The Never Ending Tour Extended: Lay Lady Lay

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

The Never Ending Tour Extended: This series primarily uses recordings selected by Mike Johnson in his inestimable masterpiece The Never Ending Tour, and looks at how those performances of individual songs change as time goes by.   The selection of songs from the series, and the commentary below, are by Tony Attwood.   A list of all the songs covered in the series is given at the end.


Lay Lady Lay was played by Dylan for the first time on 31 August 1969 and was finally retired on 27 November 2010 after 407 performances across 41 years.

1993: The epic adventures of Mr Guitar Man

At the time we pick up on the song on the Tour Bob had kept the essence of the accompaniment and the feel of the song but had changed the melody considerably along with his singing style.  Lines are extended, the melody vanishes sometimes or becomes something quite different.   Altogether it gives a sense of relaxation and do-as-you-please, as if the message is everyone can do as she or he wants.  He wants her to stay, but really it is up to her.  He is asking, not begging.

And as happens most of the time the song is extended way beyond its original recording.  That lasted three minutes 19 seconds, this live version is around nine minutes, thanks not least to a very prolonged instrumental break which starts around 3 minutes 50 seconds, and takes us down to almost nothing (suggesting the end of the song) at around 6 minutes 30 seconds, before building up again as Bob uses one of his favourite instrumental techniques of playing the same musical pattern over and over again.   Indeed given the chattering in the background it could be that by around 7 minutes 20 seconds the audience is thinking it is all over.

Indeed by eight minutes 10 seconds we are almost at silence, but there is still a coda to be added and the performance takes its final bow at nine minutes 12 seconds.  Three times as long as the original.  And I wonder, listening now at home without the excitement and enthusiasm of fellow fans around me, if this coda really adds anything to the song.   Perhaps it does but that coda is almost as long as the song, and it feels a little like an indulgence to me.

Such extemporisations are fun to play I know from my own experience, but musically for the audience, I am not sure.

1995: The Prague Revelation and other astonishment 

Two years on, it feels from the opening as if Bob has taken the notion of this song as relaxation to heart, as this feels even slower than before.  Much of the original melody has gone but there is enough of it to remind us (if we needed reminding) that this is indeed “Lay Lady Lay”.   There’s a lot of emphasis on “I LONG to see you,” too, which I had never taken from the original recording – although maybe I just wasn’t listening closely enough.

The instrumental break is shorter and I think that helps – it now has almost become a song in its own right – although then the guitar  (I presume that is Bob) starts to take it in a more energetic direction before the song winds up at five and a half minutes – a considerable retreat from the epic approach of two years earlier.

2001: Down Electric Avenue

And now we have even more of the original melody removed with Bob adopting the style of one reciting a poem.   The length of the performance is back up again – and what is noticeable is that aside from Bob’s own guitar playing (his usual picking out of phrases and notes to be repeated over and over) the accompaniment is pretty much the same as where we started.

Although about the four minute 20 second mark the middle 8 does take on a different form – but this is mostly to contrast with the rest of the song which seems by and large to drift along.

2010: Stay Dylan Stay (part 2)

So the question remains, did “Lay Lady Lay” ever move onto anywhere else?   Well yes and no.  The music was eventually speeded up just a little, and Bob emphasised the gruff voice approach, taking elements from his various earlier outings we have sampled above.

Yet there is something else that is different by the time of this final departure from our collection of recordings made on the Tour.  It is in many ways a summary of the journey rather than the final part of the journey.  Emphasising perhaps that he is not the man he was 40 years before when he wrote it.

But we have the harmonica here once more.  Although the sudden accent of words that are just passing and not of central importance (such as “For”) continues, overall there is a sense of goodbye to an old friend, rather than the transformation that we have seen with other songs.

Indeed if that final harmonica burst says anything, it says goodbye old friend.

Other articles in this series…

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