For many decades Canadian-born Leonard Cohen has done his thing. And at age 72 he is still doing it, as independently as ever. Though never reaching the height of commercial success in the U.S., Cohen has been pleasing audiences worldwide with his stunningly creative lyrics and melodies. He is truly a one-of-a-kind singer and songwriter. His songs are really poems that stand the test of time. Wikipedia summed up Cohen’s uniqueness this way: “Cohen’s songs are often emotionally heavy and lyrically complex, owing more to the metaphoric word play of poetry
than to the conventions of song craft. His work often explores the themes of religion, isolation, sex, and complex interpersonal relationships.” His lyrics, often quite “dark,” have real sticking power, perhaps because they reflect Cohen’s bouts of depression.
Here are my top ten songs by Leonard Cohen:
1. Suzanne: This may be Cohen’s biggest and most enduring success. Here are some key lyrics to remind you that you surely have heard this song many times over many years by a variety of artists, including Joan Baez, Neil Diamond and Judy Collins:
Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
2. So long, Marianne: This song is also a Leonard Cohen standard. It has been on seven of Cohen’s albums. So the odds are that you have this one sung by Cohen. Here are key lyrics to remind you of this song’s incredible staying power:
Come over to the window, my little darling
I’d like to try to read your palm
I used to think I was some kind of Gypsy boy before I let you take me home
3. Sisters of Mercy: Dion, Judy Collins, Sting, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris have all had successful versions of this song. In any concert, Leonard Cohen is surely expected to sing this classic. Here are key lyrics:
Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort
4. Chelsea Hotel No. 2: This is one of Cohen’s more memorable songs. It is so his that relatively few other singers have recorded it. Say these lyrics to yourself and the song will come back to you:
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
you were talking so brave and so sweet,
giving me head on the unmade bed,
while the limousines wait in the street.
5. Bird on a Wire: Famous renditions of this song have been done by Joe Cocker, Judy Collins,
and Rita Coolidge. These are some key lyrics:
Bird On the Wire Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir I have
tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook, like a knight from some..
6. Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye: Judy Collins also made this a hit. Repeat these lyrics and it will come back to you:
I loved you in the morning
Our kisses deep and warm,
Your head upon the pillow
Like a sleepy golden Strom.
Yes, many loved before us I know that we are not …
7. Famous Blue Raincoat: This appears on a number of Cohen’s albums as well as on those of Joan Baez and Judy Collins.
It’s four in the morning,
the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if
you’re better New York is cold,
but I like where I’m living
There’s music …
8. Everybody Knows: This is a personal favorite of mine. So many of Cohen’s songs are about love. But this is one of his most “political” songs. You probably have heard these lyrics, perhaps by Don Henley, not just Cohen:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over …
9. I’m Your Man: Though one of Cohen’s standards, Joe Cocker and Elton John have also done great renditions.
If you want a lover I’ll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I’ll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
10. Take This Longing: This is a classic for both Cohen and Judy Collins. It is one of Cohen’s more poetic songs:
Many men have loved the bells you fastened to the rein,
and everyone who wanted you
they found what they will always want again. …
The next time you hear one of Cohen’s “dark” songs think of what he said about himself: “I don’t consider myself a pessimist at all. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel completely soaked to the skin.”