Rolling Stones songs: Love in Vain
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
When the train left the station/ It had two lights on behind…
Written by: Payne
Recorded: Olympic Sound Studios, London, England, Feb. 9-March 31 1969
Guest musicians: Ry Cooder (mandolin)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
This is a reworked version Robert Johnson’s blues classic. Prolific in the 1930s, Johnson was one of Keith Richards’ inspirations.
The Stones recorded this with more of a country feel than the original blues version, which was more dreary and depressing.
Keith Richards: “For a time we thought the songs that were on that first album were the only recordings Robert Johnson had made, and then suddenly around ’67 or ’68 up comes this second bootleg collection that included ‘Love in Vain.’
‘Love in Vain’ was such a beautiful song. Mick and I both loved it, and at the time I was working and playing around with Gram Parsons, and I started searching around for a different way to present it, because if we were going to record it there was no point in trying to copy the Robert Johnson style or ways and styles. We took it a little bit more country, a little bit more formalized, and Mick felt comfortable with that.”
Mick Jagger: “We changed the arrangement quite a lot from Robert Johnson’s. We put in extra chords that aren’t there on the Robert Johnson version. Made it more country. And that’s another strange song, because it’s very poignant. Robert Johnson was a wonderful lyric writer, and his songs are quite often about love, but they’re desolate.”
With Brian Jones unavailable due to drug problems, Ry Cooder was brought in to play mandolin.
The Stones’ record label at the time, ABKCO Music, lost the rights to this in 2000 when a court ruled that this, along with “Stop Breakin’ Down,” were the property of Robert Johnson’s estate. The Stones thought the copyright on the song had expired.
Eric Clapton recorded this for his 2004 album Me and Mr. Johnson. Clapton is a big fan of Robert Johnson.
The Stones performed this song at the 2007 Isle of Wight festival with Paolo Nutini, who was just 20 years old at the time and enjoying breakthrough success from his debut album These Streets. The band rehearsed it with Nutini in a Travelodge hotel room before the show, leaving quite an impression on the young Scottish singer.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
Due to the numerous myths that enshroud his life, for example the story that
he signed a pact with the devil in exchange for instant virtuosity on the
guitar, Robert Johnson is one of the most legendary of all blues singer-guitarists.
The twenty-nine songs he recorded in just two sessions
(November 1936 and June 1937) have exerted a phenomenal influence, not
only on blues musicians as such, but on every pioneer of rock music from
Bob Dylan, to the Rolling Stones, to Jimmy Page.
“Love in Vain Blues” dates from June 20, 1937. For this number, in
which the narrator sings of the sadness of losing the love of the woman he
describes following to the station with a suitcase in his hand (most likely
the bluesman’s lover Willie Mae Powell), the songwriter from Mississippi
took his inspiration from “In the Evenin’ When the Sun Goes Down” by the
pianist Leroy Carr. More than thirty years after Robert Johnson wrote this
song, the Rolling Stones in turn take up this tale of a breakup. The sadness
felt by the narrator endures but is expressed differently. Keith Richards,
who heard the song for the first time in 1968, when the second box set
dedicated to Robert Johnson was released, recalls: “Mick and I both loved it
[the song], and at the time Gram [Parsons] and I started searching around
for a different way to present it, because if we were going to record it there
was no point in trying to copy the Robert Johnson style or version. So I sat
around playing it in all kinds of different ways and styles. We took a little
bit more country, a little bit more formalized, and Mick felt comfortable
with that.” This is confirmed by Mick Jagger: “We changed the
arrangement quite a lot from Robert Johnson’s. We put in extra chords that
aren’t there on the Robert Johnson version. Made it more country.”
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