The Rolling Stones

No Expectations

Song Review by

Much of the Rolling Stones' classic album Beggars Banquet has an early Sunday morning, hung-over feel. "No Expectations" has Brian Jones' lazy slide guitar and the honky tonk ballad piano of Nicky Hopkins assisting Keith Richards on an acoustic guitar, playing the same open-tuned rhythm he would later use on "Can't Always Get What You Want," all contributing to that lonely ambience. The loneliness expressed in the song is palpable; all about being left behind, the song is certainly a tribute in musical and lyrical tone to such Robert Johnson blues songs as "Love in Vain" -- a favorite cover of the Stones -- referencing such images as a train leaving the station. Mick Jagger cuts to the bone with lines like "Once I was a rich man/But now I am so poor/But never in my sweet short life/Have I felt like this before," dragging out the phrasing of the last six words for maximum impact. The instrumentation is tasteful in its reserve; it blends so well together that multiple listens reveal claves (sticks) percussion and a single-chord organ building into the fourth and final verse. Nicky Hopkins undoubtedly added the latter on top of his thoughtful piano trills, which enter after the third verse. The center of the song, though, would have to be the skillful acoustic slide guitar work of Brian Jones. Jagger has remarked "We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes. That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing." The Stones would accentuate the lazy feel in later live versions, including the 1995 recording Stripped. Johnny Cash did a bluegrass-like rave-up of the song, available on his collection Essential Johnny Cash 1955-83. Waylon Jennings followed Cash's lead, adding a little more rocking stomp on his 1998 comeback Closing in on Fire. Joan Baez did a version remarkable only in that it has her singing in a very stiff style over an almost Grateful Dead-esque groovy-blues arrangement on her 1970 One Day at a Time. Boston-based blues-folk singer Chris Smither sounds a bit like Gene Clark on his bruised take on the song on his 1972 Don't Drag It On.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Beggars Banquet 1968 ABKCO Records 3:56
More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies) 1972 ABKCO Records 3:59
Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1975 Universal Distribution
The Complete Singles Collection: The London Years 1989 ABKCO Records 3:55
Beggar's Banquet/Black & Blue 1999 Rolling Stones Records
No Image 2001 Decca Bootleg
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 3:56
Singles 1968-1971 2005 ABKCO Records 3:55
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 3:57
No Image Cool Blokes