In April and May of 1980, Bob Dylan did his third and final all-gospel songs tour. Later that year, he would begin mixing older songs back into the setlists, but this tour was still exclusively his new Christian material.
With one exception.
The occasion for this non-religious interlude was a show in Pittsburgh 43 years ago today. At every show on his three gospel tours thus far, hecklers had hollered for “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the rest. And at every prior show, he had ignored them. But at this show, he unexpectedly acceded to their calls for a golden oldie.
Here’s the setlist. Sixteen of the songs he played every night. Can you spot the exception?
Gotta Serve Somebody
I Believe In You
When You Gonna Wake Up
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody
Cover Down, Pray Through
Man Gave Names To All The Animals
Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)
What Can I Do For You?
Lay Lady Lay
In The Garden
Are You Ready?
That’s right. Of all the songs to break his all-Christian-songs streak, he played “Lay Lady Lay.” By audience request.
Dylan was beginning to launch into the usual next track, “In the Garden,” when a fan hollered for “Lay Lady Lay.” Dylan stops. Then he says, “You all sing it, I’ll play it for you.”
Soon enough, he starts strumming that inimitable chord progression. The band promptly joins in. With zero warning or rehearsal, they are now playing Dylan’s first non-Christian song in two years. Not for Dylan himself to sing, but as backing music for the fans to sing over.
Those fans, I am sorry to say, blow it. “Come on now, sing it!” Dylan encourages them at one point. They don’t. The clapping and hollering come through loud and boisterous on the tape. The audience singing, if there even was any, does not.
“I thought you were going to sing it,” Bob chides them, bringing the song to an early end. “You sing it!” some heckler shouts back.
He wouldn’t. Not for another four years.
Listen to the aborted attempt at a “Lay Lady Lay” singalong:
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