Bitter Sweet Sympathy: Allen Klein's Dead But Keith's Not!

We all know Keith Richards is a bad-ass.

We also know that he and longtime songwriting partner Mick Jagger are rich beyond our wildest dreams and will continue to be as long as their songs are bought, sold, and played on the radio, TV and in film as they have been for the past 50+ years.

Because Richards is a bad-ass, he wields enough influence to be able to pick up the phone and fix most things within his power. It is for that same reason that millions have happily tolerated a lot of sub-par bullshit with his and Jagger's name on it over the years.

Thus, when the band's ex-manager/attack dog Allen Klein went after the Verve for sampling a portion of a symphonic version of "The Last Time" in their song "Bitter Sweet Symphony", eventually bullying the band into surrendering all royalties for the song, this writer was appalled by Richards' off-handed remarks that if the band could write a better song, they could keep the money.

First, let's quickly revisit the facts:

"Bitter Sweet Symphony" had been written using a sample from an Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra album featuring symphonic versions of Rolling Stones songs. The orchestral string sample in question was taken from Oldham's drastically reworked version of "The Last Time", which had been composed by David Whitaker specifically for Oldham's album.

It is Whitaker's string composition that was sampled by the Verve, not any actual segment of the Rolling Stones' recording of the song, therefore, it can be conclusively stated that if the Verve borrowed from anybody, it was from David Whitaker's composition, not the actual Stones recording.

While Oldham's recording may have been inspired by the Stones' song from which it takes its title, the final result is something altogether unique that, for obvious reasons, was credited to Jagger/Richards.

Why does this matter, you ask?

Let's say that some ambitious young band comes along and writes a song built around a sample of the opening guitar lick to Dwight Yoakam's cover of the Elvis Presley classic "Suspicious Minds".  The lick in question was not part of the original composition and was created by longtime Yoakam guitarist/producer Pete Anderson specifically for Dwight's version of the song.

If this same young band then chose to use the sample from Yoakam's version and obtained permission to do so in advance from Sony Music, which owns the rights to the sound recording, but then Mark James (who wrote "Suspicious Minds") decided to threaten legal action unless he received 100% of the songwriting royalties after the song was already on the market, that would seem like a bit of an overreach, would it not?

After all, while Mark James is without a doubt the songwriter who wrote "Suspicious Minds" in 1968, he had no hand in creating the Pete Anderson guitar lick that opens Yoakam's cover of the song.

In much the same way, Keith Richards had no hand in creating the string arrangement used on Oldham's orchestral reinterpretation of "The Last Time", yet he and Mick Jagger (the song's writers) receive 100% of the songwriting royalties.

While this writer would agree with Allen Klein's assessment that, at the very least, ABKCO Records deserves at least part ownership of the sound recording for "Bittersweet Symphony" due to the fact that a recording that ABKCO owns the rights to (Oldham's The Rolling Stones Songbook album), his decision to go after the publishing rights as well only confirms Klein's reputation as one of rock's greediest slime balls.

Keith Richards, on the other hand, remains as beloved as any figure in all of popular music and he could prove that adoration is not misplaced by doing the right thing here. As Klein passed away in 2009, all it would take is one phone call by Richards to the right person and this glaring debacle of theft and greed on the part of Allen Klein could be fixed once and for all.

By "fixed", of course, we mean 50% writing credit (and royalties) restored to The Verve's Richard Ashcroft.

It would also be nice to see David Whitaker at least credited for his contribution upon which "Bitter Sweet Symphony" was based, but that's got less of a chance of happening than a monkey flying out of Mick Jagger's arse.

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