Top Ten Thursdays: Top 10 Leonard Cohen Songs
It's the tour those of us younger Leonard Cohen fans -- the ones who discovered his music through the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, covers of "Hallelujah," or when we walked into a tiny used CD store in Gainesville and heard "Take This Waltz" playing -- never thought would happen.
After gaining fame and respect in the literary world, Cohen began his singing career in the late 1960s, issuing the most brilliantly erudite, sad-sack folk stuff ever penned. Then, with 1988's I'm Your Man album, he introduced humor to his work -- while still exploring sex and spirituality better than any of his peers. Cohen's masterful 1992 album The Future teemed with darkness but, again, cynical smiles and wonderful romanticism are there as well. Having released about a dozen, mostly acclaimed, studio records and a couple terrific live albums, Cohen called it quits -- to live as a monk. But, then, like in a bad movie twist, a former business manager stole his money, forcing Cohen back on the road. Sounds like a perfect situation for the angry artist to drag his ass through the motions just to bank some much needed retirement cash. Judging by the CD/DVD Live in London, though, culled from a show last year, Cohen's craggy croon sounds delightfully expressive, as does his illustrious band and sultry backup singers.
It has been said before but it's worth repeating, Cohen's loss has become the world's gain. In honor of popular music's supreme poet performing Saturday in Sunrise, here's a highly subjective list of his finest songs.
Leonard Cohen, Saturday, October 17. BankAtlantic Center, One Panther Pkwy, Sunrise. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets cost $19.50 - $252.75 via Ticketmaster.com.
1. "Tower of Song"
As only Cohen can, he appraises his advancing age and, with utmost
modesty, his place in the pantheon of great singer-songwriters. The
opening lines are smile-inducing gems: "Well my friends are gone and my
hair is grey / I ache in the places where I used to play." First
appeared as the closer of I'm Your Man. This gorgeous performance --
audio only -- is from Live in London.
2. "Famous Blue Raincoat"
Cohen "reads" us a letter he has written to the man who had an affair
with his woman "Jane." He addresses the man as "my killer, my
brother." It's a marvelously detailed account of a savage love
triangle --and terribly depressing. But it's that beautiful despair that
pulls you back again and again. Here's the original recording, found on
Cohen 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate.
His most famous number, thanks to countless covers, including Jeff
Buckley's stirring rendition, it perfectly captures the spiritual
ecstasy that permeates the finest of music. This clip -- which is great
except for the idiot in the audience who feels compelled to join in on
the chorus -- is from current tour. Song originally appeared on Cohen's
1985 album Various Positions.
4. "Take This Waltz"
The lyrics are based on the Federico Garcia Lorca poem "Little Viennese
Waltz." It's a love song of the highest order featuring Cohen's warmest
vocals -- and a striking, stately arrangement. "And I'll yield to the
flood of you beauty, my cheap violin and my cross," he sings." From I'm
5. "Chelsea Hotel No. 2"
The singer poignantly recalls tortured past lovers -- Janis Joplin, Nico
-- and New York City's most storied hotel. He also manages to sneak in
the best line ever about a blowjob: "Giving me head on the unmade bed,"
Cohen sings, "while the limousines wait in the street." Great clip from
the 1983 short I Am a Hotel. Song originally appeared on 1974's New
Skin for the Old Ceremony.
6. "Closing Time"
Over a bouncy rhythm Cohen describes a splendidly decadent party: Woman
tear their blouses off, the Johnnie Walker wisdom runs high and the
cider's laced with acid. "Looks like freedom but feels like death," he
sings. "It's something in between, I guess." This slightly subdued
performance is from 2008. Song originally appeared on The Future.
7. "So Long, Marianne"
The lovers must separate so that they can find happiness. At least
that's what the singer's trying to convince himself of. But there's no
bitterness in Cohen's voice as he bids farewell. The song is sad,
indeed, but there's a joy in hearing the dignified manner in which the
singer handles the situation. "So long, Marianne, it's time that we
began," goes the chorus, "to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it
all again." From his classic, 1968 debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen.
8. "Joan of Arc"
A haunting lyric about the French heroine burning at the stake, the
original recording of "Joan of Arc" -- from Songs of Love and Hate -- is
a bit stiff. Moreover, it suffers from Cohen's vocal being overdubbed
to create the effect of him dueting with himself, which just doesn't
work for me. Luckily, a fantastic version of "Joan of Arc," in which
Cohen smartly trades verses with a female backup singer, can be found
on 1994's Cohen Live. This clip from 1988 features a similar
performance as the one heard on the official concert document.
9. "Waiting for the Miracle"
The singer at his spooky best. Cohen's desperate, he's assured, he's
"waiting fro the miracle to come." It's a song about love gone wrong --
and so much more. Originally from The Future.
"Suzanne had a room on a waterfront in the port of Montreal," Cohen
recalls in the liner notes to The Best Of. "Everything happened just as
it was put down. She was the wife of a man I knew. Her hospitality was
immaculate." The first cut on The Songs of Leonard Cohen, this
magnificent clip is from Live in London.
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