BALTIMORE, May 13, 2015 — His face is weathered, the vocals are raw but with his black suit and fedora, 1960s singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is still going strong into his 80th year. This week, he released a new album “Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour.”
The album features live performances from tour dates in 2012 and 2013 and is the fourth album to come from his world tours that began in 2008.
In his honor, we take a look at his top 10 songs over a career that has spanned seven decades.
10. – “Tower of Song” (1988) – The song appeared on Cohen’s album “I’m Your Man” and was co-written by Jennifer Warnes. In the song, Cohen discusses songwriting and acknowledges the influence of Hank Williams (“a hundred floors above me”).
“I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet…”
9. “Famous Blue Raincoat” (1971) – This song appeared on Cohen’s third album, “Songs of Love and Hate,” and is written in the form of a letter about a love triangle. Grammy winner Jennifer Warnes titled her acclaimed 1987 album — a collection of songs by Cohen — “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
“It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better…”
8. “If It Be Your Will” (1985) – This song appeared on the “Various Positions” album and has a strong air of religious resignation. Cohen, who is Jewish, once said, “I had a very Messianic childhood…I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.” He became an ordained Buddhist monk in 1996, but has since returned to his Jewish roots.
“If it be your will, That I speak no more, And my voice be still, As it was before…”
7. “A Thousand Kisses Deep” (2001) – Sharon Robinson, a frequent songwriting collaborator with Cohen, wrote this popular song. Robinson, who has been a backup singer on Cohen’s recent tours, also also co-wrote the track “Everybody Knows.” Both songs appeared on the “Ten New Songs” album, Cohen’s 10th studio album, which was co-written and produced by Robinson.
“The ponies run, the girls are young, / The odds are there to beat.”
6. “First We Take Manhattan” (1988) – Written by Cohen, this song was originally recorded by Jennifer Warnes on her 1987 album “Famous Blue Raincoat.” It then appeared on his “I’m Your Man” 1988 album and is a regular at his concerts. R.E.M. had a No. 11 hit with the song on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart in 1992.
“First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin…”
5. “Dance Me To The End Of Love” (1984) – This song has become a tour favorite. It appeared on the “Various Positions” album. Cohen said part of the song came from reading about the Nazi death camps, and where at some camps a string quartet was pressed into performance while the horror was going on.
“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin…”
4. “Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” (1967) – This classic appeared on Cohen’s debut album “Songs of Leonard Cohen” and was the B-Side of the single “Suzanne.” Judy Collins recorded the song for her “Wildflowers” album in 1967. Roberta Flack also covered it on her “First Take” album in 1969.
“I loved you in the morning, / Our kisses deep and warm…”
3. “So Long, Marianne” (1967) – In this song, Cohen says farewell to yet another of his lovers: Norwegian beauty Marianne Ihlen, whom he met on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s. On the back cover of Cohen’s album “Songs from a Room” there is a photograph of Ihlen seated at Cohen’s typewriter in his house on the island. Pitchfork Media placed it at number 190 on their list of “The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s.”
“So long, Marianne, it’s time that we began…”
2. “Hallelujah” (1984) – Probably Cohen’s most famous song. The spiritually ambiguous classic found appeal with younger audiences due to covers by the late Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, former “American Idol” contestant Jason Castro and “The X Factor” star Alexandra Burke, who had a No. 1 hit in the U.K. with it 2008. It was originally released on Cohen’s album 1984 “Various Positions” album and first performed on his 1985 world tour. U.S. frontman Bono said it was the the most perfect song in the world.
“I’ve heard there was a secret chord, / That David played, and it pleased the Lord, / But you don’t really care for music, do you?”
1. “Suzanne” (1967) – Perhaps Cohen’s best loved song. This classic was born out of a poem about the Canadian city of Montreal. The Suzanne in the song is Suzanne Verdal, the former wife of Quebec sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, who, as Cohen said, “served me Constant Comment tea which has little bits of oranges in it.” Verdal, whose relationship with Cohen was platonic, now lives in a rundown van in Venice Beach. The song was first recorded by Judy Collins on her 1966 album “In My Life” and then appeared on Cohen’s debut album “Songs of Leonard Cohen” in 1967.
“Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river, / You can hear the boats go by…”
Compiled By John Haydon
Best of the rest: “Sisters of Mercy,” “Story of Isaac,” “Last Year’s Man,” “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” “Waiting for the Miracle,: “Seems So Long Ago,” “Nancy,” “Take This Waltz,” “Bird on A Wire,” “Ain’t No Cure for Love” and “Joan of Arc.”
Sources: The Washington Times, Wikipedia