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The Talent of Leonard Cohen

Anybody who has been listening to music for the last four decades has most likely heard a Leonard Cohen song as Cohen has been one of the most influential songwriters of his time. Taking on subjects such as sex, spirituality, religion, and power to just examining life issues has earned him the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Songs Cohen is most memorable for in his early years include “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “So Long, Marianne” and “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” all of which were in his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967). However, the two albums that followed, Songs From a Room (1969), which includes his classic song, “Bird on the Wire,” and Songs of Love and Hate (1971), continued to demonstrate and exemplify his talent. Some say his background in literature, including published works of poetry, added to his success. Published collections of poetry include Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) and Flowers for Hitler (1964). If that isn’t enough, he also published novels that include The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). His dual careers in music and literature fed each other over the decades, giving his songs a rare literary quality that made his works so popular around the world.

With the onset of the early 70s, Cohen developed a desire to move beyond a more folky sound to what he called European Blues. Cohen’s 1974 album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, found him making bolder use of the orchestration, a contrast to the more stripped-down sound he had earlier preferred. This was followed by Death of a Ladies’ Man, his 1977 collaboration with Phil Spector, and constitutes his most extreme experiment. 

In the 80s, Leonard Cohen began to rise in popularity once again. Those that had grown up with him had reached an age oof which they wanted to re-examine the music of their past, along with a new generation of artists and fansm discovered him. They were attracted by the dignity, ambition and sheer quality of his songs. During this time, Cohen released two consecutive albums, I’m Your Man (1988) and The Future (1992). Exploring issues such as AIDS with songs like “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” “I’m Your Man” and, most explicitly, “Everybody Knows” (“Everybody knows that the Plague is coming/Everybody knows that it’s moving fast/Everybody knows that the naked man and woman – just a shining artifact of the past”) allowed Cohen to boldly talk about contemporary problems with a new perspective and insight.

Since that time, Cohen has released the albums Ten New Songs (2001) which includes the songs “Boogie Nights” and “In My Secret Life”, and Dear Heather (2004), as well as Blue Alert (2006), a collaboration on which Cohen produced and co-wrote songs with his former background singer Anjani Thomas, who provides the vocals. All three albums solidified his place in the pantheon of contemporary songwriters. 

Collectively, Cohen has published 12 books the most recent 2006′s Book of Longing, a collection of poetry, prose and drawings.  Book of Longing reached #1 on the Top 10 Hardcover Fiction Books in Canada, as compiled by Maclean’s Magazine, being the first book of poetry ever to reach the top of the bestsellers’ lists in Canada. If that isn’t enough, in 2008, “Hallelujah” became a record-setting UK chart phenomenon when a version performed by Alexandra Burke, winner of the massively popular television talent competition “X Factor,” rocketed to the #1 slot on the UK singles chart, becoming the fastest-selling single by a female artist in UK chart history.  So much interest in the song was generated that Jeff Buckley’s rendition bulleted to #2 while Cohen’s original version entered the singles chart at #34, bringing the artist his first-ever British Top 40 single.  With versions of the song holding down three Top 40 UK Singles Chart positions simultaneously, “Hallelujah” became the fastest-selling digital single in European history.  RIAA, CRIA, ARIA and IFPI statistics alone show that, prior to late 2008, more than five million copies of “Hallelujah” sold in CD format.

What’s next for Leonard Cohen? Who knows, but those who have followed him for the last four decades are surely anxious to find out.

Jeff Bachmeier is owner of 977music.com, an online music and online radio station network providing live streaming Internet Radio channels with music from the 50’s thru Today. Users can also choose to create their own customized on demand playlist through their own social media profile. For more information please visit http://www.977music.com.

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  • About the Author:
    Jeff Bachmeier is owner of 977music.com, an online music and online radio station network providing live streaming Internet Radio channels with music from the 50’s thru Today. Users can also choose to create their own customized on demand playlist through their own social media profile.

    For more information please visit 977music.com.