His greatest tracks, as chosen by Robert Plant, Mark Kozelek, Antony Hegarty, Judy Collins and Cohen's bandmates and collaborators
11 WHO BY FIRE
New Skin For The Old Ceremony, 1974
A list of methods of death, based on a Jewish prayer of atonement, enhanced by strings and co-vocals by Janis Ian…
JAVIER MAS [members of Cohen’s touring band]: I’ve known this since I was young. It’s about our lives, where if it’s cold, or you’re suffering for something, you don’t know why. The song is life – la vida. When I put together some Spanish tribute concerts to Leonard, my arrangements tried to bring out a side of his music which makes him so original for a North American, because he’s got a Mediterranean feeling, from living in Greece. We did “Who By Fire” with a gypsy singer, and he always has these kinds of musicians in his band – laud, or mandolin, or violin. Then when we rehearsed in ’08, Leonard asked me to do a maqam before “Who By Fire” – an Arabian improvisation. He was giving me freedom to play from the heart that I’ve got from few artists. Leonard doesn’t worry. He trusts his musicians, and likes to listen to every one.
10 FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT
Songs Of Love And Hate, 1971
The outline of a tangled love triangle emerges in letter form, strung over a haunting folk melody…
MARK KOZELEK: This is the Cohen song that really hits me on a deep level. It’s one of several songs that I soundcheck with, alongside “These Days” by Jackson Browne and “The Kids” by Lou Reed. That line, “It’s four in the morning, the end of December”, really speaks to me. The days between Christmas and New Year are my favourite days of the year. The whole world shuts down, a lull of time that’s so peaceful. I usually spend that time in New Orleans, inspired by the sounds that come up from the streets. I can’t say that I completely understand the rest of the song, it’s a bit cryptic, but so atmospheric.