Which song did The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony sample?

11 September 2018, 14:03 | Updated: 18 April 2019, 15:03

We dive into one of The Verve's biggest hits, and the famous lawsuit with The Rolling Stones that marred its success.

Bitter Sweet Symphony was the first track to come from The Verve's third studio album, Urban Hymns.

Released in June 1997 and accompanied by an iconic video, the Richard Ashcroft-penned track was a world-weary tribute to the healing power of music.

Watch its unforgettable promo above, which sees the frontman walking down a busy London street oblivious to those around him.

The video became so famous that Fat Les spoofed the idea in their promo for Vindaloo and even our very own Chris Moyles parodied the clip when he launched his show on Radio X in 2015.

The track's opening lines see Ashcroft proclaim: "Cause it's a bittersweet symphony this life / Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to the money then you die."

Despite feeling an innate sense of inertia and being stuck in his "mould," Ashcroft begs to hear "sounds that recognise" his pain, and it seems to do the trick, uplifting the audience in the process...

Cause it's a bittersweet symphony this life

Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to the money then you die.

I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down

You know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet, yeah.

Despite Bitter Sweet Symphony becoming The Verve's second highest charting hit and reaching number two on the UK Singles Chart (The Drugs Don't Work from the same album scored number one), the story has an unfortunate outcome.

The instrumental backing to the track was sampled from a symphonic version of The Rolling Stones' The Last Time, which was recorded in 1965 by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra and arranged by David Whitaker.

Listen to The Last Time by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra

According to Rolling Stone magazine, The Stones originally agreed to license a five-note segment of the recording in exchange for 50% of the royalties, but this was apparently voided when The Verve were accused of using more of the track than they had agreed.

Former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself (under his holding company ABKCO Records), and songwriters Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

In the end, The Verve had to forfeit all songwriting royalties for Bitter Sweet Symphony and publishing rights to ABKCO, with Jagger and Richards added to the songwriting credits, and Ashcroft losing composer credits.

Speaking about the result, The Verve bassist Simon Jones revealed: "We were told it was going to be a 50/50 split, and 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."

Richard Ashcroft - Why singers should just be singers

And after losing his composer credits Ashcroft is said to have quipped: "This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years"

If all that wasn't enough of a nail in the coffin for the Northern souls, they were sued once again in 1999 by Andrew Logg Oldham, who owned the recording that was sampled.

Bitter Sweet Symphony was then used as part of Nike advert against The Verve's wishes, while the track was nominated for a GRAMMY in 1999, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards named among the list of nominees.

See the Nike advert:

While Bitter Sweet Symphony is undoubtedly one of the most important British tracks of the Britpop era, it's difficult not to read about its troubled past and wince.

Both bittersweet in name and nature, The Verve's landmark track is a cautionary tale about the dangers of sampling and borrowing when it comes to music.