Rolling Stones Bitter Sweet Symphony: Why did the Rolling Stones sue The Verve?

The Rolling Stones perform for ‘One World: Together At Home’

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The Rolling Stones have been writing their own music since their early career. Some of this music, as with many bands, has inspired newer, younger bands in their own songwriting. One incident of this has caused a lengthy dispute between the Stones and a Britpop band of the 1990s: The Verve.

The Verve became well known with its biggest hit, Bitter Sweet Symphony.

The song is regularly played on TV and peaked at Number Two on the UK charts.

It was also named the Song of 1997 by NME and Rolling Stone, showing how renowned the tune really was on its release.

The lyrics and vocal melodies were written by Richard Ashcroft, the band’s leader, and he had reportedly gained permission from Decca to use some notes of an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ The Last Time.

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This tune, released in 1965, was originally recorded by The Rolling Stones, and written by Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

The song was actually based on a traditional gospel song from 1954 called This May Be the Last Time, recorded by the Staple Sisters.

However, the Stones’ song from which Richard took some notes was an orchestral version from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra.

Andrew Loog Oldham was The Rolling Stones’ manager, who produced orchestral versions of Stones songs as a side project while also managing the band.

While it has been said Richard gained permission from Decca, the band’s label, to use some notes from the orchestral version, he was sued in 1997 by Allen Klein.

Allen Klein became The Rolling Stones’ manager in 1967, and while Decca and Andrew may have given permission for the song to be sample, Allen and his record company, ABKCO Records, owned all the rights to The Rolling Stones’ music pre-1970.

The lawsuit was settled out of court, but it turned out Richard and the band were to receive no further publishing royalties for the song, with Sir Mick and Keith being named as songwriters.

In 1999, Andrew also sued The Verve for mechanical royalties, given it was his version of the song which was sampled.

As a result of this second lawsuit, all royalties for the song were, for many years, going to Sir Mick, Keith and Andrew.

In 2008, Andrew told Uncut magazine he had bought a ‘pretty presentable watch strap’ with his portion of the earnings.

He said of Richard’s changing fortunes with the song: “As for Richard Ashcroft, well, I don’t know how an artist can be severely damaged by that experience.

“Songwriters have learned to call songs their children, and he thinks he wrote something.

“He didn’t. I hope he’s got over it. It takes a while.”

Despite this, in 2019, Sir Mick and Keith signed over their rights to the song back to Richard, after entering into discussions with Allen’s Jody and the Stones’ new manager, Joyce Smith.

He tweeted: “As of last month, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards signed over all their publishing for “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, which was a truly kind and magnanimous thing for them to do.

“I never had a personal beef with the Stones. They’ve always been the greatest rock and roll band in the world.

“It’s been a fantastic development. It’s life-affirming in a way.”

He later told the BBC: “They play [the song] before England plays. So I can sit back and watch England… and finally, just enjoy the moment.”

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