It’s a bittersweet symphony, this life. No one knows that better than the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, who wrote the band’s most iconic song lamenting this fact, released in 1997, and lost the rights to it to the Rolling Stones.
Still, as the Stones have for so long told us, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. Indeed, they proved as much to Ashcroft, by relinquishing their rights to the song and accompanying royalties. Billboard reports today (May 23) that Ashcroft announced the news in a statement.
“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.’ Mick and Keith immediately, unhesitatingly and unconditionally agreed to this request,” the statement said. “This remarkable and life affirming turn of events was made possible by a kind and magnanimous gesture from Mick and Keith.”
The Stones ended up with the rights because the Verve sampled an orchestral recording of their 1965 tune “The Last Time” and, it turned out, had only gotten the rights partially cleared before the release of “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” Ashcroft later discovered he needed permission to use the underlying composition owned by Allen Klein’s music and publishing company ABKCO. Klein forced Ashcroft to relinquish his rights to the tune and lyrics, and the Stones ended up with credit for it technically for more than 20 years.
It was a serious blow to the Verve, given the song’s incredible and enduring popularity and the royalties the band didn’t earn while the Stones held the rights. As Ashcroft himself put it in the lyrics of the disputed tune, “Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die.”
But as life itself does from time to time, this symphony’s bitter tale has taken a sweet turn after all, and Ashcroft now has plenty to celebrate. He made the announcement on the same day that he received an Ivor Novello award for outstanding contribution to British music. He’s not forgotten, and his song plays on.