This week has been awful, and just as we thought it couldn’t get any worse, news broke of Leonard Cohen’s death.
The 82-year-old singer had an unmistakable gift with words, effortlessly able to capture emotion in a way few others can. His pioneering mix of folk, jazz, pop and avant-garde made his music completely its own, perfected by his guttural voice. But above all, Cohen was a writer. Sometimes spending over two years working on the lyrics for one song, Cohen’s words are always poignant, offering up some of the best lines in the last century. His death is a great loss to the music community, and the world at large, who could’ve used his poetry now more than ever.
Rather than shedding any more tears, we’ve decided to celebrate the icon by putting together five of our favorite tracks. After all, like he said, “When things get really bad, just raise your glass and stamp your feet, and do a little jig. That’s about all you can do.”
No one even knew of Leonard Cohen when he wrote “Hallelujah.” In fact, it wasn’t until Jeff Buckley covered a version of the track put together by John Cale from a 15-page fax of Cohen’s discarded lyrics in 1994, that the song became such a classic. Cohen’s gruff voice and poetic lyrics make “Hallelujah” a timeless masterpiece.
“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything—that’s how the light gets in.” One of the most prophetic lines ever written comes from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” from his 1992 album, The Future.
3. Waiting For The Miracle
Also from The Future, “Waiting For The Miracle” isn’t as popular as some of Cohen’s other songs, but it’s completely brilliant. The lyrics, the juxtaposition of Cohen’s voice with the background choir—it’s a sinister, yet sweet track about forgetting to live in the moment.
The very first track on Cohen’s debut album, 1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne” was inspired by a woman named Suzanne Verdal who Cohen met in Montreal. Though the two did not have a romantic relationship (she was with her boyfriend, artist Armand Vaillancourt when they met), she helped spawn one of the most beautiful love songs of all time.
5. I’m Your Man
Another love song, “I’m Your Man,” is a sexy synth-pop classic from his 1988 album of the same name. The track shows Cohen professing his devotion, probably for longtime partner and muse Marianne Ihlen—his inspiration for countless songs and poems. “If you want a lover, I’ll do anything you ask me to,” he sings. “And if you want another kind of love, I’ll wear a mask for you. If you want a partner, take my hand, or if you want to strike me down in anger, here I stand—I’m your man.”
Honorable Mention: Dance Me To The End Of Love
Though it was hard to choose only five of our favorite Leonard Cohen songs, you can’t have a list of his best without “Dance Me To The End of Love.” The 1984 track from Various Positions, was written by Cohen in a day, using a broken Casio synthesizer he found in a tourist shop in New York. From 1988 until yesterday, the singer opened every single one of his shows with it.