Any Major Cohen Covers
At this year’s Emmy awards in September, some breathy, note-swallowing songstress sang Leonard Cohen’s magnificent though now overcooked Hallelujah over the section listing the year’s departed TV people. I don’t know why she sang that particular song, but it didn’t cross my mind that within a couple of months, Cohen himself would find inclusion on In Memoriam lists.
Cohen himself knew, though. And he checked out the day before Americans rejected notions of respect and decency. His death on November 7 was made public only four days later.
In April this year, Marianne Ihlen (née Jensen), Cohen’s muse who was immortalised in his song So Long Marianne, died. As Marianne lay dying of leukemia, Cohen wrote her a letter. In it he said: “Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom … but now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
Now dab dry those most eyes, and take delight in this mix of covers of Leonard Cohen’s songs. It is a strange thing, but Cohen is not really widely covered, a few select songs aside. Often the same artists would return to the Cohen songbook. And yet, I think his songs are very coverable indeed, as this mix shows.
The most covered song in the Cohen canon is 1984’s Hallelujah. Jeff Buckley’s version is the standard, of course, but I also like the two Shrek versions, John Cale’s in the film, and Rufus Wainwright’s on the soundtrack. Some versions are awful (apparently even Michael F. Bolton has molested the song). Here I’ve gone for Brandi Carlile’s lovely version — she is one of the finest contemporary singers — which was recorded live with The Seattle Symphony (the live album, Live at Benaroya Hall, is superb). Newsweek ranked it at #7 in its entertaining list of Top 60 versions of Hallelujah.
A few singers here are people with whom Cohen had close relationships. He was a mentor to Anjani Thomas and to some extent to Jennifer Warnes (they also wrote some songs together). Judy Collins was his mentor. When Cohen was still a struggling poet-songwriter with no plans to become a singer, his fellow Canadian folkie recorded a couple of his compositions — and had a hit with Suzanne. I wrote about it in The Originals.
Cohen had some success with his latter albums, stepping in the gerontophile path smoothed by Johnny Cash. There is something about the wisdom of songs being delivered by a worn voice. Three Cohen songs are covered here by such worn voices; those of Johnny Cash, Marianne Faithful and Tom Jones. The latter nails his song especially.
I was going to run the second volume of the Bob Dylan covers this week, to follow up on the first mix. That will now have to wait.
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-poetried covers. PW in comments.
1. Nick Cave – I’m Your Man (2006)
2. Pixies – I Can’t Forget (1991)
3. Joe Cocker – First We Take Manhattan (1999)
4. Lloyd Cole – Chelsea Hotel (1991)
5. Johnny Cash – Bird On A Wire (1994)
6. Roberta Flack – Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (1969)
7. Françoise Hardy – Suzanne (1970)
8. Bell + Arc – So Long, Marianne (1971)
9. Judy Collins – Famous Blue Raincoat (1971)
10. Pearls Before Swine – Seems So Long Ago, Nancy (1971)
11. Esther Ofarim – You Know Who I Am (1969)
12. Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris – Sisters Of Mercy (1999)
13. Brandi Carlile – Hallelujah (2011)
14. Harvey Milk – One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong (1996)
15. Anjani Thomas – Blue Alert (2006)
16. Tom Jones – Tower Of Song (2012)
17. Marianne Faithfull – Going Home (2014)
18. Jennifer Warnes – A Singer Must Die (1986)
Bonus track: Madeleine Peyroux – Dance Me To The End Of Love (2004)