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The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft Will Receive Songwriters Royalties to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ After ‘Magnanimous Gesture’ From Pair of Rolling Stones

Richard Ashcroft has regained the rights to his most famous song, "Bitter Sweet Symphony," following "a kind and magnanimous gesture" from Rolling Stones stars Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Richard Ashcroft will now receive songwriters royalties to his most famous song, “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” following “a kind and magnanimous gesture” from Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Originally released in 1997, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was the lead single from The Verve’s third studio album, Urban Hymns, and famously sampled a 1965 Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral recording of Stones song “The Last Time.”

Prior to its release, the band’s label had successfully cleared the rights to sample the recording from Decca Records, but hadn’t received permission to use the underlying composition, owned by Allen Klein’s music and publishing company ABKCO. 

Unfortunately for Ashcroft and his label, Klein wasn’t prepared to give up his stake in the song easily and would only grant a license if Ashcroft signed away all his rights in “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” including those as its lyricist.   


As a result, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards received songwriting credits and ABKCO gained publishing rights to the track, which would go on to receive a Grammy nomination for best rock song and become a worldwide hit. ABKCO, which will retain publishing rights, did not comment.

Earlier this year, Ashcroft’s managers made a direct appeal to Jagger and Richards to relinquish their interests in “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”  

“Mick and Keith immediately, unhesitatingly and unconditionally agreed to this request,” reads a statement from Ashcroft’s publicist.   

“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,” elaborated Ashcroft. 

“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 went on to say, thanking his management, Stones manager Joyce Smyth and Allen Klein‘s son Jody Klein, as well as Jagger and Richards.  

The singer made the announcement on the same day that he received the PRS for Music Outstanding Contribution to British Music at The Ivors awards, held in London. 

“Bittersweet Symphony” peaked at No. 12 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998 and has since scanned nearly 2.65 million million downloads and nearly 285,000 physical single sales. The album that it was on, Urban Hymns, has sold 1.42 million units, while the song’s placement on Now That’s What I Call Music! 6 and the Cruel Intentions soundtrack resulted in an additional 4.18 million in sales. All of that totals 8.6 million copies at the standard 9.1 cent publishing rate. Additionally, the song has received nearly 228 million on-demand streams and another 2.65 million in programmed streams, as well as 531,000 radio plays. Billboard estimates the total U.S. publishing revenue for “Bittersweet Symphony” has been $1.64 million to date, not including synchronization. 

Accounting for the song’s international success — including the band’s homeland, the U.K., as well as inclusion on compilations in Australia, Venezuela and elsewhere — Billboard estimates that revenue would rise to $3.28 million. Then, with commercial, movies and TV show synchronization — its uses in Cruel Intentions and ads for Nike sneakers and Opel car ads among the most visible — that total publishing revenue could be closer to $5 million. As the songwriter, Ashcroft’s share would have been worth at least 50% of that, although he might own his publishing or have a co-publishing deal, which would call for anywhere from a 60% to 90% split of the royalties. While that may be what he missed out on, at least now he can bank on more future royalties to come.

Additional reporting by Ed Christman.