The Rolling Stones Return ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ Songwriter Royalties to the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft

Twenty-two years ago, in the midst of a legal dispute with the Rolling Stones, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft signed away the rights and the royalties to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony.’

The 1997 hit had sampled an orchestral version of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ 1965 song, ‘The Last Time,’ recorded by the Andrew Oldman Orchestra.

The Rolling Stones had agreed to license just a five-note segment in exchange for 50% of the royalties to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony.’  However, the Stones’ late manager, Allen Klein, disagreed.  He claimed the Verve had voided the agreement, as the group used a larger portion of ‘The Last Time.’  ABKCO Records, Klein’s holding company, swiftly filed a lawsuit against the Verve for not fully clearing the Stones’ sample.

As explained earlier, to avoid a costly legal battle, the Verve signed away the royalties and publishing rights to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony.’  ABKCO then gave Jagger and Richards the song credit.

The move had unnerved the Verve for years, who repeatedly blasted ABKCO.

Bassist Simon Jones explained,

We were told it was going to be a 50/50 split.  Then they saw how well the record was doing, they rung up and said, ‘We want 100 percent or take it out of the shops, you don’t have much choice.’

Even worse for the group, ‘Bitter Sweet Royalties’ received a Grammy nomination.  Jagger and Richards, however, appeared on the nomination ballot, not the Verve.

Now, the Rolling Stones have ‘returned’ the song to Richard Ashcroft.

A “magnanimous gesture” from Jagger and Richards.

Yesterday, at the Ivor Novello Awards, Richard Ashcroft received the PRS for Music Outstanding Contribution to the British Music award.

Hours after earning the award, Ashcroft released the following statement (emphasis mine).

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.

Speaking with the BBC, the Verve frontman explained he had ended negotiation with Klein’s son, Jody, and the Rolling Stones’ new manager, Joyce Smyth.  This came after he filed a lawsuit against Jody Klein and ABKCO last year.

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

He added he had never once held a grudge against the Rolling Stones.

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

Acknowledging Ashcroft didn’t have the song rights due to Klein’s unwarranted injunction, the Stones explained,

Of course there was a huge financial cost but any songwriter will know that there is a huge emotional price greater than the money in having to surrender the composition of one of your own songs.  Richard has endured that loss for many years.

Ashcroft will now receive all future songwriter royalties of the song.  However, Jagger and Richards will still have the publishing rights to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony.’


Featured image by Uli Schmidt (CC by 2.0).