Leonard Cohen is one of the great singer-songwriters of the 20th century and, although maybe not popularly listened to by the youth of today, has had a great impact and influence on modern songwriters. I’ve listened to Leonard Cohen albums since I was a young girl, initially under the influence of my dad, who is a great music lover, and to this day he is one of my favourite musical artists.
Born in Canada in 1934, before moving in to music, Cohen was a novelist and a poet. This is evident in the beauty and complexity of his lyrics. My favourite Leonard Cohen album — his 1967 debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen — contains, arguably, some of the greatest lines to have been written in any song. Ever. Tackling the universal themes of love, hate, loss and isolation, Cohen’s words are as relevant today as they were in the ’60s. That’s not to say his lyrical and musical greatness stopped there, just that this is, in my opinion, the best of his records, if not the best of all records.
With their stark and minimalistic acoustic style, Cohen’s first few albums associated him with the folk movement, which was popular at the time. However, his later albums moved him away from this style, as he incorporated electronic, jazz and R&B elements to his music.
Perhaps Cohen’s best known song is the much covered (by over 150 bands or artists, according to Cohen’s official Web site), Hallelujah, which was first released in 1984 on the album, Various Positions. It is rumoured that 80 verses were originally written. The full version of the song includes 15.
It would be fair to call Leonard Cohen a musician’s musician, with many bands and artists citing him as an influence and recording covers in tribute to the man himself, including Pixies, Tori Amos, Jeff Buckley, REM, Johnny Cash and Nick Cave. Beck even recorded a cover of Songs of Leonard Cohen in its entirety.
It’s hard to really know how to summarise the work of a man who has had such a huge impact on your life, through his music, and who has such a huge body of work that it isn’t possible to even scrape the surface of its complexity here. So, instead I will leave you with some of my favourite of Mr. Cohen’s lyrics, from Stories of the Street, “And if by chance I wake at night and I ask you who I am/O take me to the slaughterhouse, I will wait there with the lamb.”