Bob Dylan

Lay Lady Lay

Song Review by

"Lay Lady Lay" was Bob Dylan's last huge hit of the 1960s, and indeed one of his last huge hit singles of any sort, making the Top Ten in 1969. It was clearly the most outstanding song on his country-soaked Nashville Skyline -- not the most brilliant lyrically, perhaps, but head and shoulders the best on a sum music plus words level. Quite simply, "Lay Lady Lay" has far more musical hooks than the typical Dylan song, as well as a quite inviting lazy country-pop groove, lilting enough to make many mainstream listeners forget how country-influenced the song was. The chief hook of "Lay Lady Lay" is the descending four-note steel guitar riff that recurs throughout the track, acting as a guide for the song to keep shifting keys downward. Dylan sings his words of romantic, and probably sexual, anticipation in a pleasing low croon that took many fans aback, though usually in a pleasant way, when it was first heard in 1969. Dylan had been almost wholly identified with a high nasal vocal twang prior to that; his "new" voice was said to be a result of quitting smoking, but was also an aspect of his vocal persona that he had actually possessed since at least the early '60s, as some unreleased bootleg tapes from then indicate. Whatever the reason, it was far more accessible to AM radio listeners than his previous shrill voice had been. The song's appeal was also heightened by a nice bridge in which the tempo changed to a rockier groove and Dylan's more urgent vocals were answered with brief, bluesy guitar licks. The most country-ish aspects of the song come to the forefront on the brief coda, where the steel guitar resolves the tune with some different ascending riffs than are heard elsewhere on the track. Some read blatant sexual references into the lyrics (particularly the title), but these couldn't have hurt airplay too much, considering how high it charted. For obvious reasons, "Lay Lady Lay" has been one of Dylan's more covered tunes, spurring versions by Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the Byrds, Jackie DeShannon, the Everly Brothers, Melanie, Richie Havens, and many others, including unlikely suspects such as the Isley Brothers.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Nashville Skyline 1969 Columbia / Legacy 3:21
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 1971 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 3:14
Biograph 1985 Columbia 3:18
Nashville Skyline/New Morning/John Wesley Harding 1997 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 0:00
Masterpieces 1998 Columbia 4:57
The Best Sixties Album in the World...Ever! [1998] 1999
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:16
Bob Dylan: His Legacy of Songs 2000 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 3:39
The Essential Bob Dylan 2000 Columbia 3:21
No Image 2000 Sony Music Distribution 3:17
Sunday Love Songs 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 3:16
Simply Acoustic [Universal] 2002
Various Artists
Universal International 3:17
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 3:21
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1-3 2003 Legacy / Columbia 3:20
North Country 2005
Original Soundtrack
Sony Music Distribution / Columbia 3:19
The Best of Bob Dylan [Sony/BMG 2005] 2005 Sony Music Distribution 3:20
Nashville Skyline/John Wesley Harding 2006 Col / Sony Music Distribution / Sony Music Entertainment 3:21
Dylan 2007 Legacy 3:19
Music & Photos 2013 Columbia 3:18
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia Records / Sony Music 4:47
Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan 2014 Legacy / Sony Legacy 3:18
Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels: The Blissed-Out Birth of Country Rock, Vol. 2: 1969 2014
Various Artists
Bear Family Records 3:20
The Collection
Various Artists
Audio Fidelity 3:23