The Rolling Stones voluntarily removed their names from the songwriting credits for the 1997 Verve hit "Bitter Sweet Symphony" after a 22-year legal battle

By Matt McNulty
May 24, 2019 04:45 PM
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Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty; Inset: Tristan Fewings/Getty

For decades, the Verve’s lead singer Richard Ashcroft has not earned royalties for his 1997 song “Bitter Sweet Symphony” — the Brit Pop band’s biggest hit — due to the inclusion of an improperly cleared sample of a Rolling Stones instrumental from 1965. Now, Stones songwriters Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have reverted the track’s credit back to Ashcroft.

The song, a track on the Verve’s Urban Hymns album, features a snippet of the Jagger-Richards 1965 composition “The Last Time,” recorded with an orchestra by the band’s manager at the time, Andrew Loog Oldham.

Soon after the song was first released, it became the subject of a lawsuit instigated by the Rolling Stones’ publisher, ABKCO. Ashcroft lost the suit at the time and forfeited all rights to the song. However, Jagger and Richards have removed their names from writing credits, according to a report by Variety.

The BBC reports Jagger and Richards did so voluntarily.

Ashcroft, 47, shared his response to the news in a message posted to Twitter. “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,’” he says.

“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.”

He continued, “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.”

In a longer statement issued to Variety, representatives for Ashcroft outlined the error that resulted in the improperly cleared four-second sample loop.

“Permission for the use of the recording was obtained but for whatever reason at the time permission for the use of the song was overlooked.”

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“By the time the mistake was realized a huge number of copies of the Urban Hymns album had been manufactured around the world and the record company were reluctant to scrap them,” the statement continues. “They were confident they would be able to do a deal with the publishers and convinced Richard to allow the release of the album as it stood. However Mr. Allen Klein, the owner of ABKCO, was very protective of his copyright and the only deal that he was prepared to do involved Richard effectively signing away all of his rights in one of his most iconic songs, including the total lyrical content.”

Ashcroft first announced the news as he accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Ivor Novello Awards, reportedly telling the audience that “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.”

The Rolling Stones.
| Credit: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

The full statement also touched on the toll the credit controversy took on Ashcroft. “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,” it continues. “A few months ago, his management decided to pursue a strategy which any number of people had been told over the years was a futile course of action with zero chance of success. They decided to appeal to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards directly to try to regain the song for Richard to the extent it was within their power to do so.”

Credit: Jo Hale/Redferns

“In the future all royalties that would have gone to them for ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ will now go to Richard,” the statement continues, “but in many ways even more importantly they have said that they no longer require a writing credit for ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony,’ kindly acknowledging that as far as they are concerned it is Richard’s song.”

Last year, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was named the 40th best song of 1998 by Rolling Stone magazine, the year it was released on U.S. soil.