Songs of Leonard Cohen

Last updated
Songs of Leonard Cohen
SongsOfLeonardCohen.jpeg
Studio album by
ReleasedDecember 27, 1967 (1967-12-27) [1]
RecordedOctober – November 1967 [2]
StudioColumbia Studio E, New York
Genre Contemporary folk [3]
Length41:09
Label Columbia [1]
Producer John Simon
Leonard Cohen chronology
Songs of Leonard Cohen
(1967)
Songs from a Room
(1969)

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, achieving gold status in the US in 1989. It peaked at number 13 on the UK Albums Chart, spending nearly a year and a half on it.

Contents

Background

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]

Recording

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]

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.

Composition

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]

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."

Artwork

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.

Reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [12]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [13]
Pitchfork 9.6/10 [14]
Q Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [15]
Rolling Stone Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg [16]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [17]
Uncut Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [18]

The album spent over a year on the album charts. [19] 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." Amazon.com 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 ]

It was voted number 149 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000). [20]

"Stranger Song", "Sisters of Mercy", and "Winter Lady" were included on the soundtrack of Robert Altman's 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller . [21]

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

Releases

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

Musicians

[22]

Charts

Chart (1968–69)Peak
position
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100) [23] 4
UK Albums (OCC) [24] 13
US Billboard 200 [25] 83
Chart (2016)Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA) [26] 81
French Albums (SNEP) [27] 152
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista) [28] 36
Portuguese Albums (AFP) [29] 48
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan) [30] 35
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade) [31] 99

Certifications and sales

RegionCertification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA) [32] Platinum70,000^
France (SNEP) [33] Gold100,000*
Germany (BVMI) [34] Gold250,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland) [35] Gold25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI) [36] Gold100,000^

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

Related Research Articles

<i>Songs of Love and Hate</i> 1971 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Songs of Love and Hate is the third studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Produced by Bob Johnston, the album was released on March 19, 1971, through Columbia Records.

<i>Death of a Ladies Man</i> (album) 1977 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Death of a Ladies' Man is the fifth studio album by Leonard Cohen. Produced and co-written by Phil Spector, the voice of typically minimalist Cohen was surrounded by Spector's Wall of Sound, which included multiple tracks of instrument overdubs. The album was originally released by Warner Bros., but was later picked up by Cohen's long-time label, Columbia Records.

<i>The Future</i> (Leonard Cohen album) 1992 studio album by Leonard Cohen

The Future is the ninth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released in 1992. Almost an hour in length, it was Cohen's longest album up to that date. Both the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1992 Los Angeles riots took place while Cohen was writing and recording the album, which expressed his sense of the world's turbulence. The album was recorded with a large cast of musicians and engineers in several different studios; the credits list almost 30 female singers. The album built on the success of Cohen's previous album, I'm Your Man, and garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews. The Future made the Top 40 in the UK album charts, went double platinum in Canada, and sold a quarter of a million copies in the U.S. which had previously been unenthusiastic about Cohen's albums.

<i>Dear Heather</i> 2004 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Dear Heather is the 11th studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released by Columbia Records in 2004.

<i>Songs from a Room</i> 1969 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Songs from a Room is the second album by Canadian musician Leonard Cohen, released in 1969. It reached No. 63 on the US Billboard Top LPs and No. 2 on the UK charts.

<i>Ten New Songs</i> 2001 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Ten New Songs is Leonard Cohen's tenth studio album, released in 2001. It was co-written and produced by Sharon Robinson. It was produced in Cohen's and Robinson's home studios in Los Angeles. It was also his first album in nearly 10 years. The album peaked at #143 on the Billboard 200, #4 in Canada, #1 in Poland and #1 in Norway.

<i>Im Your Man</i> (Leonard Cohen album) 1988 studio album by Leonard Cohen

I'm Your Man is the eighth studio album by Leonard Cohen, released in 1988. The album marked Cohen's further move to a more modern sound, with many songs having a synth-oriented production. It soon became the most successful album which Cohen had released in the US, and it reached number one in several European countries, transforming Cohen into a best-selling artist.

<i>Various Positions</i> 1984 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Various Positions is the seventh studio album by Leonard Cohen, released in December 1984. It marked not only his turn to the modern sound and use of synthesizers, but also, after the harmonies and backing vocals from Jennifer Warnes on the previous Recent Songs (1979), an even greater contribution from Warnes, who is credited equally to Cohen as vocalist on all of the tracks.

Suzanne (Leonard Cohen song) original song written and composed by Leonard Cohen; first released by Judy Collins

"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>The Best of Leonard Cohen</i> 1975 greatest hits album by Leonard Cohen

The Best of Leonard Cohen is a greatest hits album by Leonard Cohen, released in 1975. In some European countries, it was released under the title Greatest Hits. This alternative title was used for the original vinyl release and for CD reissues from the 1980s onwards.

<i>The Essential Leonard Cohen</i> 2002 greatest hits album by Leonard Cohen

The Essential Leonard Cohen is a career-spanning collection of Leonard Cohen songs released in 2002. It is part of Sony BMG's The Essential series.

Leonard Cohen Canadian poet and singer-songwriter

Leonard Norman Cohen was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death 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.

<i>So Long, Marianne</i> (album) 1989 compilation album by Leonard Cohen

So Long, Marianne is a compilation album by Leonard Cohen, issued in 1989 and in 1995. It features songs from his first four albums, already covered by his 1975 best of album. Although not authorized by the artist, the album is nevertheless an official release, as Cohen's label issued it. The CD was available in several countries with different art covers and in different cheap CD series, and also as audio cassette with four extra songs.

Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 is a combo CD/DVD live album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Released in October 2009, it is his nineteenth album. The album was recorded in 1970 at the Isle of Wight.

"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."

<i>Songs from the Road</i> (Leonard Cohen album) 2010 live album by Leonard Cohen

Songs from the Road is a live album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Released on September 14, 2010, it is his twentieth album.

<i>Old Ideas</i> 2012 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Old Ideas is the twelfth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released in January 2012. It is Cohen's highest-charting release in the United States, reaching number 3 on the Billboard 200, 44 years after the release of his first album. The album topped the charts in 11 countries, including Finland, where Cohen became, at the age of 77, the oldest chart-topper, during the album's debut week. The album was released on January 27, 2012 in some countries and on January 31, 2012 in the U.S. Before its release, the album was streamed online by NPR on January 22 and on January 23 by The Guardian.

<i>The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered</i> 2012 compilation album by various artists

The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered is a tribute album to Leonard Cohen, released in 2012. It was compiled by Mojo magazine, as a part of the magazine's March 2012 issue. The album features contributions by various musicians, including Bill Callahan, Cass McCombs, The Low Anthem, Field Music, Marc Ribot and ex-Fleet Foxes member Father John Misty.

<i>You Want It Darker</i> 2016 studio album by Leonard Cohen

You Want It Darker is the fourteenth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released on October 21, 2016, by Columbia Records, nineteen days before Cohen's death. The album was created towards the end of his life and focuses on death, God, and humor. It was released to critical acclaim. The title track was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance in January 2018. It was the last album released during his lifetime, followed by the posthumous album Thanks for the Dance which was released in November 2019.

<i>Thanks for the Dance</i> 2019 studio album by Leonard Cohen

Thanks for the Dance is the fifteenth and final studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released through Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings on November 22, 2019. It is the first release following Cohen's death in November 2016, and features contributions with musicians including Daniel Lanois, Beck, Jennifer Warnes, Damien Rice and Leslie Feist. The song "The Goal" was released with the announcement of the album, on September 20, 2019.

References

  1. 1 2 Unterberger, Richie (February 20, 2014). "Introduction – CD Two: 2. Leonard Cohen: Master Song". Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s. BookBaby. ISBN   9780991589210.
  2. Harvey Kubernik (2014). Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows
  3. "20 Best Folk Music Albums of All Time". NME . Time Inc. UK. 7 June 2016. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  4. 1 2 Nadel, Ira B. Various Position: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Pantheon Books: New York, 1996.
  5. Phil Alexander. Mojo magazine. March 2012
  6. "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
  7. "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
  8. Paul Zollo (2003). Songwriters on Songwriting. Perseus Books Group. ISBN   978-0-306-81265-1.
  9. Liel Leibovitz (14 April 2014). A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen. W. W. Norton. pp. 17–. ISBN   978-0-393-24420-5.
  10. "Ladies and Gents, Leonard Cohen". Rolling Stone.
  11. "Have to know... right? - leonardcohenforum.com".
  12. Allmusic review
  13. Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN   978-0857125958.
  14. "Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen / Songs From a Room / Songs of Love and Hate Album Review - Pitchfork".
  15. Dave Everley Q, May 2007, Issue 250.
  16. Robert Christgau/Rolling Stone review
  17. "Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen". Acclaimed Music. Archived from the original on 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2014-09-19.
  18. David Cavanagh Uncut, May 2007, Issue 120
  19. "Sixties crooner Leonard Cohen makes comeback concert tour". Evening Standard . 13 March 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  20. Colin Larkin, ed. (2006). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 88. ISBN   0-7535-0493-6.
  21. Thompson, David, ed. (2006). Altman on Altman. London: Faber and Faber. Cited in Christian, Diane; Jackson, Bruce (March 4, 2008). "Robert Altman: McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (PDF). The Buffalo Film Seminars. XVI (8).
  22. Kubernik, Harvey (2014). Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows. Omnibus Press. p. 202. ISBN   978-1-78305-317-9.
  23. "Dutchcharts.nl – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  24. "Leonard Cohen | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  25. "Leonard Cohen Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  26. "ARIA CHART WATCH #395". auspOp. 19 November 2016. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  27. "Lescharts.com – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen". Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  28. "Norwegiancharts.com – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen". Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  29. "Portuguesecharts.com – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen". Hung Medien. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  30. "Swedishcharts.com – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen". Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  31. "Swisscharts.com – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen". Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  32. "ARIA CHART WATCH #395". auspOp. 19 November 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  33. "French album certifications – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen" (in French). InfoDisc.Select LEONARD COHEN and click OK. 
  34. "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Leonard Cohen; 'Songs of Leonard Cohen')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie . Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  35. "Swiss Gold" (PDF). Billboard. 1 March 1980. p. 51. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  36. "British album certifications – Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen". British Phonographic Industry . Retrieved November 30, 2018.Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Songs of Leonard Cohen in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.