The iconic singer Cher has transcended her humble roots as part of the Sonny and Cher duo. She has since rightfully become a musical behemoth and maintained her title as the empress of pop throughout the decades. She’s done so because of her incredible talent of expertly telling a story through the power of her vocal.
But in 1969, Cher was struggling to make the leap from pop singer to rock star. She had already put some wonderful albums in her catalogue with Sonny and Cher’s charting duo, but she hadn’t yet broken the boys club of rock and roll. As the world’s attention swung round to the beefed-up volume of bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane the twee folk sound of Sonny and Cher Bono was never going to cut it anymore.
In fact, the young hip kids who occupied the royal throne of the swinging sixties thought that when it came to life’s vices, sex and drugs, Sonny and Cher were actually kind of square. Meanwhile, Cher herself was joining the rest of the world by succumbing to the subversive sounds of heavy rock. She turned to her record label ATCO for a leg-up into the world of rock and roll.
While ATCO had broken the recent contract with Sonny and Cher, most likely not pleased with the continued slide in record sales, but were still interested in the stunning beauty and talent of Cher. With her penchant for rock and the turning market the label supported Cher’s rock covers, her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway in the hope of bucking the falling trend.
The album was full to the brim with covers of some of the fledgling genre’s best moments taking on covers of Buffalo Springfield, Otis Redding, and three different covers of Bob Dylan songs. One particular cover has really aged well with time, Cher’s rendition of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline track ‘Lay Lady Lay’.
The song was only written and recorded a few months before Cher’s version was recorded, she clearly saw something in the song, something iconic, something timeless. Cher made a few lyrical changes, changing ‘lady’ to ‘baby’ in the title to avoid any baffling sexuality issues from the 1969 audience, but mostly she just killed the vocal. Bob Dylan isn’t necessarily known for his impeccable vocals but he does have a certain something to his tone. But Cher blows him out of the water with this performance.
Her golden-hued tone is playful and warm, embracing and heartening with every consuming note, developing the lyrics into something personal, seductive, and emotive. While the record may not have reached the commercial success that Cher and ATCO had hoped for, it did allow Cher to make her mark on one of rock’s greatest songs and songwriters. It allowed Cher to do Dylan the Cher way.
Listen below to Cher’s 1969 cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’