It a stunning bit of generosity, the songwriting credits to (and thus all the money derived from) The Verve’s 1997 hit, “Bittersweet Symphony,” have been returned to The Verve 23 years after being taken away.
Allow me to explain.
In 1997, Verve singer Richard Ashcroft composed the song after being inspired by an old record entitled The Rolling Stones songbook by The Andrew Loog Oldman Orchestra, which was released in 1965.
Oldman was the original manager of The Stones. Back then, it was common to take the hits of the day and arrange them for fans of easy listening music, thereby extending the reach of a rock’n’roll band to audiences that didn’t care for rock’n’roll. (George Martin did this a lot with the Beatles.”
On this record was an orchestra interpretation of The Stones’ song “The Last Time,” which had come out earlier that year.
The thing that caught Ashcroft’s ear was that bouncy six-second five note riff on the strings. He went to his people and asked them to license permission to use that snippet from ABKCO Music, the company that owned the publishing and copyright to the song. Permission was granted in exchange for 50% of any revenue from the song.
Steep, but okay. Whatever.
As we know now, this is the result.
“Bittersweet Symphony” was sequenced as the first song on The Verve’s 1997, Urban Hymns. It also became the biggest hit of the band’s career.
But ABKCO–mananged by Allen Klein, who was (a) also former manager of The Stones and (b) a former manager of The Beatles who sold off a big chunk of their catalogue in the late 60s, freaked out by the final product.
Klein and ABKCO sued, saying that The Verve used more of the sample that was spelled out in the licensing agreement. The terms were simple: “Give us 100% of the money made from this song or we will force you to recall every copy of the single and the album and radio station worldwide.”
The add insult to injury, Andrew Loog Oldham also sued, claiming that The Verve owed him royalties. He figured he was due about $1.7 million.
The Verve was over a barrel and had no choice but to surrender to ABKCO and Oldman. The songwriting credits on “Bittersweet Symphony” were quickly amended from “Ashcroft” to “Ashcroft/Jagger/Richards,” Mick and Keef being the original composers of the song. From that point on all the revenue from “Bittersweet Symphony” went to Jagger/Richards.
It got worse. When the song was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Son, the ballot listed the composers as Jagger/Richards.
SIDEBAR: The sample excised from Oldman’s version of “The Last Time” wasn’t actually written by Jagger/Richards. It was part of an arrangement composed by a guy named David Whittaker. He actually wrote it. And where do his credits appear? Nowhere.
Fast-forward to this week. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards granted all future revenues from “Bittersweet Symphony” to Richard Ashcroft.
Why the change of heart? Apparently, Ashcroft’s reached out to Mick and Keef about the matter and they “immediately, unhesitatingly and unconditionally agreed” to have future royalties revert to Ashcroft.
I quote from Mick and Keef’s people:
“In the future all royalties that would have gone to [Jagger/Richards] for Bitter Sweet Symphony will now go to Richard, but in many ways even more importantly they have said that they no longer require a writing credit for Bitter Sweet Symphony, kindly acknowledging that as far as they are concerned it is Richard’s song.”
Here’s a quote from Richard when he received the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting yesterday (May 23):
“It gives me great pleasure to announce as of last month Mick Jagger and Keith Richards agreed to give me their share of the song Bitter Sweet Symphony. This remarkable and life-affirming turn of events was made possible by a kind and magnanimous gesture from Mick and Keith, who have also agreed that they are happy for the writing credit to exclude their names and all their royalties derived from the song they will now pass to me.
“I would like to thank the main players in this, my management Steve Kutner and John Kennedy, the Stones manager Joyce Smyth and Jody Klein (for actually taking the call) lastly a huge unreserved heartfelt thanks and respect to Mick and Keith. Music is power.”