Leonard Cohen wrote some beautiful songs. I’ll correct that, he wrote many beautiful songs, but here’s five that resonate with me and that I hope you’ll enjoy…….
1. Jennifer Warnes, Leonard Cohen - Joan Of Arc
The first of two tracks taken from Warnes ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ album. His voice, beautifully rough as ever, perfectly complemented by the tones of his former backing singer. Written as a dialogue between Joan of Arc herself and the fire beneath her as she stood at the stake. But, written also, in regard to his feelings for Nico, singer with the Velvet Undergound, who Cohen fell in love with but who repeatedly was turned away.
2. Joe Bonamassa - Bird On A Wire
Inspired by his time living on the Greek Island of Hydra, Bird On A Wire is a song that looks at the impossibility of freedom in a world rife with tethers, a song where Cohen makes clear his destructive flaws but also his intentions to do better. Cohen once wrote that this song was a prayer and an anthem, a kind of Bohemian ‘My Way’. But rather than a song about a man who wills himself to triumph, this is an admission that the human spirit’s struggle against it’s inherent frailties often results in futility. But it’s the effort that counts, well according to Cohen it is. For me, Bonamassa’s version perfectly complements what, lyrically, is an amazing and frank admission, with a lilting blues guitar and voice that like Cohen’s itself is far from pure.
3. Jennifer Warnes - Song Of Bernadette
Another taken from ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ which I honestly believe is one of the great overlooked albums of the 80’s. Co-written by Warnes herself whilst on tour with Cohen in 1979 and simply beautiful. A song about a longing to return to a place that was more pure, honest and true.
4. Jeff Buckley - Halleluja
Probably the most famous cover of a Leonard Cohen song ever and my favourite version, stripped back, and utterly stunning. Allegedly Cohen originally wrote 80 draft verses of this song with one writing session at a hotel in New York, ending with him sat in his underwear, banging his head on the floor in frustration. Quite simply, it’s about the frustrations of love, Cohen himself admitted to falling in love at the drop of a hat. It concludes that we start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we need to try, in the end it’s worth it.
5. Martha Wainwright - Tower Of Song
Another terrific live version of a track from 1988 where Cohen talks about his need to write songs, his admiration for Hank Williams but the struggles and pressures that come with it. He admits that songwriting is his calling, although the line about him having ‘been born with the gift of a golden voice’ can be treated with the sarcasm with which it was intended. He may not have had a golden voice but for me he had a truly great gift for songwriting and boy will he be missed. His songs however, live on, forever.