Sep 032020
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best leonard cohen covers

Last week, Donald Trump gave his headlining speech at the Republican National Convention. Right after, fireworks exploded over the Washington Monument, soundtracked by a cover of “Hallelujah.” A few minutes later, a second singer covered “Hallelujah” while the entire Trump family watched. Both covers were unauthorized, and Leonard Cohen’s estate quickly said they are exploring legal action. (It must also be said that the covers weren’t very good – you won’t find either one on this list.)

Though hardly a shining moment in the history of Cohen covers, this event speaks to the cultural ubiquity of his work, and of “Hallelujah” in particular. For an artist who never sold that many records, Cohen has become about as iconic as icons get. Humble to the end, he would no doubt object – politely, of course – to that statement. But it’s true. His songs transcend his albums, they transcend his performances, they even transcend Leonard Cohen himself.

There’s never a bad time to talk about Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve really been on my mind the past couple years. Why? Because I’ve been writing an entire book on the subject, which is out today. It’s in the 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. The album I selected? The 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Without it, you probably wouldn’t even know “Hallelujah”… but we’ll get to that later.

In the book, I explore not just that one tribute album, but the entire history of Leonard Cohen covers generally. It’s a long and fascinating story, but suffice to say here that Cohen wouldn’t have had anywhere near the reach he did without others covering his songs. Covers gave him his start – Judy Collins’s, in particular – and resurrected his career more than once.

There are far too many great Cohen covers to fit in a list like this (and our Patreon supporters will soon get a bonus list of 100 more of them). But we all dug deep to pull the highlights, both the best of the totemic covers as well as brilliant but lesser-known interpretations. The covers span his entire catalog too. Plenty of “Hallelujah”s, of course, and versions of the ’60s songs that made him famous, but also covers of deeper cuts from albums throughout his recording career, up to and including his very last. We hope you’ll discover some new favorites, and maybe be able to listen to the classics you already know in a fresh light.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Buy I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen here:
Bloomsbury | Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble | Bookshop

The list begins on Page 2.

Oct 172019
 
northwest passage covers

Stan Rogers’ folk song “Northwest Passage” has been called the unofficial Canadian national anthem – and by a Canadian Prime Minister, no less. Two incredibly different covers that have come out recently add more evidence to that claim, and show that the song may be crossing the country’s southern border just as it crosses genre lines. Continue reading »

Apr 192019
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

Harry Chapin

No number one hit says “massive guilt trip” like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s become a shorthand reference to neglectful father-son parenting, featured in popular culture from Simpsons to Shrek the Third, and Stevie Wonder only wishes he prompted as many phone calls just to say “I love you.”

It started off as a poem by Sandy Chapin, Harry’s wife, inspired by the relationship between her first husband and his father. “He came home and I showed him the poem, and he sort of brushed it aside,” she said. But a year later Harry had become a father, and found himself living the life his wife had written about; he wrote music and a chorus, and David Geffen selected it to be a single. “You can’t do that; it’s ridiculous,” Sandy told him. “That song will only appeal to 45-year-old men, and they don’t buy records.” Harry himself wanted to re-record the song, saying “It’s terrible, just terrible. It’s much too fast a tempo.” Both of them were proved very wrong, as the song went to #1 in December 1974.

Continue reading »

Jun 092015
 

keepcalmI have long held it to be a covers truism that people who love covers are most compelled by musicians who can re-imagine a song in order to create something new. The whole point – I’ve said and written – of covering a song is to merge the acts of making and enjoying music in order to say something through song while also saying something about the song itself. Good covers discover or reveal. Good covers surprise.

The expectation that a cover should make something new, however, starts to feel unfair when one is attempting to evaluate covers of songs that have been covered as often as the sixteen Beatles songs on Keep Calm & Salute the Beatles. Covering the Beatles is a bit like taking a picture of THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA, an act that Don DeLillo describes not as capturing an image but maintaining one. What is there left to say, discover, or reveal about these songs beyond the tautological notion that they are good enough to be covered again and again?
Continue reading »

Apr 282015
 
beatles

There seems to be an unlimited amount of three things in this world: 1) Money in Washington, D.C.; 2) Fast & Furious movie storylines; 3) Tributes to The Beatles. Continue reading »

Feb 162015
 

Sweet Judy “Blue Eyes” Collins is still majestic at 75.  Judy’s new release, Both Sides Now- The Very Best Of includes 28 beautiful original songs and interpretations of legendary songs. Her first single, “Helpless”, is a Neil Young cover, and a duet with Rachael Sage. Judy has called Neil Young a master songwriter. She has been connected to Neil and the rest of Crosby, Stills, and Nash for many years.  It’s her on-again off-again romance with Stephen Stills that inspired Stills to pen the lyrics “change my life, make it right, be my lady…” on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”.  This was a failed attempt to get Judy back in the late ’60s. But the song was a hit in 1969 and made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time. You can hear a Collins-Stills duet on the song “Last Thing on My Mind” (2010) on Both Sides Now.

Judy’s been an inspiration to musicians and politicians alike. Bill and Hillary Clinton named their daughter Chelsea after Judy’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Hotel.

Judy has had her share of struggles; depression, alcoholism, bulimia, and the suicide of her son to name a few battles. She’s triumphed beautifully and is not at all helpless like the title of her first single.  Judy’s graceful collaboration with a very young, virtually unknown artist, Rachael Sage, on her first duet is a testament to her humble and true devotion to music.

 

To read more about Judy, click here.