The Verve’s iconic song “Bitter Sweet Symphony” captivated audiences with its mesmerizing sound and introspective lyrics. However, the track’s path to success was riddled with legal disputes and controversies surrounding its credits. We delve into the story behind the creation of the song, the involvement of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and the eventual resolution that saw them relinquish their publishing rights.
and Creation of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’
Richard Ashcroft, the lead singer of The Verve, drew inspiration from The Temptations and The Rolling Stones while conceiving “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” In a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, Ashcroft described his vision for the song, stating:
“I wanted something that opened up into a prairie-music kind of sound, a modern-day Ennio Morricone kind of thing.”
He further explained how he incorporated multiple vocal layers, inspired by the Temptations’ style, to create a rich and captivating sonic experience.
To enhance the song’s composition, Ashcroft sampled a four-bar segment from an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” Reflecting on the sample, Ashcroft recalled:
“We sampled four bars. That was on one track. Then we did 47 tracks of music beyond that little piece. We’ve got our own string players, our own percussion on it. Guitars. We’re talking about a four-bar sample turning into ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ — and they’re still claiming it’s the same song.”
The Publishing Rights Dilemma and a Gesture of Generosity
Upon its release, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was credited to Jagger, Richards, Ashcroft, and the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, as ABKCO Music, the rights holder for many 1960s Rolling Stones songs, claimed the publishing rights to the sampled portion. In 2019, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards made a significant decision. As Ashcroft explained:
“Jagger and Richards handed their publishing rights to the song to Ashcroft. Ashcroft called the move ‘a truly kind and magnanimous thing for them to do.'”
Chart Success and Enduring Legacy
“Bitter Sweet Symphony” became one of The Verve’s most successful songs in the United Kingdom, reaching an impressive No. 2 on the charts and remaining there for 56 weeks. The track’s inclusion on The Verve’s album “Urban Hymns” propelled the album to the top of the UK charts, solidifying the band’s position as a major force in British music.
Despite the legal battles surrounding its credits, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has emerged as a timeless and beloved song, resonating with listeners across generations. As Ashcroft aptly stated, “The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ is a great song even if it doesn’t have a Jagger-Richards writing credit anymore.”