Songs of Leonard Cohen

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Songs of Leonard Cohen
Studio album by
ReleasedDecember 27, 1967 (1967-12-27) [1]
RecordedOctober – November 1967 [2]
StudioColumbia Studio E, New York
Genre Contemporary folk [3]
Label Columbia [1]
Producer John Simon
Leonard Cohen chronology
Songs of Leonard Cohen
Songs from a Room

Songs of Leonard Cohen is the debut album by Canadian folk singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released on December 27, 1967 on Columbia Records. Less successful in the US than in Europe, Songs of Leonard Cohen foreshadowed the kind of chart success Cohen would go on to achieve. It reached number 83 on the Billboard 200 and achieving gold status in the US only in 1989, but peaked at number 13 on the UK Albums Chart, and spent nearly a year and a half on it.

Contemporary folk music the genre that evolved from folk music during the 20th century folk revival

Contemporary folk music refers to a wide variety of genres that emerged in the mid 20th century and afterwards which were associated with traditional folk music. Starting in the mid-20th century a new form of popular folk music evolved from traditional folk music. This process and period is called the (second) folk revival and reached a zenith in the 1960s. The most common name for this new form of music is also "folk music", but is often called "contemporary folk music" or "folk revival music" to make the distinction. The transition was somewhat centered in the US and is also called the American folk music revival. Fusion genres such as folk rock, folktronica, and others also evolved within this phenomenon. While contemporary folk music is a genre generally distinct from traditional folk music, it often shares the same English name, performers and venues as traditional folk music; even individual songs may be a blend of the two.

Leonard Cohen Canadian poet and singer-songwriter

Leonard Norman Cohen was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality and romantic relationships. Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize.

Columbia Records American record label; currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment

Columbia Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, the North American division of Japanese conglomerate Sony. It was founded in 1887, evolving from the American Graphophone Company, the successor to the Volta Graphophone Company. Columbia is the oldest surviving brand name in the recorded sound business, and the second major company to produce records. From 1961 to 1990, Columbia recordings were released outside North America under the name CBS Records to avoid confusion with EMI's Columbia Graphophone Company. Columbia is one of Sony Music's four flagship record labels, alongside former longtime rival RCA Records, as well as Arista Records and Epic Records.



Cohen had received positive attention from critics as a poet and novelist but had maintained a keen interest in music, having played guitar in a country and western band called the Buckskin Boys as a teenager. In 1966, Cohen set out for Nashville, where he hoped to become a country songwriter, but instead got caught up in New York City's folk scene. In November 1966, Judy Collins recorded "Suzanne" for her album In My Life and Cohen soon came to the attention of record producer John Hammond. Although Hammond (who initially signed Cohen to his contract with Columbia Records) was supposed to produce the record, he became sick and was replaced by the producer John Simon. [4]

Judy Collins American singer and songwriter

Judith Marjorie Collins is an American singer and songwriter known for her eclectic tastes in the material she records and for her social activism.

Suzanne (Leonard Cohen song) song by Leonard Cohen

"Suzanne" is a song written by Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen in the 1960s. First published as a poem in 1966, it was recorded as a song by Judy Collins in the same year, and Cohen performed it as his debut single, from his 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen. Many other artists have recorded versions, and it has become one of the most-covered songs in Cohen's catalogue.

<i>In My Life</i> (Judy Collins album) 1966 studio album by Judy Collins

In My Life is an album by American singer and songwriter Judy Collins, released in 1966. It peaked at No. 46 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts in 1967.


Initially, Hammond had Cohen work up guitar parts for "Master Song" and "Sisters of Mercy" with jazz bassist Willie Ruff, and then brought in some of New York's top session musicians to join them, a move that made Cohen nervous; as biographer Anthony Reynolds observes in his book Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life, the dynamic between Cohen and Ruff had been intimate and natural but "the arrival of more anonymous personnel unnerved Cohen, the studio novice put off by their proficiency." Cohen did ask that a full-length mirror be brought into the studio because, as he explained to Mojo in November 2001, "through some version of narcissism, I always used to play in front of a mirror. I guess it was the best way to look while playing the guitar, or maybe it was just where the chair was. But I was very comfortable looking at myself playing." After Hammond dropped out of the sessions, John Simon took over as producer and, by all accounts, Simon and Cohen clashed over instrumentation and mixing; Cohen wanted the album to have a sparse sound, while Simon felt the songs could benefit from arrangements that included strings and horns. Writing for Mojo in 2012, Sylvie Simmons recalls, "When Leonard heard the result, he was not happy; the orchestration on 'Suzanne' was overblown, while everything about 'Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye' felt too soft. Several tracks had too much bottom, and there were even drums; Leonard had clearly stipulated no drums." The singer and producer also quarreled over a slight stop in the middle of "So Long, Marianne" – a device Cohen felt interrupted the song. According to biographer Ira Nadel, although Cohen was able to make changes to the mix, some of Simon's additions "couldn't be removed from the four-track master tape". [4]

Willie Ruff is an American jazz musician, specializing in the French horn and double bass.

<i>Mojo</i> (magazine) magazine

Mojo is a popular music magazine published initially by Emap, and since January 2008 by Bauer, monthly in the United Kingdom. Following the success of the magazine Q, publishers Emap were looking for a title that would cater for the burgeoning interest in classic rock music. Mojo was first published on 15 October 1993; in keeping with its classic rock aesthetic, the first issue had Bob Dylan and John Lennon as its first cover stars. Noted for its in-depth coverage of both popular and cult acts, it acted as the inspiration for Blender and Uncut. Many noted music critics have written for it, including Charles Shaar Murray, Greil Marcus, Nick Kent and Jon Savage. The launch editor of Mojo was Paul Du Noyer and his successors have included Mat Snow, Paul Trynka and Pat Gilbert.

"So Long, Marianne" is a song written by Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen. It was featured on his debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen. Pitchfork Media placed it at number 190 on their list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s."

The instrumentalists – not credited on the album sleeve – included Chester Crill, Chris Darrow, Solomon Feldthouse and David Lindley of Kaleidoscope, who had been recruited personally by Cohen after he saw the band play at a New York club.

David Lindley (musician) American musician

David Perry Lindley is an American musician who founded the band El Rayo-X, and who has worked with many other performers including Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Curtis Mayfield and Dolly Parton. He has mastered such a wide variety of instruments that Acoustic Guitar magazine referred to Lindley not as a multi-instrumentalist, but instead as a "maxi-instrumentalist."


The album features some of Cohen's most celebrated songs. Mojo has described the album as "not only the cornerstone of Cohen's remarkable career, but also a genuine songwriting landmark in terms of language, thematic developments and even arrangements." [5] "Suzanne" was ranked 41st on Pitchfork Media's 'Top 200 Songs of the 1960s', [6] while "So Long, Marianne" was also featured on the list at 190th. [7] In a 1986 interview with the BBC Cohen explained, "The writing of 'Suzanne,' like all my songs, took a long time. I wrote most of it in Montreal - all of it in Montreal - over the space of, perhaps, four or five months. I had many, many verses to it. Sometimes the song would go off on a tangent, and you’ll have perfectly respectable verses, but that have led you away from the original feel of the song. So, it’s a matter of coming back. It’s a very painful process because you have to throw away a lot of good stuff." In the same interview, Cohen also revealed that "Master Song" was written "on a stone bench at what was the corner of Burnside and Guy Street...I remember sitting on that bench, working out the lyric to that song." As recounted to Uncut's Nigel Williamson in 1997, "Sisters of Mercy" had been written "in Edmonton during a snow storm, and I took refuge in an office lobby. There were two young back-packers there, Barbara and Lorraine, and they had nowhere to go. I asked them back to my hotel room – they immediately got into the bed and crashed while I sat in the armchair watching them sleep. I knew they had given me something, and, by the time they woke up, I had finished the song and I played it to them.” In the 1996 memoir Various Positions, biographer Ira Nadel contends "Stranger Song" addresses loss, departure, and essential yet destructive nature of love. In the book Songwriters on Songwriting, Cohen told author Paul Zollo that he wrote "So Long, Marianne" "in two hotels. One was the Chelsea and the other was the Penn Terminal Hotel. I remember Marianne (Ihlen, Cohen's girlfriend at the time) looking at my notebook, seeing this song and asking, 'Who’d you write this for?'" [8] When Cohen played the Isle of Wight in 1970, he told the crowd that he'd written "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" in a peeling room in the Chelsea Hotel when he was "coming off amphetamine and pursuing a blond lady that I met in a Nazi poster." [9]

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Edmonton Provincial capital city in Alberta, Canada

Edmonton is the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta. Edmonton is on the North Saskatchewan River and is the centre of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, which is surrounded by Alberta's central region. The city anchors the north end of what Statistics Canada defines as the "Calgary–Edmonton Corridor".

By the time the album was released in December 1967, Cohen had already signed away the rights to "Suzanne" and "Stranger Song" (along with "Dress Rehearsal Rag," which would later surface on his 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate), to arranger Jeff Chase, with the singer lamenting to Adrian Deevoy of The Q Magazine in 1991, "Someone smarter than me got me to sign the publishing over to them. I lost 'Suzanne,' 'Stranger Song' and 'Dress Rehearsal Rag.' I finally got them back three years ago, but I lost a lot of money."


On the back cover of the album is a Mexican religious picture of the Anima Sola depicted as a woman breaking free of her chains surrounded by flames and gazing towards heaven. In a Rolling Stone interview, Cohen described the image as "the triumph of the spirit over matter. The spirit being that beautiful woman breaking out of the chains and the fire and prison." [10] Cohen found the picture in a botánica near the Hotel Chelsea in 1965. [11] The album's front cover depicts a sepia tint photo of Cohen credited to Machine.

Anima Sola

Based on Roman Catholic tradition, the Anima Sola or Lonely Soul is an image depicting a soul in purgatory, popular in Latin America, as well as much of Andalusia, Naples and Palermo.

Botánica retail store that sells products regarded as magical or as alternative medicine

A botánica is a retail store that sells folk medicine, religious candles and statuary, amulets, and other products regarded as magical or as alternative medicine. They also carry oils, incense, perfumes, scented sprays and various brand name health care products.

Hotel Chelsea hotel in Manhattan, New York City

The Hotel Chelsea – also called the Chelsea Hotel, or simply the Chelsea – is a historic New York City hotel and landmark built between 1883 and 1885, known primarily for the notability of its residents over the years. The 250-unit hotel is located at 222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in the neighborhood of Chelsea, Manhattan. The building has been a designated New York City landmark since 1966, and on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977.


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [12]
Pitchfork 9.6/10 [13]
Q Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [14]
Rolling Stone Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg [15]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [16]
Uncut Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [17]

The album spent over a year on the album charts. [18] The album received mixed reviews at the time of its release, with Arthur Schmidt of Rolling Stone writing, "There are three brilliant songs, one good one, three qualified bummers, and three flaming shits." While praising "Suzanne" for its "moments of fairly digestible surrealism," the New York Times opined in a January 1968 review that on the alienation scale, Cohen rated "somewhere between Schopenhauer and Bob Dylan, two other prominent poets of pessimism."

Critics have been far kinder to the album since its release, with many considering it a highlight in the Cohen canon. Mark Deming of AllMusic states, "The ten songs on Songs of Leonard Cohen were certainly beautifully constructed, artful in a way few (if any) other lyricists would approach for some time, but what's most striking about these songs isn't Cohen's technique, superb as it is, so much as his portraits of a world dominated by love and lust, rage and need, compassion and betrayal...few musicians have ever created a more remarkable or enduring debut." Writing in Mojo in 2012, Sylvie Simmons called the LP "brilliant," adding that it "sounded like nothing of its time - of any time really - fresh and ancient, cryptic and intimate." Brian Howe of Pitchfork declares, "1968's Songs of Leonard Cohen contains many of his most essential songs - 'Suzanne,' 'Master Song,' "Stranger Song,' 'Sisters of Mercy,' 'So Long, Marianne' - and establishes the themes and stylistic tics he would pursue relentlessly over the ensuing decades." In 2007, Tim Nelson of BBC Music called the collection "the absolute must-have classic." deems the album "stunning." In a 2014 Rolling Stone readers poll ranking the top ten Leonard Cohen songs, "Suzanne" came in at #2 while "So Long, Marianne" came in at #6. [ citation needed ]

"Stranger Song", "Sisters of Mercy", and "Winter Lady" were included on the soundtrack of Robert Altman's 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller . [19]

"Suzanne", "Sisters of Mercy", and "Winter Lady" were included on the soundtrack of a 1971 film by Werner Rainier Fassbinder. (Source: Criterion Collection, IMDB)


Songs of Leonard Cohen was released on CD in 1989, while a digipak edition was released in some European countries in 2003. A remastered version, with the bonus tracks "Store Room" and "Blessed is the Memory," was released in the United States on April 24, 2007, and in Japan on June 20, 2007. The Japanese version was a limited edition replica of the original record album cover with lyric card insert. In 2009, the album (including the 2007 bonus tracks) was included in Hallelujah - The Essential Leonard Cohen Album Collection, an 8-CD box set issued by Sony Music in the Netherlands.

Track listing

All songs written by Leonard Cohen.

Side A

  1. "Suzanne" – 3:48
  2. "Master Song" – 5:55
  3. "Winter Lady" – 2:15
  4. "The Stranger Song" – 5:00
  5. "Sisters of Mercy" – 3:32

Side B

  1. "So Long, Marianne" – 5:38
  2. "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" – 2:55
  3. "Stories of the Street" – 4:35
  4. "Teachers" – 3:01
  5. "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" – 4:23

Bonus tracks on 2007 reissue

  1. "Store Room" – 5:06
  2. "Blessed Is the Memory" – 3:03




Chart (1968–69)Peak
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100) [21] 4
UK Albums (OCC) [22] 13
US Billboard 200 [23] 83
Chart (2016)Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA) [24] 81
French Albums (SNEP) [25] 152
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista) [26] 36
Portuguese Albums (AFP) [27] 48
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan) [28] 35
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade) [29] 99

Certifications and sales

RegionCertification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA) [30] Platinum70,000^
France (SNEP) [31] Gold100,000*
Germany (BVMI) [32] Gold250,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland) [33] Gold25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI) [34] Gold100,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

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