Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’ in 10 Different Disguises
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Recorded on Valentine’s Day 1969, and released that summer, “Lay Lady Lay” became one of Bob Dylan‘s biggest hits, checking in at No. 7 on the Billboard chart, and hitting No. 5 in the U.K. Aside from the warm and inviting melody, and somewhat racy lyric, the record was also notable for a change in Dylan’s singing style. It would help push the Nashville Skyline album into the Top 10. Over the years, the song has become a standard of sorts, and one of Dylan’s most recognizable songs. It has also become a favorite for other artists to take a stab at. We have rounded up a handful of some of the more entertaining takes on this Dylan classic.
Neil Diamond belts out a typically dramatic reading of “Lay Lady Lay” on this live recording from 1978. Issued as part of his live box set, Stages, he takes the song and Diamondizes it into something barely recognizable from the Dylan original. In the process, you almost forget the original as you get lost in overblown arrangement delivered here. That could be taken as a compliment … then again.
There is no denying the amazing guitar playing of Steve Howe. From his early days as a session player, through Tomorrow, and of course, Yes, Howe’s playing has always been top shelf. Portraits of Bob Dylan, released in 1999, found Howe devoting an entire album to the songs of Dylan. On his cover of the song, he is joined by former Tomorrow band mate, singer Keith West and though they produce a warm and sweet sound, their version never really takes off where one would hope it would. In other words, Dylan and his song fail to get upstaged by any guitar gymnastics. Now if only Dylan would cover “Siberian Khatru.”
Though Cher had already made a strong run of albums, and singles, without Sonny, she was never able to make that hurdle of acceptance into the rock world. She tried with her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway as she put forth cover versions of songs by Buffalo Springfield, Otis Redding, Dr. John and not one, but three Dylan covers. Avoiding any potential sexuality controversy in the lyrical department, Cher takes her turn here, re-titling the song, “Lay Baby Lay.” She adds her own special Cher-ness to the song, but it, like the whole album, never connected with the record buying public.
Though they started out life as a harmless little synth-pop band, Ministry soon turned things upside down as they turned up the anger, dirt and volume on albums like The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste. By the time of their 1996 album Filth Pig, they had made the rounds on Lollapalooza and become standard bearers for industrial rock. For them to cover Dylan was a surprise, but an even bigger surprise was that it really worked. They were able to turn it into a Ministry song, without totally abandoning the root of the song. A high point of the album, it was also released as a single.
Like many session musicians, keyboardist Mike Melvoin was also given a chance to make his own records. Also, like many studio players, those ‘solo’ recordings often consisted of covers of hits of the day in their own, often jazz based, style. By the late-’60s, the fascination with the Moog synthesizer was in full swing, and the market was temporarily flooded with countless Moog-themed albums. One of the best was The Plastic Cow Goes Moooooog by Melvoin. Along with takes on songs by Cream, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, we find this Moog’d out version of “Lay Lady Lay.” Cheesy? If you say so, but frankly, some of us still dig those Moogalicious sounds, cheddar or not.
With their 1971 album Givin’ It Back, soul legends the Isley Brothers decided the time was right to make an album of cover songs from the rock world. They put together an interesting collection of songs from the likes of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, James Taylor and Eric Burdon. Their take on the Dylan song is a revelation as they transform it into a beautiful soul ballad, adding their own signature style to the song’s framework and truly making it their own.
To his die-hard fans, Kevin Ayers had few equals. To the rest of the world, people said, “Who the hell is Kevin Ayers?” From his earliest days in the Wilde Flowers and the Soft Machine to his stunning solo career, Ayers holds a special place in the catalog of British eccentrics. His songs were always flowing with melody and smart lyrics, so it was no surprise to hear him tackle this Dylan staple on his 1983 album Diamond Jack and the Queen of Pain. He adds a dash of reggae and a bit of soul to the song, twisting into something other than a standard cover.
The Byrds and the songs of Bob Dylan are pretty much inseparable. From their first moment on record, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” they have been forever linked. By 1968, the Byrds were floundering with only Roger McGuinn standing as the sole original member. Despite the turmoil, they put together one of their strongest albums in a couple years, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. Shortly after its release, they followed it up with their own “Lay Lady Lay” as a single. Building on the feel of the Dylan original, the added some additional country elements, no to mention some great harmonies, to the mix. The Byrds were always meant to cover the songs of Bob Dylan, and this is no exception.
In the early ’70s, Melanie was a constant presence on the pop charts. Records like “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” and “Brand New Key” were big hits for the New York folksinger. Her distinct voice was always her calling card and it shines on her version of the song, which was included on her 1972 album Garden in the City. While the song was never released as a single, listening to it again after all these years makes you wonder why it wasn’t. She adds that certain something to the song, making it all her own.
The Everly Brothers
With their 1984 album, EB 84, the Everly Brothers were back in the spotlight, thanks in no small part to some help from famous pals like Paul McCartney and Jeff Lynne. The album was a solid return, featuring the McCartney penned single “On the Wings of a Nightingale.’ The brothers also took their turn with “Lay Lady Lay,” and, no surprise, nailed it perfectly. Giving it a more straight forward arrangement, their signature harmonies elevate the song to the clouds Dylan’s original could never reach. A pure pop gem for sure.