Bitter Sweet Screwjob— Liam Maloney -
The Verve: the bastions of post Britpop, NME darlings, triple BRIT award winners. Fronted of course by Wiganese Richard Ashcroft and a trainee quantity surveyor, a milkman, and a farmhand, they were best known for pounding out chart-topping hits such as the ever-cheerful “The Drugs Don’t Work”, the fashion-forward “Handbags and Gladrags”, and the teenybopper-nocturnal-emission-given-form “Mmm Bop”. However, their biggest claim to fame came with the zeitgeist-defining, meandering, undanceable smash that was “Bitter Sweet Symphony”.
In recent weeks Ashcroft was finally able to give up his full-time job down the market, and chuck in those night school courses in accounting because… (drum roll please)… The Rolling Stones have just realised their manager Allen Klein died! It only took them a decade realise. To be fair, Mick has been busy with his short-lived ‘Superheavy’ supergroup that sounded like Sean Paul shitting out Joss Stone through a crocheted rastacap. And Keith has been spotted in numerous defibrillator phone boxes across Cumbria, presumably trying to stay alive one more hour.
As the BBC announced, “The Bittersweet Symphony dispute is over”. Clearly, wiki-ing the correct grammar of the title was too much for auntie. The Stones have finally agreed to allow Ashcroft a writing credit as ‘Jagger/Richards/Ashcroft’ for his sampling of the early Stones single ‘The Last Time’. According to the Beeb, “Ashcroft acknowledged that it was the Rolling Stones’ late manager, Allen Klein, who had been responsible for the situation, rather than the musicians themselves”. However, the real person who should be hung, drawn, quartered, and have each limb buried on a different continent is Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager in the 1960’s.
In fact, it was Loog Oldham’s version of ‘The Last Time’, that Ashcroft actually sampled for his 90’s smash hit. A poor, frankly kitschy, instrumental, orchestral version of The Last Time performed with little regard for pitch or accuracy. However, Ashcroft wished to include a small fragment of the Loog Oldham version in BSS. The disagreements and subsequent screwing of Ashcroft was down to a combination of Allen Klein’s mercenary approach to royalties (Keith’s scarf fund needs replenishing somehow), and technicalities from the old Loog Oldham recording: both Jagger and Richards played tambourine or something on it to ensure they had a credit for performance and writing. Sounds like cheeky industry bullshit to me, the kind the big five record companies used to screw early African American jazz and blues artists out of their copyright.
After an analytical listening session in a soundproofed studio, using original CD standard masters, and listening on studio speakers that retail at around £25,000 a pair, I can categorically say I cannot hear anything of the original Loog Oldham recording in The Verve’s track. Ashcroft and Will Malone recorded 50 different string parts to layer atop the original sample, effectively burying it lower in the mix than Brian Jones in a swimming pool. But, dear reader, don’t take my word for it. Make up your own mind. Here’s a playlist that contains the original Stones version, the reworked orchestral Loog Oldham version, and Ashcroft et al’s 90’s spectacular. Was Ashcroft just being a daft, pretentious artist including a sample no one could hear and not making a single penny from the song for 20 years? Or was it part of the integral aura of the track? Personally, I reckon the speed had something to do with it…
At the end of the day, none of them will ever be as good as the tune he did with UNKLE anyway.