Bob Dylan wrote “Lay Lady Lay” too slowly for it to be included in the film for which it had been solicited: Midnight Cowboy. That was good news for Fred Neil, whose song “Everybody’s Talking At Me” is played about a half dozen times on the soundtrack, and which went on to become a significant hit for Harry Nilsson, and won a Grammy.
As luck would have it, Midnight Cowboy was one of the in-flight options on my Air Canada flight to Hong Kong (along with The Deer Hunter, Deliverance, Dog Day Afternoon, and Taxi Driver – someone was having a dark day at the programming office), so I watched it for the first time in at least two decades. It’s a hard film to imagine without “Everybody’s Talking”, which fits the opening and closing bus ride scenes so nicely, though it is possible to imagine it in the middle. When Jack plays Scribbage with Brenda Vaccaro and he can’t think of a word that begins or ends with a Y, since he is illiterate, one of the words that she suggests is “Lay”, and I imagine that perhaps the song was meant for that scene.
As a song it has always been one of my least favourite. The crooning Bob Dylan doesn’t really work for me, and here he is at his crooning-est. The song has always had a creepy late-1960s, early-1970s vibe to me (perfect for Midnight Cowboy!), particularly the way he intones “big brass bed”, hitting those three Bs so forcefully.
I read somewhere once that at this time Dylan had a dog named “Lady”. I don’t know if that is true, but I hope that it isn’t, because that would just make the song all the more creepy.
I might be a minority opinion on this one – “Lay Lady Lay” was the successful single off of Nashville Skyline (hitting #7 on the US charts), but for me it’s far from the best song. That’s probably fitting though – Midnight Cowboy isn’t that great as a movie either. It’s only the second best movie of the decade that ends with a dead-eyed Dustin Hoffman on the back of a bus.