Song Study: Lady Rachel – Kevin Ayers

Lady Rachel by Kevin Ayers

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One of the undisputed masterpieces in Kevin Ayers’ catalog, “Lady Rachel (Lullabye For Children)” was first sighted on his solo debut album, 1969’s Joy Of A Toy. A vaguely supernaturally-themed ballad, alive with fantasy elements and whispered dream sequences, “Lady Rachel” was powered by treated guitars, a quavering horn, and a wealth of muted sound effects that certainly bespoke the accompanying Soft Machine’s musical dexterity, but detracted somewhat from the majesty lurking within the song itself. The album itself was recorded in just three days, with the bare minimum of overdubs, and “Lady Rachel” unquestionably suffered from the experience.

That injustice was rectified two years later when Ayers, now accompanied by his Whole Wide World band, returned to “Lady Rachel” for a projected single. The release was eventually cancelled and the session remained unreleased until 1976’s Odd Ditties compilation. However, it was worth waiting for. Considerably slower than the original LP version, the song was built now around boiling horns, while a female backing chorus soared hauntingly behind the chorus to further color the mystic lyric. This same arrangement also fires the punchy 1972 live version found on the BBC collection Too Old To Die Young. Ayers also turned in an effectively skeletal solo acoustic rendition on a BBC studio session in July 1974.