Lay Lady Lay

Album: Nashville Skyline (1969)
Charted: 5 7
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  • In the summer of 1968, the producers of the movie Midnight Cowboy reached out to Dylan to see if he had a song they could use for the film's soundtrack. Dylan had been playing around with "Lay Lady Lay," a gentle love song, and thought it would make a good submission, but he didn't get it done on time. Producer John Schlesinger settled on Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" before he got to hear Dylan's song.

    Clinton Heylin observes in Revolution In The Air that the song doesn't make sense for the movie, and it's possible Dylan didn't read the script as he developed the song.

    Midnight Cowboy, released in 1969, is not a romantic or sentimental film. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, the gritty story is about two street hustlers who live in a condemned building and spend their days looking for ways to survive. Character Joe Buck (played by Voight) becomes a gigolo to make his money, and there is a subsequent scene with him in bed with a New York socialite, but it's hardly the kind of romantic situation "Lay Lady Lay" is suited for. The song ended up on Dylan's 1969 album Nashville Skyline.
  • The Everly Brothers recorded "Lay Lady Lay" in 1984 on their album EB 84. Dylan offered them the song back in the late '60s, probably not too long after playing it for Schlesinger and Midnight Cowboy.

    Out of this meeting came a longtime myth that the Everly Brothers rejected the song because they thought Dylan sang "lay lady lay, lay across my big breasts, babe," thinking it was a lesbian love song.

    Don Everly cleared that story up in 1994 when he said that the lesbian breast angle wasn't true. The Everly Brothers just didn't realize Dylan was offering them the song. It was an informal meeting, and they were starstruck. They had no idea Dylan was demoing the song for their use.
  • This was one of many Dylan songs covered by The Byrds, who also recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Just Like A Woman," and "The Times They Are A-Changin'." There are two versions of the song on their 2002 Dylan cover compilation, The Byrds Play Dylan.

    They Byrds version bubbled under at #132 US in 1969; other charting renditions of the song in America were by Ferrante & Teicher (#99, 1970) and the Isley Brothers (#71, 1972).
  • Some radio stations refused to play this song simply because of the use of the word "lay" in the title, assuming it referred to sex (i.e. "get laid"). Despite the accusation of being "sexually titled," Dylan denied any sexual terminology.
  • Cassandra Wilson covered this for her album Glamoured. In 2001, shortly after the release of his Love and Theft album, Bob Dylan himself went on record as saying "I love everything she does," and said she was the only good thing on the radio (which, he mentioned, "makes hideous sounds"). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brett - Edmonton, Canada, for above 2
  • Dylan's vocals were slightly sped up, producing a higher vocal.
  • Grammatically, the correct title for this song would be "Lie Lady Lie," but that wouldn't sing very well. English teachers will tell you that Dylan's title is a command to place the lady on the bed, but Dylan isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his strict adherence to the rules of grammar. Neither is Eric Clapton, who did something similar with "Lay Down Sally."
  • In 2020, transcripts emerged from a 1971 interview in which Dylan said he'd written the song for Barbra Streisand to perform.

    Understandably, much was made of this discovery, but it should be looked at in the broader context of Dylan's character. He frequently forgot songs he'd written, sometimes not even recognizing them when others would perform them (Joan Baez has attested to this). In interviews, his answers were sometimes deliberately intended to mess with people's heads, but even when his intentions were honest he often stated inaccuracies about his own life.
  • Richie Havens covered this on his 1987 album Sings Beatles and Dylan; Cher sang it as "Lay Baby Lay" on her 1969 album, 3614 Jackson Highway.
  • The B-side for the "Lay Lady Lay" single was "Peggy Day," the fifth track on Nashville Skyline.

Comments: 55

  • Galaxia Gazer from Pacific NorthwestIn Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley used the phrase 'colored lights' (Scene 8)...a reference to Stanley & Stella's sexual life: "STANLEY: When we first met, me and you, you thought I was common. How right you was, baby. I was common as dirt. You showed me the snapshot of the place with the columns. I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it, having them colored lights going! And wasn't we happy together, wasn't it all okay till she showed here?" Dylan's line " Whatever colors you have in your mind. I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine" could also be referencing same, especially because he is asking the woman to lay across his big brass bed.
  • Richard from Dee Why, Nsw, AustraliaIn a transcript of an interview dated March 24, 1971, his friend Tony Glover, a blues musician who died last year 2019 asked Dylan about the songs "Father of Night," featured on the album "New Morning" (1970), and "Lay Lady Lay," the popular single from his album "Nashville Skyline" (1969).
    Glover repeated conventional wisdom that "Lay Lady Lay" was originally written for the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning drama "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), but Dylan interrupted him to reveal the true origins of the song.

    "Actually, it was written for Barbra Streisand," Dylan is quoted as saying.

    In context, Dylan appears to be saying that he wrote "Lay Lady Lay" as a tune for Streisand to sing — not necessarily as an homage to her. Dylan, a famously enigmatic artist who guards his privacy, did not provide any additional information about his relationship with Streisand.
    In a statement to NBC News on Wednesday, Streisand said: "I'm very flattered to find out that Bob Dylan wrote 'Lay Lady Lay' for me. What I remember is getting flowers from him with a handwritten note asking me to sing a duet with him, but I just couldn't imagine it then. Guess what, Bob, I can imagine doing it now!"
    The interviews were part of an article Glover was writing for Esquire magazine. But the magazine declined to run the article, and Dylan eventually lost interest in the project, according to Livingston, the auction house executive.
  • Rrobert from Hatfield UkThis song has the effect of catching me wherever I am and I Just have to stop and listen to it. Never fails. Where’d he get that resonant voice, who’s doing that brilliant drumming, that haunting organ, that sneaky but so fitting telecaster ? One of the best songs ever, by Dylan or anybody else.
  • Richard Sarver from Beaverton, OregonI had heard, sometime before 1976, that Dylan had a cat named "Lady", and that the song had referred to his cat.
  • Jennifur SunMatthew I too am not a huge fan of his voice but i loved this song, for some reason. What makes this song for me is who ever played that beautiful lead guitar and steel guitar part on the song.
  • Craig from Santa Monica, CaDoes anyone know who sings the most common version of Lay Lady Lay on the radio? They have a deep voice unlike any of the other versions I've ever heard. I've checked out every version that comes up on a search, and they are all higher pitched. This version came out in the 70's, I think - it was no later than the early '80s.

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 14th 1969, Bob Dylan makes a surprise appearance with The Band at the Mississippi River Rock Festival at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Illinois...
    Bob and the boys performed three songs; "I Ain't Got No Home", "Slippin' and Slidin'", and "In the Pines"...
    At the time Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" was at #93 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; just under seven weeks later on August 31st, 1969 it would peak at #7 {for 2 weeks} and it stayed on the Top 100 for 14 weeks...
    The Band didn't have a record on the Top 100 at the time; but their "The Weight" would twice make the Top 100 in 1969, first by Aretha Franklin and then by the Supremes & the Temptations.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 29th 1970, Ferrante and Teicher's covered version of "Lay Lady Lay" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #99; and that was also its peak position on the chart, the reason being because it only stayed on the Top 100 for one week...
    But it did reached #16 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    Between 1960 and 1970 the piano-playing duo had eleven Top 100 records; four made the Top 10, they were "Theme from The Apartment" {#10 in 1960}, "Exodus" {#2* for 1 week in 1961}, "Tonight (from West Side Story)" {#8 in 1961}, and "Midnight Cowboy" {#10 in 1970}...
    * The week "Exodus" was at #2, another instrumental was at #1, "Wonderland by Night" by Bert Kaempfert, and at #3 there was another instrumental, "Calcutta" by Lawrence Welk & his Orchestra...
    Arthur Ferrante passed away on September 19th, 2009 at age 88 and Louis Teicher died thirteen months earlier on August 3th, 2008 at age 83...
    May they both R.I.P.
  • Ray from Hoschton, GaLay Lady Lay was a favorite song of my brother-in-law, Bill, a helicopter pilot killed in Vietnam in 1970. I think the song reminded him of his situation of being separated from his wife & how he looked forward to their romantic reunion. His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean remind me of his coming from Nam where life is dirty, but when he meets her his hands will be clean. He longed to be with her & this comes out strongly in the lyrics. I left Nam 3 days after Bill got there. I was stationed in Hawaii & saw Bill for the last time when he met my sis on R&R. Think of him whenever I hear this song.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 6th 1969, "Lay Lady Lay" by Bob Dylan entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #94; and on August 31st, 1969 it peaked at #7 (for 2 weeks) and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
    Two covered versions have made the Top 100; Ferrante & Teicher (#99 in 1970, an instrumental version) and the Isley Brothers (#71 in 1972, a soulful version)*
    * Both versions are available on You Tube.
  • Dt from Gulf Breeze, FlGreat version of this "Before The Flood" live album recorded with The Band in mid 70's.

    I like the idea of this being a love song to his dog. My dog is the only breathing creature who offers me absolute unconditional love.
  • Greg from New Windsor, NyThe group Ministry does an amazing cover of this.
  • Matthew from Toronto, OnDylan is a brilliant composer--virtually unequalled. But his voice always grated on my nerves, and I preferred to hear his songs sung by anyone else--the Byrds, Manfred Mann, Peter Paul & Mary, even Cher. But for "Lay Lady Lay," he adopted a country twang which surprisingly suited him perfectly, and made this one very listenable. Great arrangement, lustful growl coming from Dylan, it's too bad it wasn't used in the soundtrack of "Midnight Cowboy"; it would certainly have suited the movie's lustful suggestiveness.
  • Josh from Westborough, MaHAHAHAHA have you seen Lago's comment?!
  • Steve from Great Wakering, United Kingdomone of those songs that I remember exactly where i was the first time I heard it-at my cousin stephanie's 21st birthday party. she had a small portable record player, possibly battery powered. I was only 10, but I the memory is so clear. I always loved the chord progression & it was great to learn it when I took up the guitar.And Dylan's voice is so different too. Excellent song, never tire of hearing it!
  • Jorge Velez from Bayamon, Puerto RicoI love this song. Great melody with a touch of melancholy. It reflects one's feelings of wanting a beautiful moment or relationship to continue indefinitely.
  • Kent from Sun Prairie, WiI remember a version of this by the dueling pianos of Ferrante and Teicher. Would love to find it.
  • Spanky from Charleston, ScThi song was written for his wife. When he sold his house outside of Woodstock, the people who bought it said that the only thing left in the house was a big brass bed in the bedroom. Shortly after he and his wife divorced. This split fueled most of the songs for Blood On The Tracks.
  • Carrie from Roanoke, VaThe character Ted Baxter sang the chorus of this song on an episode of Mary Tyler Moore.
  • Conspiracy from Kathmandu, NepalMr Matt from Boston, I completely disagree with your interpretation. Hippies played such a vital role to end the war, you know. Hippies represented freedom, the ultimate freedom. They protested against the "Draft". CCR's "Fortunate Son" clearly reflect this thing, ain't it? And what does it mean when you said, America got out of the war when Saigon fell? This analysis of yours is a slimy and worthless one. The failure of Saigon, actually implies the failure Of America. If the counterculture of Hippies had not started, America would not have taken its hand from the war. And thats the reality. All the musicians and poets and writers of the 60's era were boosted up by the desire of experiencing the freedom and they were really proficient and awe-inspiring personalities. Bob Dylan was one of the greatest. The Classic Rock Music Is Not Just The Music, Its Philosophy Described In Terms Of Music.
  • Jim from Denver, CoTo Matt from Boston: I agree with you in regards to the silly imagery being overrated. However, most of Dylans 60's s--t is basically poetry(There is a difference between a poem and a song, I'm sure you know that, but for folks who may not, A perfect example of a "songwriter" is Paul McCartney) even so, albums like Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde are often regarded for the intriguing sound and subject matter, rather than the lyrics. But, dont get me wrong, there are several songs that are basically meaningless chatter. I think what cements Dylan as one of the greats is "Blood on the Tracks". The content of that album is pure quality. A song like "Tangled Up in Blue" uses offhand lyrics while simultaneously relivivng the past 10 years of his personal/professional life. Basically, I guess my point after all that babble, is if you delve a little deeper into his catalogue you could change your mind.
  • Hunter from Flint, Mithe band "magnet" did a cover of this song. it was in mr and mrs smith. love it.
  • Mark from Los Angeles, CaThe songfact: "Dylan wrote this for the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. ..., was chosen for the theme song instead", is not "all" true, the song just was not submitted on time.
  • Colleen from Allentown, PaThis is my favorite Dylan song.
    That's saying a lot haha.
    I don't know what it is about this song that makes me love it so much.
    But I do haha
  • Sharon from Siler City, NcMy favorite cover of this song was by another great songwriter, Hoyt Axton. It was on his Fearless album. Hoyt's voice really made this song sound fantastic.
  • Matt from Boston, MaWas there a longer version than this, because there is a weird break in the middle of the song?

    I like this song, but Dylan might be the most overrated musician of all time. A lot of lame imagery, gutteral vocals, and, sometimes, worse poetry than Jim Morrison.

    Sometimes people overthink the importance of obscure symbolism and assume it's genius. Sorry, but if I hear him talk, or sing, for more than a few minutes he comes off as a pretentious curmudgeon who doesn't like any musician, band, or song that doesn't pay homage to him.

    It's sad to think what the 60's could have been if people actually practiced the doctrine of peace and love instead of using it as an excuse to ingest a lot of drugs and rail at everything they didn't like like a bunch of spoiled brats. And don't give me this nonsense that the hippies got us out of Viet Nam. The war ended when Saigon fell. We left when we new the war was lost. The 60's was an era full of contrarians, and the problem with contrarians is that they can always identify a problem but they never have a solution. The solution in the 60's was to take, and promote taking, more drugs. To me Dylan is the very symbol of that.
  • Daniel from New York, Nyactually "everybody's talkin'" did not win the oscar, nor was it nominated, proabbly cause i guess it wasn't an original song
  • Innocent Jim from Rushville, InDylan belongs in everyone's heart, with his songs being emotional and expressive towards all's well-being. I heard it when it came out on the radio. Then, when I got my first automobile and installing an 8-Track player, I played "Lay Lady Lay" on my first experience taking a girl, Brenda, parking. It took affect. I scored and in return, she passed-over to me the itty-bitty itches, the crabs!
  • Lago from New Orleans, LaDefinitely, he was training his dog. "Lay, Lady...Lay!" "Stay, Lady...Stay!" You see? It all fits (somehow) Insiders close to Bob at the time knew of his "special relationship" with that dog. In fact, "Lady" was originally a male dog. But... yes you guessed it. Thus, Bob became an early pioneer in dog sex change operations. (See Bob's unofficial biography, chapter six, "When Laddy became a Lady" for more inside information on this.)

    Joan Baez indeed. What rubbish.
  • Kenny from Clydebank, ScotlandMan, that big brass bed is such a rich image, like something out of Solomon's temple, or his humble palace. It's such an intimate scene he sets up here; the song belongs in one of those wintry films like McCabe and Mrs Miller. It's in the same vein as Leonard Cohen's 'travelling lady, stay awhile until the night is over, I'm just a station on your way, I know I'm not your lover...' On the Nashville Skyline album, Dylan sang smoothly like a crooner. He's never went back to that style, too many cigarettes and lonesome roads. These days, he sings like he's been to too many funerals. How much does he charge to haunt a house? Only joking, hehe!
  • Tony from Toledo, OhThis is one song that both my mom and my ex-wife both liked me to play and sing. The oddity of it was that my former wife and I did not pick out a brass bed when we got married-lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed! I tried to put on that deep voice for my former wife. She got a kick out of it.
  • Doug from Vernon, CanadaHis voice on John Wesley Harding was different than on Nashville Skyline - both post motorcycle accident. The main reasons his voice was clearer on NS was that he had stopped smoking and the studio recording methods.
  • Tom from Dozier, AlWhen I lived in Hollywood, FL in 1969, WQAM radio played the Byrds version of Lay Lady Lay for about 4 weeks and it disappeared only to be replaced with Dylan's version. Dylan can't sing, but he sure knows how to write great songs.
  • Kilgore from New York City, NyI don't remember the source but I think this song is about his dog whose name was lady.
  • Malicious Matt from SquatneyI'm not 100% convinced the line 'His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean' refers necessarily to scruffiness. Maybe I'm wrong, but knowing Dylan it may be something more abstract. Then again, the rest of the song seems fairly literal, maybe his cloths really are dirty and his hands are clean!

    Amazing that people would refuse to play a great song like this because of apparent sexual references. Since when did sex become a bad thing?
  • Aleicia from VancouverMy favourite Dylan much as I love his regular voice, this song just wouldn't be the same if he hadn't changed it.
  • John from Laval, Canadawhen you think of it what's more weird than changing your vocal technique and writing a song about your dog. Only the truly great ones can do that....
  • John from Laval, CanadaWhatever colours you have in your mind...dogs are colour-blind. His dog used to lay across his big brass bed.
  • Roberto from Las Cruces, NmI heard that this song was written for his wife but I forgot the source.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaJeez, what's up with his voice? My God! I believe all the reasons here...except: 1. that the studio was trying to improve the sound of his voice. The studio liked his sound, HE may want to change it, to avoid attention to himself. 2. Dylan just finally stopped trying to sound like Woody Guthrie. Nope.
    Everything else is pretty much believable, but I liked his voice better earlier.
  • Kyle from Vancouver, CanadaThe line 'His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean' appear to be saying that he is a good man for the woman even though he is scruffy.
  • Chad from Reading, PaI think his voice sounds differant on Nashville Skyline for a few reasons. One, he stopped using drugs and tobacco (too bad he got back into them again later), two he changed his vocal style to be more countryish, three he was trying something different, the whole album evolved out of sessions with Johnny Cash. Which of course there is the Girl of the North Country duet with him on NS too.
  • Ashley from Yarmouth, CanadaI love this song. It makes my ears feel so nice when i hear it. I love Bob Dylan. He's so smokin'. I wish he was my neighbor.
  • Jackie from Toronto, CanadaThe band Magnet has recently done a cover of this song using both male and female voices, laid out as a dialogue between the two.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis was a great song off the album Nashville Skyline. I always though the line "Lay across my big brass bad" was "Lay across puppygrass bay."
  • J from Atl, Ga¿que pasa con el voz?
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhApparently Bob tried so hard to detract attention he even put weird white makeup on to scare people in the 70's.
  • Emily from Oswego, IlIn his book, Dylan says the media was getting so crazy following him and trying to get him to lead a revolution, and he was getting so tired of it, he tried to change his image. He even changed his voice for the song. He did all sorts of weird stuff to be left alone. All he wanted was to be with his family.
  • Sally from Shavertown, PaJose Feliciano did a great cover of this.
  • Ben from Connellsville, Pait sounds different because he stopped smoking cigarettes and marijuana for a time before recording htis song
  • Jeff from Boston, MaAccording to the book "Keys to the Rai, the Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia", the reason this song didn't make it to the "Midnight Cowboy" soundtrack was that he submitted it too late.
  • Enzo from Adelaide, AustraliaAlways liked this tune,helps me get over a broken heart now and then:)
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiaalways wondered why Dylans voice sounded different thanks Ken . love that Hurricane song
  • Dan from Fort Collins, CoA strange song, where Dylan's vocal is different than almost anything previous. Lots of rumors as to why - that he had quit smoking, that his bike accident 2 years earlier had affected his voice, that the studio was trying to improve the sound of his voice, or that Dylan just finally stopped trying to sound like Woody Guthrie. I'd bet the first and third reasons listed here are the most believable.
  • Kevin from Utica, Nythe title lyric came while Dylan was fiddling around singing La la la la, which progressed into lay lady lay
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