Pluck & Cover: Bittersweet Symphony-The Verve & The Andrew Oldham Orchestra
Bittersweet Symphony, the lead single from The Verve’s 1997 Urban Hymns (one of my top five all-time favourite albums) has been at the centre of a legal clusterf%#k pretty much from the moment it was released and became a hit in both the UK and the States. The core of the problem is the use by The Verve of a sample from a cover originally recorded by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra of the Rolling Stones song The Last Time, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Got that?
Oldham acted as the Stones’ manager and producer early in their career, before handing over the reins (as far as the business end of things goes) to Allen Klein, who handled the band’s affairs throughout the late sixties and very early seventies. Although he was canned by the Stones in 1970, he managed to obtain the rights to their early song catalog, including The Last Time. In the meantime, the Andrew Oldham Orchestra recorded an orchestral version of the song, the main musical theme of which became the basis for The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. Legal representatives for both The Rolling Stones and The Verve had agreed on a compensation and credit deal when Bittersweet Symphony was still in the womb (with songwriting credits given to Jagger, Richards, and The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft), but upon the release of the track Klein, who owned the rights to The Last Time, came out swinging. He claimed The Verve had only been given permission to use a brief sample of Oldham’s version of The Last Time, and what they essentially did was copy the entire song, with the addition of singer Richard Ashcroft’s lyrics and vocals.
Klein sued the band, and won. The Verve lost all songwriting credits to the song (even though Ashcroft had written the lyrics), Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were officially listed as songwriters, and all royalties were paid out to Klein, who, remember, owned the rights to The Last Time. Oldham has yet to receive any compensation for his part in all of this. At the end of the day, the only person who has made a cent from Bittersweet Symphony is the one person who had absolutely nothing to do with the creation or performance of the song in any of its three forms. Ain’t the music business grand?
No matter what, it’s still a great song, and that’s why we’re featuring it here today. We’re treating Bittersweet Symphony as a cover since it does stick pretty close to the Oldham version, right down to the slightly odd drum pattern. See for yourself…