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Music / Songs of Leonard Cohen

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"We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky..."

"For now I need your hidden love
I'm cold as a new razor blade
You left when I told you I was curious
I never said that I was brave"
So Long, Marianne

Songs of Leonard Cohen is the debut album by Leonard Cohen, released in 1967. Cohen was already established as a published poet; his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published in 1956, eleven years before Songs of Leonard Cohen. He was persuaded by Judy Collins, amongst others, to set some of his poems to music. Collins had already adapted and recorded Cohen's poem "Suzanne Takes You Down", from his 1966 collection Parasites Of Heaven, as "Suzanne" for her 1966 album In My Life, and the song kicks off this album.Songs of Leonard Cohen set the tone for much of Cohen's career; the songs are predominantly melancholy and deal with parting, depression, self-harm and suicide, but also feature interwoven themes of sex, religion and politics with a dry and self-effacing wit and intelligent, profound lyrics. It also established a pattern of being much more popular in Europe than in his native North America.


Three of the songs in this album were used as the musical accompaniment for Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller: "The Stranger Song", "Sisters of Mercy", and "Winter Lady".


Side One

  1. "Suzanne" - 3:48
  2. "Master Song" - 5:55
  3. "Winter Lady" - 2:15
  4. "The Stranger Song" - 5:00
  5. "Sisters of Mercy" - 3:32

Side Two

  1. "So Long, Marianne" - 5:38
  2. "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" - 2:55
  3. "Stories of the Street" - 4:35
  4. "Teachers" - 3:01
  5. "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong" - 4:23


Tropes associated with this album:

  • Alliterative Title: "The Stranger Song", "Stories of the Street".
  • Anti-Love Song:
    • "Winter Lady"
    Trav'ling lady stay awhile
    until the night is over.
    I'm just a station on your way,
    I know I'm not your lover.
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    • "Suzanne"
      And Jesus was a sailor
      When he walked upon the water
      And he spent a long time watching
      From his lonely wooden tower
      And when he knew for certain
      Only drowning men could see him
      He said "All men will be sailors then
      Until the sea shall free them"
      But he himself was broken
      Long before the sky would open
      Forsaken, almost human
      He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
      And you want to travel with him
      And you want to travel blind
      And you think maybe you'll trust him
      For he's touched your perfect body with his mind
    • "Stranger Song"
      He was just some Joseph looking for a manger
  • Big Eater: "Teachers"
    I ate and ate and ate
    no I did not miss a plate
    Several girls embraced me then
    I was embraced by men
    Is my passion perfect?
    'No, do it once again
  • Break-Up Song:
    • "Winter Lady": although he wants her to come back to bed and stay for a while longer.
    • "So Long Marianne":
      It's time we began / to laugh and cry, and cry and laugh, about it all again.
    • "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye":
      But now it's come to distances and both of us must try.
  • But Now I Must Go: "Stranger Song".
    And then leaning on your window sill
    he'll say one day you caused his will
    to weaken with your love and warmth and shelter
    And then taking from his wallet
    an old schedule of trains, he'll say
    I told you when I came I was a stranger
    I told you when I came I was a stranger.
  • Character Title: "Suzanne" and "So Long Marianne".
  • Cover Version: Zig-Zagged with "Suzanne". It was published by Cohen as a poem, but previously recorded as a song by both Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. So he covered a song he wrote the words to, in essence.
  • Crapsack World: "Stories of the Street":
    The Cadillacs go creeping now through the night and the poison gas.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The black-and-white album cover is not only monochrome but sepia-tinted. something that suggested old-fashionedness even in 1967. Cohen was 33 when the album appeared, not exactly in the first flush of youth for a rock star.
  • Downer Ending: It's all relative, as there aren't many upper moments. But:
    • "Winter Lady": Ends with the singer pleading with his one-night-stand to come back for the rest of the night even as she stands in the doorway ready to leave.
    • The whole album concludes with "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong", which ends with something like a wail of despair. Although the song does have an air of tongue-in-cheek self-parody about it.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: "Stories of the Street":
    I know you've heard it's over now and war must surely come
    The cities they are broke in half and the middle men are gone
    But let me ask you one more time, O children of the dusk
    All these hunters who are shrieking now oh do they speak for us?
    And where do all these highways go, now that we are free?
    Why are the armies marching still that were coming home to me?
  • Eskimo: "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong"
    An Eskimo showed me a movie he'd recently taken of you
    The poor man could hardly stop shivering
    His lips and his fingers were blue
    I suppose that he froze when the wind took your clothes
    And I guess he just never got warm
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: All of the songs on the album were written and performed by Cohen.
  • Face on the Cover: Unsmiling, sepia-tinted and framed in black. Don't expect a bundle of laughs. Which isn't to say there aren't any.
  • Freudian Trio: "Master Song" can be construed as being about conflicts between aspects of the personality.
  • The Gambler: "The Stranger Song" uses poker as a metaphor for an abusive relationship.
  • Intercourse with You: "Suzanne", based on Cohen's real-life relationship with Montreal social hostess Suzanne Verdal. Both Cohen and Verdal have publicly averred that their relationship was strictly platonic and the sexual implications were pure (or impure if you prefer) wishful thinking on Leonard's part.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "So Long Marianne" is rather jaunty, especially by Cohen's standards. So the references to depression and suicide come as quite a shock.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: "Suzanne", she shows the narrator all the secret places around the docks, is "kinda crazy", and almost becomes a kind of mythic figure by the end of the song.
  • Naughty Nuns: In "The Sisters of Mercy" the sisters take your confession as you lie down beside them.
  • Non-Appearing Title: The album title does not appear in any of the songs. More surprisingly, the song title does not appear in the lyrics of "Master Song", "Winter Lady", "The Stranger Song" or "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong".
  • One-Woman Song: "Suzanne" and "So Long Marianne".
  • One-Word Title: "Teachers"
  • Product Placement: "Stories Of The Street"
    The Cadillacs go creeping now through the night and the poison gas
  • Second-Person Narration: "The Stranger Song"
  • Self-Titled Album: "Songs of Leonard Cohen".
  • Shout-Out: "Suzanne" was covered in Dutch, by Herman Van Veen.
  • The Something Song: "The Stranger Song".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: All the way through, but "Teachers" in particular takes some unravelling. "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" starts to sound like he's playing with his audience.


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