I was talking with a coworker about the news this week that original lineup of The Verve were reforming and which turned to the the whole "Bittersweet Symphony" lawsuit. If you don’t know the story, the song uses a sample of the Andrew Oldham Orchestra‘s version of the Rolling Stone’s "The Last Time." ABKCO Records honcho Allan Klein, who owns the rights to all the Stones songs pre-1971, sued the band saying they violated the licensing agreement by using "too much of the song." Klein won, giving sole songwriting credit of the song to Jagger/Richards — despite Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft’s claims that they only sampled "four little bars" of the song.
Klein is known for being a real douche, so I’d always sided with the Verve. But in talking with my friend, I realized I’d never actually heard the Oldham Orchestra version. At the time of the lawsuit, the album, The Rolling Stones Songbook, was one of those rarities you could only find at at collector’s shops, or maybe at a thriftstore if you were lucky. But it was reissued in 2004, so I went out and bought a copy.
What a cool album. This is the Stones as late ’60s bachelor pad music, and some of the arrangements are just brilliant. Especially "The Last Time," which is one of my favorite Stones songs ever. But hearing it, it’s apparent that Klein had reason to sue. The Verve may have brought in their own orchestra, but it’s all based around Andrew Loog Oldham’s arrangement. "Four little bars" my ass.
Still a brilliant song, though. And Klein is still a douche.
I must say, that as good as "Bittersweet Symphony" is, I’m one of those people that think The Verve peaked with A Storm in Heaven (best album of 1993 I thought). I still remember seeing them on their first U.S. tour at Washington DC’s 9:30 Club where they played to about 40 people. Ashcroft was known as "Mad Richard" then, and was an absolute wild man onstage with a scary Thousand Yard Stare. But I mainly watched in awe of guitarist Nick McCabe and drummer Peter Salisbury. As a friend said, "They became a different band after that."
If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor and pick up A Storm in Heaven today. Their early singles — "She’s a Superstar," "Gravity Grave" and "All in the Mind" — are great too.