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Music / Songs from a Room

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"Tonight will be fine ... for a while."
"Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free"
Bird on the Wire

Songs from a Room is the second album by Leonard Cohen, released in 1969 through Columbia Records. It has a lighter, folkier feel than its predecessor, Songs of Leonard Cohen, and is the nearest Cohen got to a Country Music album — it was produced in Memphis by Bob Johnson after sessions produced by David Crosby in Los Angeles failed to work out. The lightness of tone on the surface is deceptive however; songs on the album probes deeper into the themes of religion, despair and suicide that were evident in the earlier album. Along with "Suzanne" from his previous album, the opening track "Bird on the Wire" was probably the most-covered of Cohen's songs before "Hallelujah".


Side One
  1. "Bird on the Wire" - 3:28
  2. "Story of Isaac" - 3:38
  3. "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes" - 3:18
  4. "The Partisan" - 3:29
  5. "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" - 3:41

Side Two

  1. "The Old Revolution" - 4:50
  2. "The Butcher" - 3:22
  3. "You Know Who I Am" - 3:32
  4. "Lady Midnight" - 3:01
  5. "Tonight Will Be Fine" - 3:53

Tropes associated with this album:

  • Alliterative Title: "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy".
  • Anti-Love Song: "Tonight Will Be Fine"
    Sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past.
    We swore to each other then that our love would surely last.
    You kept right on loving, I went on a fast
    Now I am too thin and your love is too vast.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Of the Old Testament variety, as befits Cohen's active Judaism.
    • "Story of Isaac"
    He said, "I've had a vision
    And you know I'm strong and holy
    I must do what I've been told."
    So he started up the mountain
    I was running, he was walking
    And his axe was made of gold.
    • "The Butcher"
    Was I supposed to praise my Lord,
    Make some kind of joyful sound?
    • "You Know Who I Am"
    Sometimes I need you naked
    Sometimes I need you wild
    I need you to carry my children in
    And I need you to kill a child
    You know who I am.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Parts of "The Partisan" are in French. Being a Québécois Cohen handles French just fine.
    ''Les Allemands étaient chez moi"
    ''Ils me dirent "résignes-toi"
    ''Mais je n'ai pas peur"
    ''J'ai repris mon arme."
  • Broken Record: "Tonight Will Be Fine"
    Tonight will be fine, will be fine, will be fine, will be fine...
  • Character Title: "Story of Isaac", "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy"
  • Courtly Love: "Bird on the Wire"
    Like a knight in some old-fashioned book
    I have saved all my ribbons for thee
  • Cover Version: "The Partisan", a translation by Hy Zaret of a 1943 French song "La Complainte du Partisan" by Anna Marly and Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie, about the French Resistance in WW2. One of very few cover versions in the early part of Cohen's career.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The cover is in stark black and white.
  • Driven to Suicide: "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy"
    It seems so long ago
    Nancy was alone
    A forty-five beside her head
    An open telephone
    We told her she was beautiful
    We told her she was free
    But none of us would meet her in
    The house of mystery.
  • Face on the Cover: Confined to a small box, perhaps echoing the spartan room in "Tonight Will Be Fine", with the contrast turned up to eleven so that all detail is washed out.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: "The Partisan"
    An old woman gave us shelter
    Kept us hidden in the garret
    Then the soldiers came
    She died without a whisper.
    (...)Un vieil homme dans un grenier note 
    Pour la nuit nous a caché note 
    Les Allemands l' ont pris note 
    Il est mort sans surprise note 
  • Job Title: "The Partisan", "The Butcher".
  • La Résistance: "The Partisan" is a song about the French resistance during World War II, originally completely in French, but Cohen sings it in English, thus leaves a few lines in the original language.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Tonight Will Be Fine" sounds rather jolly. It's about loneliness, depression and drug addiction.
    I choose the rooms that I live in with care
    The windows are small and the walls almost bare
    There's only one bed and there's only one prayer
    I listen all night for your step on the stair
  • Non-Appearing Title: The album title doesn't appear in any of the lyrics. The song title doesn't appear in the lyrics of "Story of Isaac", "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes"note , "The Partisan" or "The Butcher"note .
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Tonight Will Be Fine".
  • Offing the Offspring: "Story of Isaac". Though as the song is narrated in the first person it's clear the father doesn't go through with it.
  • One-Woman Song: "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy".
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" is based on the life and death of a real Nancy that Cohen once knew. This article may shed some light on the real story.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Charlie Daniels, who played bass guitar, violin and acoustic guitar on this album, later became famous in his own right for being the leader of his own band and recording a very famous song about a fiddle duel with the devil.
  • Shout-Out: Some lines from "Story Of Isaac" are quoted in the song "Everybody's Weird" from dEUS' album The Ideal Crash (1999). The band's lead singer, Tom Barman, is a huge fan of Cohen.
    I will help you if I must
    I will kill you if I can
    (...) I will kill you if I must
    I will help you if I can
  • Team Title: "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes"
  • The "The" Title Confusion: It's "Bird on The Wire," but many cover versions make it "Bird on A Wire," and the compilation The Essential Leonard Cohen eventually followed suit.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: As with many Cohen songs there is a lot of symbolism which isn't easy to penetrate. This is less evident on this album, however, than with most. Averted with "The Partisan" which is blunt and to the point. Possibly also with "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy".
  • A World Half Full:
    • "The Partisan". The narrator seems confident that all will be well in the end.
    Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing
    Through the graves the wind is blowing
    Freedom soon will come
    Then we'll come from the shadows.
    • "Tonight Will Be Fine"
    But I know from your eyes
    And I know from your smile
    That tonight will be fine
    Will be fine, will be fine, will be fine
    For a while.