Mar 252010

Five Good Covers is an occasional series in which we look at a song that has supplied a variety of cross-genre cover versions. One mark of a well-written song is versatility, so we celebrate such songs with five totally different interpretations.

When Leonard Cohen began touring again in 2008, he was upfront about his intentions: he needed money. Instead of just cashing in and getting out though, he crafted three-hour concerts that seemed incapable of anything less than fawning reviews. His double-disc Live in London received similarly ecstatic praise, including every song he performed regularly on the tour save one: Famous Blue Raincoat.

That he left off one of his best-known songs seems surprising, but Cohen has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the lyrics. “I never felt I really sealed that song; I never felt the carpentry was finished,” he said in 1993. “With the poverty of songs I have for each record, I can’t afford to discard one as good as that. It’s one of the better tunes I’ve written, but lyrically it’s too mysterious, too unclear.”

Presumably the hundreds of performers who have covered “Famous Blue Raincoat” since its 1971 debut would disagree with that assessment. Renderings tend to be highly emotive, pain and angst dripping off every turn of phrase. While it’s hard to fault this logical approach to the song, it can get tiring. Here are five cover versions that approach it with a broader palate.

Doron Deutsch and the Astronauts – Famous Blue Raincoat

This midtempo rock song gets a pleasant twist from a soul-tinged guitar funking along in the background. [Buy]

Tori Amos – Famous Blue Raincoat

The embodiment of the emotive piano cover. Though dozens of other female-fronted versions sound similar, Amos’ is the prototype. [Buy]

Conspiracy of Beards – Famous Blue Raincoat

Conspiracy of Beards is a 30-man strong a cappella choir that exclusively performs Leonard Cohen songs. You can’t make that up. [Buy]

Attempts to turn this song into a full-fledged rocker tend to fail miserably. I haven’t decided if Ricky & Slingertje entirely pull it off, but they come damn close. [Buy]

Jaap Louwes – Famous Blue Raincoat

In many ways, this violin-and-piano performance is the most traditional cover of the bunch. Except that it’s in Dutch. [Buy]

Got an idea for a future Five Good Covers feature? Leave a comment!

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  7 Responses to “Five Good Covers: Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen)”

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  1. This is a fantastic collection, thank you for informing me of some wonderful (and wonderfully terrible) renditions! There is also a version by Jonathan Coulton that is somber, yet unique, that I think may interest fans of this song. Again, thanks for this!

  2. Thanks for these covers. Especially the version by Jaap Louwes. Even for the most Dutch it’s incomprehensible, ’cause it’s sung in Frisian, a language spoken in the county of Friesland, in the north of The Netherlands. The song was part of a project Cohen in Frisian. Twelve songs were covered. The one that got the most attention was Hallelujah by Nynke Laverman:

  3. Hmm, could’nt embed the video of Nynke Laverman, so here’s the link:–Nynke-Lavermans/m1dz405f7gbg

  4. It’s my favourite LC song :)
    And there is a cover in Spanish (which I guess it’s better if you don’t understand the stupid things she says to make it rhyme ;))

  5. Thanks for posting this. By the way, Tori Amos did an even better and more emotional cover of this great song live during her 1998 tour. It was officially published as a B-side of her single “Concertina”.

  6. monsieur camembert does a version with a great saxophone solo

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