary to sport and cruelty, and already the moulding process has begun. By Christmas, I will be a braying, boorish, gammon-cheeked, deck-shoed dickhead, bound for a job in the City, an executive box at Twickenham and businesslike sex every other Saturday, soundtracked by The Lighthouse Family’s ‘Ocean Drive’.

Except that on this particular day, I hear a strange sound from the room of the school’s resident weird kid. It’s a sort of tribal drumbeat, then a chainsaw guitar, and finally a singer who has apparently trapped his fingers in a car door. I know nothing of Suede’s rise on the London club circuit, I am not by any stretch androgynous, and unlike Brett Anderson, I am a heterosexual who has never had a heterosexual experience.

Despite this, by the first chorus, for better or worse, ‘The Drowners’ has taken me over. With Right Said Fred holding the UK chart in a garish grip, I have no idea that music can sound this seedy, illicit and exciting.

At my school, you were either music or you were rugby. By falling for ‘The Drowners’, I have gone over to the Dark Side. I will never be truly popular. I will never get off with horsey girls at the Valentine’s Disco, or clink pints of piss at the clubhouse. Suede, to use the parlance of the times, are ‘bent’, and by openly liking them, I must be ‘bent’ too. As it turns out, there are others like me, and together we form a sort of indie Home Guard, which achieves its finest hour when one of us (not me) pulls the glamorous French exchange student.

Music doesn’t change the world, say the cynics. I concede that George W. Bush wouldn’t have halted the invasion of Iraq if someone had played him ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, but there’s no question that it shapes individuals. ‘The Drowners’ was the starting pistol that fired me into my music obsession, my personality, even my job.

Brett Anderson

I still have nothing in common with Brett, Jarvis or Morrissey on paper, but these poetic, provocative, enigmatic men have undoubtedly left their ideological thumbprint on me, at the very least by providing an alternative role model to the chunky caveman sat at the bar burping the names of the motorways.


My relationship with ‘The Drowners’ has occasionally been rocky. Some days, as old friends pull up in Porsches or send postcards from the Maldives, I’ve cursed this song for setting me on the path to an unspectacular salary. Most days, I genuinely feel it saved me. Either way, resistance was useless. Developing an obsession with music is like joining the Cosa Nostra: once you’re in, you don’t leave. And ‘The Drowners’ was the first hit that hooked me for life.

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