After more than two decades, Rolling Stones frontmen Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have finally relinquished their rights over The Verve’s legacy, their singular hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” which has been part of a legendary copyright dispute since the song’s release in 1997.
The Stones won the publishing rights to The Verve’s hit song in 1997, when the Stones’ former manager Allen Klein – who controls all Stones material from 1963 to 1971 – sued the Britrock band over their sample of an orchestral recording by Andrew Loog Oldham. That snippet came from an orchestral version of The Stones’ 1965 song ‘The Last Time’, which Oldham recorded for the album ‘The Rolling Stones Songbook’.
Though The Verve had gotten permission to sample four seconds of Oldham’s recording from rights holder Decca Records, Klein contended that they had not obtained publishing clearance for the original composition by Jagger and Richards. The suit was settled out of court, with all of the publishing rights and royalties from ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ going to Klein’s company, ABKCO. Jagger and Richards also received songwriting credits.
That was “one of the toughest deals in music history”, Kennedy said. Billboard revealed that Ashcroft has only ever received $1,000 in publishing money from ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, which was paid as part of the settlement deal. Billboard estimates the song’s total publishing revenue over the years at almost $5 million.
But in a statement released today after Ashcroft received the PRS for Music Outstanding Contribution to British Music award at the Ivor Novello Awards earlier today (May 23), Ashcroft announced that he has regained his royalties from the song.
“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’,” the statement reads. “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 [Abkco CEO] Jody Klein (for actually taking the call) lastly a huge unreserved heartfelt thanks and respect to Mick and Keith. Music is power.”
The signature hook in “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is a four second orchestral sample lifted from Rolling Stones song “The Last Time.” ABKCO Records, owned by Stones’ manager Allen Klein, had claimed that the rights had never fully cleared upon the track’s release, arguing that the portion used in the song was longer than they’d agreed. A lawsuit was settled out-of-court, and Ashcroft was forced to share writing credit — placing his own name last in line.