C is for Covering Cohen

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

According to the 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

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

34 thoughts on “C is for Covering Cohen”

  1. Oooooooooh Roger I love Leonard Cohen and his album “The Future” is one of my all time favourites. I fell in love with his music back in 1976 and have been an avid fan eversince. A great ABC Contribution – as ever!
    Dx

  2. I was introduced to Cohen by a girlfriend when I was young and angst ridden, so it suited my mood. “Music to slash your wrists by” as it was known. Even so, I still love it, as I do Roberta Flack, Linda Ronstadt and Johnny Cash.

  3. I remember being surprised a long time ago to discover how many songs other people covered were actually written by Cohen. Quite a prolific and talented songwriter. Great choice for C.

  4. You would never guess this, but my late husband’s first “line” to me was “Want to come and listen to my Leonard Cohen records?” Of course, I’d never heard of him at the time, but I soon learned to appreciate all his music and poetry. He is a companion of the Order of Canada, the country’shighest civil honour. I purchased Cohen’s “Book of Longing” for my daughter on her birthday and had it autographed by him. Late hubby and I also saw him live in Ottawa back in the mid-80’s and MAN is he ever good! Great choice for this week, Roger!

    Leslie
    abcw team

  5. Believe it or not, this is the first time I have heard of Leonard Cohen, I love to listen to Judy Collins lovely voice when she sings, I have heard of her, I guess I live in a Cave! ; )

  6. I’ve been a fan of Judy Collins since early 1960s. And I’m sad to say I had not thought of Jennifer Warnes in quite some time. Thanks for reminding me!

  7. I love Leonard Cohen and was lucky enough to see him perform in person when he came to Vancouver a few years ago. The Hallelujah song by k.d. lang is one of my favorite versions aside from Cohen singing it himself. I actually have several versions of the song done by many other artists. I knew Cohen first as a poet. His songs ARE poetry and as his voice got deeper so did my understanding of the prose. He is a great choice for the letter “C”.

  8. I learned many of Cohen’s songs when I was in my 20’s, but I especially love Suzanne and The Sisters of Mercy. I didn’t know he wrote Hallelujah until today. It fits.

  9. Another two of my favorites! Always fun to see which singer/songwriter you will come up with next! But I can be sure that they will be favorites of mine as well! Have a good week, Roger!

    Sylvia

  10. So famous, so talented and I didn’t know him! Incidentally I still couldn’t make that URL work, but I’m working on it. I have issues with Google accounts at the moment and hope to get it all fixed this week.

  11. Leonard Cohen was, for me, an acquired taste, since I was raised on pristine jazz vocals. Eventually he found a place in my heart where some others reside, including Johnny Cash. I have to agree, lang’s version of “Hallelujah” is sublime, the best ever. His Canadian roots serve him well. Also, his Emmylou connection is strong, and I love her so… Thanks, Roger, for a splendid “C”! I give it an A+. Amy
    http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/cheesehead/

  12. Captivated me with this one Roger. Have had a Cohen crush since he came on the music scene but did not associate Judy Collins with him. Lots of artists cover him but nothing like the crooner to almsot make me cry

  13. Wonderful songwriter, such words, always good to here him sing them, and other peoples interpretations. I always liked Aaron Neville’s version of Bird on a Wire.

  14. Roger, what a great tribute to Cohen and all those who have covered his poetry in music! Judy Collins is an “old” favorite of mine, especially Suzanne. She dropped out of the college I graduated from…… Nothing like a Catholic education to turn you into a rebel!
    HelenMac
    ABC Team

  15. I found Cohen because of Jeff Buckley’s soulful cover of “Hallelujah.” I fell in love with Cohen’s version and adore his “Dance Me to the End of Love.”

  16. Cohen,

    Don’t you think he is handsome? Alle lua.

    We too have the colonoscopy done because my Father-in-law died of colon cancer. I am having one done in 2 weeks.

  17. I probably have heard his songs but I always forget the names. For that I have Alzheimer since my 15th birthday ! Besides the greatest of course, like Elton John, Elvis, Freddy Mercury the Beatles etc.

  18. Another entertaining and educational post from you, Roger. I’d love you to meet my brother-in-law – you two would get on so well together, discussing music and artists.

  19. I like the Hallelujah from KD Lang and I thought it was the original version. Good to know these facts. Thank you for the visit!

  20. This is so timely; I just happened upon a video clip of his the other day! He has quite a following. Thanks for stopping by my ABC. Enjoy the weekend.

  21. Late to this party, Roger, but glad I didn’t miss your Cohen post. I’m a Kanuck, so, yeah, I know his music well. A lot of it makes great road music to sing along to… 🙂 KD Lang is also a favorite, and her rendition of Hallelujah is even better than his.

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