Having Bob Dylan pen a song for you is an accolade that few artists are worthy of. Woody Guthrie is just about the only performer who was ever given the holy grace of being afforded not only a song, but an explicitly pandering one at that. However, it was recently revealed that there was another performer for whom Dylan wrote a song; the iconic Barbra Streisand.
The song in question, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, has become a cult classic among his fans. Nashville Skyline, the album that features the incredible track, was a huge departure for Dylan. True, he had ditched folk a long time ago, but now it seemed he was also ditching the voice of a generation too. The singer puts on his best croon to bring the album to life, and there is perhaps no better showing of this than on ‘Lay Lady Lay’.
The track was originally composed to be a part of the landmark film Midnight Cowboy starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. The song was destined to become the film’s theme tune before the producers picked up Harry Nilsson’s 1968 effort ‘Everybody’s Talking’ and cast it in the leading role. The Nilsson track later won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance.
Detractors may call ‘Lay Lady Lay’ out for being a little on the cheesy side. After all, what’s rock and roll about pledging to be a dutiful husband? But, in a catalogue of songs that preached about the absurd beauty of love and the heroic nature of war, among countless other themes, it feels fitting that at least one of his songs should be about devotion. The track has been covered on more than a few occasions, with Cher’s 1969 rendition ‘Lay Baby Lay’ being among the best. That said, Dylan always refers to Cassandra Wilson’s cover as the most impressive, once saying: “I love everything she does.”
In a recently discovered ‘lost’ interview, however, Dylan opened up about who he had written the song for. It must be said that the notes on the track are minimal. Taken from a conversation between Dylan and Tony Glover from 1971, the two men discussed everything from changing his name, “I mean, it wouldn’t’ve worked if I’d changed the name to Bob Levy. Or Bob Neuwirth. Or Bob Doughnut,” through to anti-semitism, “A lot of people are under the impression that Jews are just money lenders and merchants. A lot of people think that all Jews are like that,” Dylan wrote. “Well, they used to be ’cause that’s all that was open to them. That’s all they were allowed to do.”
Glover then turned his attention to a few of Dylan’s songs, including ‘Father of the Night’ from New Morning and the popular single ‘Lay Lady Lay’. As Glover goes with the above theory, Dylan wrote the song solely for the movie Midnight Cowboy, but the freewheelin’ troubadour is quick to correct him: “Actually, it was written for Barbra Streisand,” he said. It was here that the conversation stops, and the notoriously private Dylan refuses to elucidate on the matter.
Singing sensation Barbra Streisand was however happy to comment on the song: “I’m very flattered to find out that Bob Dylan wrote ‘Lay Lady Lay’ for me,” she said. “What I remember is getting flowers from him with a handwritten note asking me to sing a duet with him, but I just couldn’t imagine it then. Guess what, Bob, I can imagine doing it now!”
While we wait for a Barbra and Bob variety special – the show we all deserve – we can at least imagine the powerful lungs of Streisand providing an epic cover of Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’, who knows, with time, we may get a real one.