His greatest tracks, as chosen by Robert Plant, Mark Kozelek, Antony Hegarty, Judy Collins and Cohen's bandmates and collaborators
13 DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE
Various Positions, 1985
The opening track from Various Positions introduced Cohen’s blossoming interest in synthesisers to the world…
JOHN LISSAUER [producer]: The assignment was to release an album with one or two momentous songs that would make Leonard international, and we thought we’d really done it. It had “Dance Me…”, and it had “Hallelujah”. I didn’t say to Leonard, “Go write some anthems”, it just happened. Especially “Dance Me…”. Leonard had just been on Broadway and bought a Casio piece-of-crap synthesiser, for tourists. I go to his hotel, and he pushes a button, and it goes, boom-tish, boom-tish. He starts to sing the song, and I envisioned it with real musicians, letting it build and build. But he had his finger on this one key, playing the drumbeat. He was grinning like a school-kid. He loved the simplicity of it, and the fact that talented musicians weren’t over-playing. Leonard can be stubborn. Usually to champion simplicity, or demo-like takes. We ended up recording it with his toy Casio. And because the beat didn’t ever come to life, Leonard and Jennifer Warnes swayed over it with very languid, personal singing. It really made it seductive.
12 I’M YOUR MAN
I’m Your Man, 1988
Cohen takes male erotic obsession to hilarious extremes, while future partner Anjani Thomas adds taunting backing vocals…
MARK EITZEL: A few years ago I was lucky enough to see him at Benicassim, floating on a luxury ocean liner of great songwriting and connecting with 20,000 people. I wept half the time, then I ran backstage, just to look at him. He was surrounded by cameras and people. I stood there going, “Yep. He deserves every bit of that.” But my first experience of Leonard Cohen was when, as a 16-year-old avoiding school, I’d break into houses. I found his Greatest Hits in one of them, and I’d break into that house all the time to listen to it. Playing “I’m Your Man” recently has made me realise just how good he is. It’s very hard to sing, especially for me. It’s got this twisted, offhand bridge. The melody is conversational, the lyrics are Shakespearian. “I’d crawl to you baby, and I’d fall at your feet/And I’d howl at your beauty like a dog in heat…” He’s very casually describing the truth of carnality, of the mortality of mating, of life itself, which is Leonard fucking Cohen. And it’s overtly, unapologetically sexual.