Yesterday I came across an old Unkle remix of Bitter Sweet Symphony which obviously reminded me of the original version performed by the Verve. I’m not ashamed to say that Bitter Sweet Symphony is probably one of my favorite songs. I was around 18 or 19 years old when the song came out, and at the time my friends and I were in London. I remember hearing it everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. I remember walking down a small random street and hearing the song blasting out of a small coffee shop. The entire street was filled with the amazingly beautiful violin hooks. I was young, in London, rebellious, and this song just amplified that feeling. Listening to it the other day made me smile and I instantly became very nostalgic to, what I feel, was a completely different life and time.
After a few very loud listening sessions (and driving my wife and daughter crazy), I remembered that Bitter Sweet Symphony’s melody wasn’t actually written by the Verve. Its key hook was based on Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s version of a Rolling Stones song named “The Last Time” which was based on a song by the Staple Singers called “This May Be The Last Time” which was based on an old gospel song. Musical inception.
Unfortunately, even though the Verve had licensed the Andrew Oldham Orchestra hook, they eventually got into some legal trouble because the vocal melody was very similar to the Rolling Stone’s version. Since they only licensed the violin hook, not the vocal melody, they got sued by Rolling Stone’s lawyer. At the end, the song isn't attributed to Richard Ashcroft but to Jagger/Richards.
Anyways, I’m no lawyer, but in my opinion, Bitter Sweet Symphony is better than all the previous versions combined. See, I don’t care if the Verve were inspired or if they totally ripped off the original. I love that damn song. Everything about it symbolizes a time in my life that I cherish, and that will never change no matter how many people ripped each other off. The Verve tweaked something already amazing and made it their own. They made a classic.
So where does this leave us. I love a song that was “ripped off” from a different song that was ripped off from a different song? Is that morally okay? Do I need to love the original one instead? Does it matter if they licensed one part of the melody but not the other? Or… perhaps none of that matters? Perhaps taking an existing creation and tweaking it, even if ever so slightly, is okay? Perhaps that is the nature of art? Or the nature of creation? Or I’m over thinking it? It’s just a song... Or is it?
Written in New York. © 2013