Friday, September 28, 2012

Six reasons to like Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen. Writer, poet, musician, singer.
For those that 'get' Leonard, it is a life long love. Leonard has written several books, as well has published collections of his poetry. In 2011, he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for literature. He was born in 1934 and is still touring and playing live.  Leonard is an artist, he doesn't just whip up songs, and use a songwriters rhyming dictionary to help him out of a pickle, no..Leonard works at his writing.  His song 'Democracy had around 60 versus written for it. The popular and well covered tune 'Hallelujah', took years to complete (Facts obtained from a 1992 interview with Paul Zollo, collated in Songwriters on Songwriting)

Leonard Cohen's songs are so strong that they are often used in all types of mainstream and independent movies. From Herzog's 'Stroszek', to 'Pump up the Volume', 'Natural Born Killers', 'Wonder Boys', 'Shrek' and  'Barney's Version', to list but a few.

When songwriters or music lovers talk about brilliant opening lines, you can be sure that Leonard gets a several mentions. A personal favorite of mine is  'First we take Manhattan's' opening line of "They sentenced me with twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within". 

My own personal relationship with the music of Leonard Cohen started many moons ago when good friend,  the amazing Dr classic made me a cassette tape containing "I'm your fan', a 1991 covers compilation of cool people doing Leonard Cohen's tunes. The bands included; REM,The Pixies, John Cale, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Lloyd Cole, Robert Forster amongst others. I think Dr classic also found some space to put on some Leonard's own originals from the 'I'm your man' album as well.  Who would have thought that many years later, I would  still be enjoying and listening to Leonard? Out of his long back catalogue that starts in 1967 and continues through to today, choosing just six tracks is incredibly tough. So with help from Dr Classic and Dr Db, here are, in no particular order, six reasons to like Leonard Cohen:

Chelsea hotel #2.

This track is from the 1974 LP 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony'. Leonard had said that the track is about Janis Joplin, who he had a brief relationship with. In a 1994 BBC broadcast, Leonard apologised for his indiscretion. This album also contains 'Who by fire' and 'Take this longing', tracks whihc were nominated for this top 6.

From a 1983 Canadian movie "I Am A Hotel", here is "Chelsea hotel #2"

'Bird on the wire'. 

1969 saw Leonard release his second album 'Song's from a room'. Bird on a wore comes from this lp and this track is arguably seen by many as being one of his best. Dr Classic herself had said that this track had to be in this list! Covered by many; including, K.D. Lang, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Fairport Convention. Here are the opening lyrics:

"Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.."

'Bird on the wire':

'Take this longing'.

Another entry off the 1974 album 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony' (also see Chelsea Hotel#2).
'Take this longing', has some very poetic writing such as:

"Your body like a searchlight
My poverty revealed,
I would like to try your charity
Until you cry, "Now you must try my greed."
And everything depends upon
How near you sleep to me

Just take this longing from my tongue
All the lonely things my hands have done.
Let me see your beauty broken down
Like you would do for one your love."

'Take this longing':

"Famous blue raincoat".

Off the 1971 album 'Song's of Love and Hate' , 'Famous blue raincoat' is such a melancholic masterpiece, full of such beautiful lines such as:.

 "If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.
Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried."

"Famous blue raincoat"

"Dance me to the end of love"

From the 1985 album 'Various Positions', comes this beautiful tune 'Dance me to the end of love'. In the film 'Barney's Version', one of the characters keeps requesting Leonard Cohen tunes to his separated partner as a way of communicating his feelings.This song was once such dedication, also requested was 'I'm your man'.

"Dance me to the end of love"

"Everybody knows"

Off the brilliant 1988 album 'I'm your man', comes this top notch tune! with lines like:

"Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows"


"Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows"

"Everybody knows"

Dr Db, also had marked on her list the tracks: 'Mastersong', 'Who by fire' and 'Hallelujah'.
Dr Classic had; 'First we take Manhattan', 'Tower of Song' & 'Hey, thats no way to say goodbye'. She did specifically state not to include Hallelujah,  as "Shrek has got a lot to answer for!"
 Me, well I wanted to include 'Avalanche', 'The Future' & 'I'm your man'.
There is so much great stuff from Leonard, that it is impossible to give just 6 good reasons, the ones we gave, only take us up his releases to 1988! He has released at least 4 albums of new material since then. The last release was this year! All I can say is go out, immerse yourself in Leonard and be saved!

A huge thank you to Dr Classic and Dr Db for their help with this!


  1. love leonard cohan. you've included some of my faves. thank you. love it

    1. Thanks Yevisha!!! If you have favourites that weren't included, I'd love to know what they are :-)

  2. i'm listening to leonard on this holiday monday morning. i esp. like suzanne, closing time and my real fave hallelujah. i must say i saw kd lang sing it live and it was a religious experience. :) i love Madeleine Peyroux's version of dance me to end of love is sublime. the lyrics are just amazing. good choices. enjoy your monday

    1. Hi Yevisha, thansk so much for that! i am definitely going to check out Madeleine Peyroux's version of 'dance me to end of love'! in fact I'll jump on tube right now :-)

    2. Beaut stuff... hint of Billie holiday in the vocals which is a lovely thing ;-)

  3. Yep - totally agree! Everybody knows!
    Oh and 'If it be your will' is another one of my favourites.

    1. 'If it be your will!' great choice! That track ends off the Various Positions album really nicely and always makes me want to reply the whole lp!