This is a reworked version Robert Johnson's Blues classic. Prolific in the 1930s, Johnson was one of Keith Richard's 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." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2)
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. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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.