His greatest tracks, as chosen by Robert Plant, Mark Kozelek, Antony Hegarty, Judy Collins and Cohen's bandmates and collaborators
The Future, 1992
This celestial, bittersweet summation of Cohen’s themes was a decade in the making. Later sampled by Coldplay…
REBECCA DE MORNAY: Leonard was at my house, and I had a synthesiser. He was off in a room, playing a song that I’d heard him play over and over for a couple of years, that he just wasn’t sure what to do with. I went in and said, “That’s it! Exactly like that!” I think he’d moved the lyrics around, because they’d never had that effect on me before. I said, “It’s universal, I’m telling you, like ‘Silent Night, or ‘Auld Lang Syne’. So why don’t we bring in a gospel choir?” And he turned and looked at me very strangely. And he said, “I want you to produce this song.” To me, “Anthem” was the pinnacle of his deep understanding of human defeat. “I can’t run no more with that lawless crowd, while the killers say their prayers out loud…and they’ve summoned up a thundercloud, and they’re going to hear from me.” That “I” – that’s the soul of Leonard Cohen. He doesn’t suffer fools. He’s deeply kind and generous-spirited, but he’s not a sweet little monk. He’s more to be understood as the guy who wanted to join the Israeli Army in 1973. A warrior monk? Stress the warrior.
8 CHELSEA HOTEL #2
New Skin For The Old Ceremony, 1974
Written about a one-night stand Cohen shared with Janis Joplin in the fabled Manhattan landmark…
MATT JOHNSON: It beautifully encapsulates the desperation of fame, the loneliness of hotel rooms and the comfort of strangers. In my twenties I spent a fair bit of time in the Chelsea Hotel myself and experienced wonderful and horrible things in equal measure in those rooms, so this song always chimes inside whenever I hear it. I’ve warm memories of meeting the man himself – I was an eager young songwriter in my early twenties and had recently finished my Soul Mining album. We shared the same lawyer, Marty Machat, who had asked Cohen to pass on some of his wisdom to me. Over dinner Leonard was funny and charming and offered some invaluable guidance – such as forgetting about singing lessons and to just continue singing from my heart. He also spoke about the mystical power of melody and of not being afraid to use it to help express some of life’s deeper subjects. He then warned me about the laziness of many music journalists and pointed out once they’ve forced you into a little box you’ll never be able to climb out of it – complaining that whenever his name was mentioned in any article the words “depressing” and “gloomy” were never far behind. 30 years later – and despite Leonard’s friendly tip-off – the same fate seems to have befallen me!