Last week, analysis shared by BBC News revealed that one in four current UK Top 40 hits use samples, making the sound of summer 2023 distinctly nostalgic.

An example of this trend is Issey Cross's ‘Bittersweet Goodbye’, a dance track which recently entered the UK Top 40 charts. 

The hook is taken from 1997 hit ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ by The Verve, which itself is based on Rolling Stones hit ‘The Last Time’. But the history of this sample doesn’t even stop there! We used Musiio Tag to help us tell its story.

Staple Sisters - ‘This May Be the Last Time’

Our story starts with a traditional African American spiritual song called ‘This May Be the Last Time’. It was performed by various artists over the years, but the recording that would go on to influence the Rolling Stones was performed by the Staple Sisters.

Released in 1954, the lyrics to this inspiring soul tune are about the need to live a righteous life. The narrator contemplates the possibility that this moment may be their last opportunity to seek redemption before facing a divine judgement. Singing in a lamenting gospel style, the Staple Sisters create a sentimental mood.

The Rolling Stones - ‘The Last Time’

Released as a single in 1965, ‘The Last Time’ was one of The Rolling Stones’ early hits in the band’s career. It was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who were inspired by the Staple Sisters and added a main melody and guitar hook to the original gospel tune to make a classic rock & roll song. 

Their new lyrics alluded to the ending of a relationship, because the narrator feels taken for granted by their partner. This creates a restless mood in the music, with underlying carefree and dreamy qualities.

The Andrew Oldham Orchestra - ‘The Last Time’

A year after the original Rolling Stones single release, the band’s original manager and record producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, re-recorded an instrumental cover of their track ‘The Last Time’. This is the first time we hear the iconic music in the way that we’ve all come to recognise it.

The track wouldn’t be a commercial success, but the luscious string arrangement and a tempo increase by 1 BPM amplified the original dreamy character of the song. As a result, hopeful and uplifting moods are also created, and the restlessness present in the original Rolling Stones rock & roll setup is minimised. 

The Verve - ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’

In 1997, the Andrew Oldham cover would be plucked from relative obscurity and gain massive acclaim. That year, the Verve sampled it in their single ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, which reached no.2 on the UK charts. They increased the tempo of the sample by another 1 BPM and added strings, guitar, percussion and vocals. The result was an instant classic. This time, the track was indie in genre and created an inspiring, hopeful mood, akin to the original Staple Sisters performance. 

However, controversy erupted when the Rolling Stones’ former manager Allen Klein denied the Verve permission to use the string sample after its release, even though the band believed they had already obtained the right to use it. Following a lawsuit, the Verve had to relinquish all publishing royalties to the song, until 2019, when following Klein’s death, his son finally returned the rights to Verve songwriter Richard Ashcroft.

The heartfelt lyrics of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ concern feelings of entrapment and the pursuit of happiness – themes which fittingly came to reflect the complicated legal history of the track.

Issey Cross - ‘Bittersweet Goodbye’

Since 1997, The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ has been sampled 45 times and covered 43 times, with notable recordings by A$AP Rocky, Gigi D’Agostino, and London Grammar.

Every generation looks back for inspiration and repurposes sounds to fit the here and now, and the current sampling phenomenon is driven by Gen Z going through this process. 

The UK Chart stats prove that harnessing nostalgia is a powerful way for new artists to break out. One such artist is Issey Cross, who’s tapped into the cultural pull of the Verve sample’s in her latest single ‘Bittersweet Goodbye’.

This new track gives ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ a euphoric pop treatment, with electronic drum and bass influences. Being another 2 BPM faster than the Verve track, the increasing tempo of this sample gives the song a frantic quality. The female vocals are a return to spiritual origins of the Staple Sisters track, while the lyrics about the ending of a relationship honour the original theme of the Rolling Stones ‘The Last Time’. 

And it’s paying off. The track has been rising through the UK Singles chart to reach no.28 this week.

This Won’t Be The Last Time

Given the enduring popularity of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, it’s safe to assume that Issey Cross’s reinterpretation won’t be the last. And we don’t expect the wider trend for sampling classic tracks to let up any time soon, either.

What ‘Bittersweet Goodbye’ represents, however, is a shift away from 80s nostalgia towards the 90s and early 00s. Another example of this trend is Bou’s recent hit Closer, which samples Robert Miles’ 1995 dance anthem ‘Children’.

But what’s the next 90s hit that’ll be sampled and rediscovered? We’ll have to wait and see.

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