Bob Dylan recorded "Lay Lady Lay" on Valentine's Day 1969, releasing it to broad acclaim later that summer. Aside from the warm and inviting melody, and somewhat racy lyric, the single was also notable for a change in Dylan's singing style.
Fans reacted, pushing "Lay Lady Lay" to No. 7 on the Billboard chart, and No. 5 in the U.K. That helped Dylan's Nashville Skyline album into the Top 10, as well.
Over the years, the song has become a standard of sorts, and one of his most recognizable songs. It has also become a favorite for other artists to cover. Here are 10 memorable takes on this Bob Dylan classic.
Neil DiamondFrom: 'Stages: Performances 1970 - 2002'
Neil Diamond belts out a typically dramatic reading of "Lay Lady Lay" on this live recording from 1978. Issued as part of his Stages box set, the song is Diamondized 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, but then again ...
Steve HoweFrom: 'Portraits of Bob Dylan' (1999)
There is no denying the amazing guitar playing of Steve Howe. From his early days as a session player through the band 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 singer and former Tomorrow band mate Keith West. They produce a warm and sweet sound, but 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."
CherFrom: '3614 Jackson Highway' (1969)
Cher had already made a strong run of albums and singles without Sonny, but she was never able to make that hurdle of acceptance into the rock world. She tried with her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway, putting forth cover versions of songs by Buffalo Springfield, Otis Redding, Dr. John. There was also not one, but three Dylan covers. Avoiding any potential sexuality controversy in the lyrical department, Cher re-titles the song "Lay Baby Lay." She adds her own special Cher-ness too, but it never connected with the record-buying public.
MinistryFrom: 'Filth Pig' (1996)
They started out life as a harmless little synth-pop band, but Ministry soon flipped things upside down. Albums like The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste turned up the anger, dirt and volume. By the time 1996's Filth Pig arrived, they had made the rounds on Lollapalooza and become standard bearers for industrial rock. For them to cover Bob 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 Dylan's roots. A high point of the album, "Lay Lady Lay" was also released as a single.
Mike MelvoinFrom: 'The Plastic Cow Goes Moooooog' (1969)
Keyboardist Mike Melvoin was also given a chance to make his own records, like many session musicians back in the day. These kind of solo recordings typically consisted of covers presented 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 Moog sounds, cheddar or not.
Isley BrothersFrom: 'Givin' It Back' (1971)
With 1971's Givin' It Back, 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, James Taylor, Stephen Stills and Eric Burdon. Their take on Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" is a revelation, as they transform it into a beautiful soul ballad, adding their own signature style to the song's framework.
Kevin AyersFrom: 'Diamond Jack and the Queen of Pain' (1983)
To his die-hard fans, Kevin Ayers had few equals. For the rest of the world, however, the question remained: "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. He adds a dash of reggae and a bit of soul to the song, twisting "Lay Lady Lay" into something other than a standard cover.
The ByrdsFrom: Single (1969)
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, they were floundering with only Roger McGuinn remaining as the sole original member. Despite the turmoil, the band put together one of their strongest albums in a couple years, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. Shortly after its release, they followed up with an update of "Lay Lady Lay" as a single. Building on the feel of the Dylan original, the Byrds added additional country elements to the mix – not to mention some great harmonies. The Byrds were always meant to cover the songs of Bob Dylan, and this is no exception.
MelanieFrom: 'Garden in the City' (1972)
Melanie was a constant presence on the pop charts in the early '70s. 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 "Lay Lady Lay." 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, making it all her own.
The Everly BrothersFrom: 'EB 84' (1984)
The Everly Brothers returned to the spotlight in 1984, thanks in no small part to some help from famous pals like Paul McCartney and Jeff Lynne. EB 84 was a solid comeback, featuring the McCartney-penned single "On the Wings of a Nightingale.' The Everlys also took their turn with "Lay Lady Lay" – and, no surprise, they nailed it. Giving the song a more straight-forward arrangement, their signature harmonies elevate "Lay Lady Lay" to the clouds Dylan's original could never reach. A pure pop gem.