Once or twice: Lay Down Your Weary Tune. (Warning, some recordings are painful)


I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

Once or twice: A recently inaugurated review of songs that Bob has performed just once or twice on stage. Previously we looked at The girl on the Greenbriar Shore, Only a hobo. and Caribbean Wind.  So rather obviously, this is number four in the series.

Recorded in 1963 this was released 22 years later, possibly because there is a blip in the recording (although that might not be on the original, sorry you’ll have to check your own own copy of “Biograph”.  The copies I have found on line have that blip, and my albums are not in an order that makes retrieving one particular LP an easy task.)

Meanwhile here is the public performance

The generally accepted view is that this was recorded for the “Times they are…” album. and the story circulates that Dylan was wanting to capture the feeling of a Scottish ballad, such as perhaps “The Water is Wide”.

Dylan performed it once on stage in 1963 but then with Dylan having dropped the song from the album the Byrds then took it up.


I love the harmonies that the Byrds create, but this was the period where every recording they made had to have the Byrds “jingle jangle” sound, and for me that is just not right.  Indeed “not right at all”.  I am left screaming with dismay.

Various music critics attempted to categorise the song in various ways (“a message from the universe” being one of the more outlandish) but there seems to me to be no need to find a message – the song is in the spirit of what Dylan is said to have identified as the source: Scottish ballads.

There is also the notion from Paul Williams that, “we hear Dylan struggling to put into words the melody that haunts him” but again I don’t hear that.  I hear music that is clearly constructed, and to which the lyrics fit perfectly.

It is only around 250 words long (including the repeated chorus) but for me these lyrics contain a set of clear, unpretentious images sung to a simple, memorable and above all enjoyable melody.  In essence it relates to the way in which one can use music to relieve the tensions of the world, and express one’s thoughts of the world in a way that conversation and prose cannot.

It suggests that the sounds of life are all we need; songs are not required.  The wind , the ocean, the rain, the rustling leaves, the flowing river… these are the only sounds we need to understand the world and be at peace with the world.

Of course there is the eternal irony that a song is constructed to express that thought, but such is the way of the arts, we accept the conceit of the lyrics to allow us to enjoy the beauty both of the conception of the song, and its execution through lyrics and melody.

But is this the moment Bob changed from politics to mysticism as has been suggested by so many writers (each possibly copying the idea of the last)?  I think the evidence is against it for if we look at the list of Dylan songs in the order that they were written (one of the first big projects we put on this site) we can see the musical and literary context that Bob was working within at the time.

Thus as we can see, immediately prior to “Lay Down your Weary Tune” Bob composed three protest songs and one (Percy’s Song) on the failure of justice – which could indeed also be called a protest song.

But “Harrie Carroll” was the last of that sequence, and indeed the last story for a while, for “Lay Down your Weary Tune” was the start of a short sequence of songs with “Moving On” as a theme – for both “One too many mornings” and “Restless Farewell” which concluded his composing for 1963, are on the same theme.

There is also a very rough recording of a version of the song by Jefferson Airplane in which they change some of the rhythms and also make some very strange chord changes.   The quality of this is awful, but if you can bear it do have a listen – it is not widely known, and it shows a strange re-thinking of what can be done when one starts from a desire to do something different, rather than a feeling for a song and an inspiration of where else it could go.   It has taken me half a dozen listens to come to terms with it, but it was an interesting experience – once I got used to the forced modulations at the end of every other verse.

What is curious however is just how many utterly awful covers there have been of this song along with one or two just about bearable versions.  I will leave you to find them if you wish – I have no desire to take responsibility for anyone who actually understands the work rushing out into the street screaming in utter dismay.  Even Billy Bragg’s version on the “Chimes of Freedom” tribute album has me running to hide (metaphorically – actually what I did was turn it off).

The Amnesty International 2012 compilation of Bob Dylan covers, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan includes a version of “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” by Billy Bragg. “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” by Storyhill is bearable.

Tom O’Brien’s version from “Red on Blue” is also bearable but only seems to be on Spotify.   And maybe this is why the song is not as widely heard as it should be.   It seems to be so utterly difficult for anyone else to make a decent version of it.  Probably best to flip back to the top of this piece and play Bob’s version, and ponder why he never gave us more.

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