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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I’m Your Man, 1988
Cohen plays everything here, as he turns a consideration of his craft into one of its finest examples…

ROBERT FORSTER: It’s the greatest description of the job of songwriting in the history of rock music. When Cohen was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, his speech of acceptance was “Tower Of Song”. He just read it out, as if: this is who I am. There isn’t anything near an average line in the whole thing. When he sings that Hank Williams is “100 floors above me” in the Tower, I think he puts in Williams as a gesture right back to his start in the 1950s, when country and western was one of his introductions to music. And the song is a beautiful, three-chord country tune. Other lines toy with the possibility that this could be a personal love song. But it all fits. I think the Tower is a mythical place he goes to. It’s the home of a songwriter. But it’s a tower, not a hut. As he sings, “you’ll be hearing from me, baby, long after I’m gone”. And he will be remembered.



Various Positions, 1984
Cohen’s multi-layered anthem has achieved hymn-like status, partly through the efforts of Jeff Buckley, Shrek and Alexandra Burke…

ANJANI THOMAS: I was keyboardist and vocalist on the Various Positions album and tour. I had no idea “Hallelujah” would become what it became, but I do remember it was often the highlight of the show. It’s got a mesmerising melody and such amazing imagery. Like many of his songs, it’s an incredible mix of sensuality, carnality and spirituality. Leonard has a singularly blessed talent to inhabit language, and it gives him an ability to go to the extremes of the human condition. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to go there. Being close to him, I know that takes a toll. It’s shocking, to understand the limits he will go to. He never really stops. He writes more than he needs and then he culls from the best of it. I know he did that with “Hallelujah”. Anyone can sing the song beautifully, but not many can sing it with real understanding. I remember exactly what Leonard said after we’d heard KD Lang sing it at an awards show: “We can lay that song to rest.”


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