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Rolling Stones finally giving back “Bitter Sweet Symphony” royalties to The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft

Richard Ashcroft at Central Park SummerStage
Richard Ashcroft at Central Park SummerStage (more by Ester Segretto)

The story of The Verve‘s 1997 single “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is maybe more fascinating than the song itself. The song was built around a sample of The Andrew Oldham Orchestra‘s loungey instrumental version of the Stones’ “The Last Time,” and while permission to use the recording was obtained, permission to use the song itself was “overlooked.” When they realized the mistake, the album Urban Hymns had already been pressed. The label was reluctant to destroy them, so they convinced Ashcroft to release the album unchanged. Alan Klein, who owned ABKCO Records and the Stones’ pre-1971 recordings, was very protective of the copyright and the only way he would let the album be released was if The Verve relinquished all of their royalties to Klein and the song be credited to Jagger/Richards/Ashcroft. Needless to say, it was a massive worldwide hit.

The Rolling Stones actually had Ashcroft open shows for them last year, and Ashcroft’s management made an attempt to appeal to Mick and Keith directly…which actually worked. Ashcroft announced the news while receiving the Ivor Novello Award today for Outstanding Contribution To British Music:

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.

That is very cool of Mick and Keith, especially giving the songwriting credit solely back to Ashcroft. (The press release said “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.
“) Give a little money to Ashcroft and watch the “Bitter Sweet Symphony” video — which has already been watched nearly half a billion times on YouTube — and if you want check out the Andrew Oldham Orchestra version of “The Last Time,” below.

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