Lay Lady Lay

Here’s a simple thought: “What is Lay Lady Lay” about? There’s an oft-repeated story that when the Everly Brothers heard it they mistook it for a song about lesbians, and turned it down. That was based on a mishearing. With the lyrics printed on hundreds of Dylan web sites we can see it isn’t so… but where does the song take us?

Whatever colors you have in your mind  I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine

Is almost Donovan Leitch like – I am the magician I can make you see whatever you want to see.

But then who is the man whose “clothes are dirty but his hands are clean?” There’s memories of Rolling Stone here – (You used to be so amused At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used)

But no, in this case…you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen

Of course this is a softer kinder world – the harshness of Rolling Stone is not here. “Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile” is said with warmth and affection.

Contrary to all the warnings on Rolling Stone

“You can have your cake and eat it too”

Only the ending is unequivocally clear – I want to wake up next to you.

So what makes it such a wonderful song?

Certainly, if we take the warmth of the words, then it is clear that the music fits perfectly too, for it is warm and kind. But there’s more, because the chord sequence is utterly unexpected – indeed I have seen experienced hardened rock musicians who can tell you a chord sequence as they hear a song for the first time, stumble over what happens here.

A, C sharp minor, G, D

Where did that G come from? How do you get a melody to go from C sharp minor (where the top note is G sharp) to G major? Personally, I can’t think of another song that uses such a sequence.

Dylan pulls it off, and the melody glides lyrically along. Quite probably no one can ever use such a sequence again, for it is utterly Lay Lady Lay. Who cares about the lyrics this time around – it is the melody over that extraordinary chord sequence that makes it happen.

This entry was posted in At Boudakan, Essential Bob Dylan, Greatest Hits Volume 2, Nashville Skyline, The Songs. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Lay Lady Lay

  1. Tim Watkinson says:

    Actually it’s A, C sharp minor, G, B minor. In other words, the 1st to the minor 3rd played once, then again six semi-tones higher. Exactly the same opening chords as the Bacharach song “Don’t make me over”.

  2. nick diletti says:

    another song?!? The first one tha comes to mind (and the ‘first one’ also, dating back to 1965, is Lennon’s “It’s Only Love” (this time in C; from “Help!”)

  3. Daniel Eickmann says:

    To look at this harmony from a guitar perspective is a pretty logical thing to do since Dylan is a guitarist and undoubtedly wrote this song on guitar.

    The chord progression goes from the I to iii in A (A major to C# minor) and then repeats a whole-step lower (G to B minor) to form a Sequence.

    You can voice these chords such that following the highest notes of each chord will create a chromatically descending melody. To wit: A, G#, G natural, F#.

    A is the root of A major, G# the fifth of C# minor, G the root of G major, and F# the fifth of B minor.

    All things considered, it’s really a pretty natural and logical chord progression. Not to mention beautiful!

  4. bob says:

    whatever colors you have in your mind I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine… magician. No! when one has an amazing orgasim, it’s like fireworks full of color. Magician? Ok. Magical lover.

  5. mick bell says:

    i read that this song was written for the movie midnight cowboy but they used everbody’s talkin instead the song could have been used in some scenes of the movie

  6. Bob says:

    He is asleep with his love. Dreaming and wanting to stay there “while the night is still ahead”. Have we not all been there.?

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