C is for Covering Cohen

“I trusted Leonard more than anyone I had known…at times, more than myself.”

According to Wikipedia, Canadian poet-singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, a 2008 inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, has had over 2,000 renditions of his songs recorded. Indeed, there have whole albums of Cohen covers, some by various artists, but some by a single performer.

It has been stated by some that folk singer Judy Collins “discovered” Leonard Cohen because she was the first major artist to cover his tunes, starting with her sixth Elektra album, 1967’s In My Life, with Suzanne and Dress Rehearsal Rag.

She, however, would hastily disagree. On the liner notes of her tribute album to him, 2004’s Democracy Now, she writes: “what is more true is that he discovered me, and in that first year after our meeting, he told me I should be writing songs.” Subsequently, she did. They displayed a creative synergy, with her pushing him to perform, initially, at a WBAI (NYC) public radio fundraiser, quite literally. In return, she said, “I trusted Leonard more than anyone I had known…at times, more than myself.”

All these songs were sung by Judy Collins on Democracy Now:

Suzanne – Leonard Cohen and Judy Collins

Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye – Roberta Flack

Sisters Of Mercy – Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

Bird On A Wire – Johnny Cash

Story of Isaac – Suzanne Vega

Most of the songs on Democracy Now were previously recorded by Judy, but there were three songs newly recorded by her, all written by Cohen, except the Song of Bernadette, co-written with William Elliot and Jennifer Warnes.

Song of Bernadette – Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt

And speaking of Warnes, who was a backup singer for Leonard Cohen in the 1970s, she also did a tribute album called Famous Blue Raincoat back in 1986, reissued with additional songs in 2007. Among the tunes, Song of Bernadette, Bird on the Wire, and

First We Take Manhattan – Leonard Cohen and Jennifer Warnes

Famous Blue Raincoat – here sung by Joan Baez

Of course, no Leonard Cohen discussion would be complete without the oft-covered Hallelujah. I opted for the version by fellow Canadian k.d. lang, which she initially recorded for an album of tunes by Canadian songwriters, 2004’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel, and performed at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC, CANADA.


ABC Wednesday – Round 9