The signature repeating orchestral line of British alt-rock band The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is instantly recognizable today by millions of music lovers around the world. Ironically, this musical motif that forms the foundation for this band’s only Top-40 U.S. hit also provided their greatest source of controversy—for you see, it wasn’t really theirs.
The orchestral line in question is something of a “cover of a cover,” sampled from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s string-laden cover of a Rolling Stones’ tune, “The Last Time.” The Verve had licensed a sample of the song, but when “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was released in 1997, it triggered a plaigiarism lawsuit with the claimants contending that the finished product leaned too heavily on the original melody. The Verve consistently contended that they had not broken any laws, but they settled out of court when it was apparent they could not win. As a result, they forfeit all royalties for the tune to the record company who owned the original Rolling Stones’ copyright, with songwriter royalties going to the Stones themselves.
Unfortunately, this was just one of many issues in The Verve’s turbulent history. They’ve since broken up three times, and reunited twice (which, if you do the math, means they’re broken up again). Nevertheless, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has stayed the course to make many “best of” lists over the years, and the album Urban Hymns on which it appeared remains one of the best-selling albums of all time in the UK.