If you had to pick one musical intro that defined the 90’s this would be it. And yes, I will boldly say that fully aware that the Beverly Hills 90210 opening theme song is a contender. The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony is without a doubt one of the most iconic melodies, with its cathartic orchestral composition, tragic choice of lyrics, and quintessential 90’s Britpop-ness. It was used for the end credits in cult classic film Cruel Intentions and as most of the butts of Hollywood jokes, was used in a special Simpsons episode. However, while everyone may feel nostalgic when they hear the recognizable melody start to play, not everyone is aware of the catastrophic legal battle that came out upon the song’s explosive success.
The melody you here in this song is not an original. It’s an excerpt of the Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s 1965 cover of the Rolling Stone’s song The Last Time, a song also originally inspired by This May Be the Last Time by the Staple Singers. British vocalist of the Verve Richard Ashcroft had signed an agreement to only use a five-note segment of the song, which would entitle both parties to 50% of the royalties. Ashcroft had ended up using much more of the song than the original agreement. The song was wildly popular but of course, Ashcroft was slapped with a mega lawsuit, losing all of the royalties to the song in the end.
It makes you think…as artists to what extent is remixing allowed? How can we co-exist in a creative space by sharing our creative work? Regardless, Bitter Sweet Symphony is noted as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song deserved the attention, but the Verve’s association with the song is just a mere piece of drama, suggesting that perhaps picking a fight with the Rolling Stones isn’t the best idea.