In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
It’s hard to know where to start when talking about Leonard Cohen covers. In some respects, he might have been the most cover-friendly artist of all time. Only Bob Dylan would come close.
Why was his music so coverable? Well, for one he wrote terrific songs. Duh. But so do Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, and covers of their songs on average do not match covers of Cohen. Or look at the Beatles, who I’d put on the opposite end of this spectrum. The average Beatles cover is nowhere near as good as the original (though lord knows there are exceptions).
But no artist inspired more great covers than Cohen. Perhaps that is because unlike the Beatles, whose performances are hard to top, his original recordings were rarely definitive. His early albums were so barebones that one could do almost anything with this songs. Then there was the Phil Spector record, where great songs were buried under too much production. Then the ’80s came, a decade rarely kind to singer-songwriters, and Cohen’s records especially suffered from a reliance on instantly-dated production. In so many cases, Cohen’s perfect songs were presented with imperfect recordings. Hundreds of songs ripe for another artist to come along and make his or her own.Continue reading »
Leonard Cohen is one of the few artists whose songs have cover versions not only better known than the originals, but actually better to listen to. Cohen’s somewhat tuneless voice may be partly to blame, but a larger issue is the horrific 80’s production on many of his albums. Fabulous songs are buried beneath layers of synthesizers and drum machines (have you heard the original Hallelujah?). No more was this more apparent than on his 1988 album I’m Your Man. Though it’s filled with classic Cohen songs, listening to the original album is a test of endurance. Luckily plenty of artists have made the effort, finding the gems buried beneath mountains of mud. So throw away your copy of the original (sorry Len) and play this mix instead. I’d imagine Cohen would like it better too.
Kid Harpoon – First We Take Manhattan
The original is a slow-burner, always threatening to explode without ever actually doing it. The Kid fixes that, by stripping it back to an acoustic guitar…then rocking it up to 11 at double-time, creating a sound that’s Gogol Bordello meets The Decemberists.
Aaron Neville – Ain’t No Cure For Love
Neville, of The Neville Brothers fame, reins back his normal vibrato to give a soulful reading that’s half Judy Garland, half honky-tonk.
Don Henley – Everybody Knows
You’d never know what a fabulous song this was from Cohen’s version, where he sounds like he’s falling asleep. Henley makes the song’s merits very clear, starting off quiet and building fast to a number that shows what good production can accomplish, with the great lyrics are front and center.
Elton John – I’m Your Man
Keeping it rocking is Elton’s take on the title track, with plenty of female backing vocals, crunchy guitar and horns. Screw Rocket Man, this sounds like Elton back in his Crocodile Rock days.
Patricia O’Callaghan – Take This Waltz
A would-be opera singer, O’Callaghan channels the winding streets of Paris with piano and accordion backing her multiple-octave soprano. This approach would be over-the-top on many Cohen songs, but works well for this one. The Disney-esq flute solo at the end is a little much though.
Monsieur Camembert – Jazz Police
I wasn’t sure if I’d find a cover of this one, but youtube came through with this Sydney 10-piece doing some rocking jazz-funk, only taking the party down for a strange echoey chorus. Off their double album of live Cohen covers Famous Blue Cheese that I’m on the lookout for, check out three more Cohen tracks at their myspace page.
The Pixies – I Can’t Forget
Even when tackling unlikely source material, The Pixies can’t help sounding like themselves, with weird guitar effects and off-kilter harmonies.
Robert Forster – Tower of Song
Tackling an oft-covered Cohen number, the Go-Betweens frontman gives it a mid-tempo pop gloss that’s miles better than the cover by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, culled from an hour-long jam on the song, that gives you nothing but a migraine.
—Quick bit of cross-blog promotion: Any Tom Waits fans out there, I’m compiling a set of unreleased live covers of his songs, the first three sets of which are available here and here.—