Leonard Cohen’s 20 Best Songs

His greatest tracks, as chosen by Robert Plant, Mark Kozelek, Antony Hegarty, Judy Collins and Cohen's bandmates and collaborators

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17 IF IT BE YOUR WILL
Various Positions, 1984
A sombre prayer of supplication and surrender – to God, to struggle, to love…

ANTONY HEGARTY: I sang this at the Came So Far For Beauty tribute in Sydney in 2005. Like all his songs, it goes as deep as you care to go – that’s what I learned from singing it. It’s meditative, there’s this mixture of very beautiful existential poetry and romance. It was the right song for me. When I first listened to him I was taken by the emotion, and his voice. Mostly I listen to women, so it was interesting to hear such a low, male voice. Like a very gentle Darth Vader! I so admire his exacting choices. If he had been a writer 200 years ago he’d still be famous today as a poet, he just happens to be working in the pop medium. I’ve never met him but we’ve corresponded. My version of “If It Be Your Will” struck a chord for him. He liked it, and sent me a beautiful note. I’ve always been honoured I got to participate in a small way in his catalogue, but most of all I’m just glad he’s here. He’s a benevolent patriarch. People listen to him as a father.

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16 THE FUTURE
The Future, 1992
“Things are going to slide…” Cohen’s vision of apocalypse rendered in demented detail…

HAL WILLNER: What a brilliantly bleak song! Bring back the Berlin wall, give us crack and anal sex, Hiroshima and Charles Manson. How can you get more pumped than that? It’s sophisticated, but it’s also got the power and the emotion you get in the best of his songs. The poetry comes first, and the melody is so beautifully simple. I got to witness his writing process on this song. He was recording the album in LA and we often met at a bar and drank strange concoctions of tequila and cranberry juice. He was very happy. He was in love, I believe, and he had a lot to say. He was like that cartoon character where the angel appears on one shoulder and the devil on the other. “The Future” is desperately bleak, but “Anthem”, on the same album, might be the most uplifting song ever written. It’s an amazing mind that can do that.

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