Grand Theft Audio: Allen Klein And The Outright Theft Of "Bittersweet Symphony" From The Verve!

In light of the recent news concerning Sam Smith and Tom Petty reaching a deal where Petty (and co-writer Jeff Lynne) will receive a writer's share of song royalties on Smith's "Stay With Me" (which bore enough of a resemblance to Petty's "I Won't Back Down" that a deal had to be brokered), I was reminded of a similar situation where the deal that was reached was akin to highway robbery.

In 1998, the Verve released what is now their best-known song "Bittersweet Symphony" to worldwide acclaim.  While the band was hugely popular in the UK, this song marked their first mainstream success in the U.S. and the rest of the world and primed the band for world stardom.

The song was written by the Verve, with lyrics by singer Richard Ashcroft, based on an orchestral sample of the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time" that had appeared on Andrew Loog Oldham's album of symphonic versions of Stones tunes.  As any smart band/record company would do, they negotiated a license for the use of a five-note sample from Oldham's version.

Klein, being ever the savvy moneygrabber, waited until the song was a worldwide hit before countering that, unless the band gave him 100% of all royalties, he would sue for the immediate removal of the song from the marketplace.  The band buckled, forfeiting all monies from sales of the song.

In hindsight, it's hard not to see that Klein took full advantage of the song's success and used it as leverage to, by and large, extort more money from the band.  On one hand, every band should be so lucky to have someone like Klein working on their behalf to protect their copyrights", but there is a fine line between protecting what's yours and, well, mafia-style extortion.

Unfortunately, Stones guitarist Keith Richards' refusal to "talk business" makes him a less-than-sympathetic ear.   seems to be as cut-throat as Klein.  When asked about he and Jagger "taking all the royalties", Richards replied: “I’m out of whack here, this is serious lawyer shit. If The Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.”

Uh, that settles it, I guess?

So, why is it that Tom Petty, a man known for never backing down, could reach an amicable and mutually beneficial agreement with Sam Smith and Allen Klein, on behalf of the Stones, got away with taking the whole cake?

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