Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Leonard Cohen Songs - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Leonard Cohen Songs

“Suzanne,” “Famous Blue Raincoat” and your other favorite tracks by the Canadian poet

Leonard Cohen performs in Austrlia

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 20: Leonard Cohen performs live for fans at Rod Laver Arena on November 20, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/WireImage)

Graham Denholm/WireImage

Leonard Cohen isn't like most octogenarians. Not only does he regularly play stunning three-and-a-half-hour concerts, but he continues to make music every bit as good as the classics he released five decades ago. If you don't believe us, check out "Almost Like the Blues" and "Nevermind" from his new LP Popular Problems. We asked our readers to vote for their favorite songs by Cohen. Here are the results. 

Leonard Cohen, Bird on the Wire

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen was going through a bout of depression while living on the Greek Island of Hydra when he noticed a bird sitting by himself on a telephone wire. He began writing a poem comparing himself to the lonely bird, but it would be a long time before he turned it into a song he was happy with. During the 1968 Songs From a Room sessions in Nashville, Cohen ran through the song over and over until he got so frustrated that he sent most of the musicians home and gave up. Days before the final session, he simply walked up to the microphone and spontaneously found a whole new way to approach the work. It became one of his most beloved songs, and a staple of his live show for decades. 

Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

“Everybody Knows”

"Everybody Knows" must be the most pessimistic song in Cohen's vast catalog. Here are things that everybody supposedly knows: The dice are loaded, the boat is leaking, the captain lied, the poor stay poor, the rich get rich, the plague is coming and moving fast. It's quite the bummer, but somehow packaged all together you get the feeling we're going to survive this parade of horrors together. Over the years it's been covered by everyone from Don Henley to Concrete Blonde to Rufus Wainwright. 

Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat

“Famous Blue Raincoat”

Sometime in the early 1970s, a thief stole Leonard Cohen's old raincoat from Marianne Ihlen's New York apartment. God only know what happened to it, but the thief almost certainly had no idea he was stealing an object that belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if not the Smithsonian. It was that very coat that inspired Cohen to write one of his most beloved and mysterious songs. It's written in the form of a letter, possibly to the narrator's brother, who stole his lover, Jane.

"Famous Blue Raincoat" has captivated listeners ever since it first appeared on 1971's Songs of Love and Hate, though Cohen admits he's not happy with the lyrics. "It was a song I've never been satisfied with," he said in 1994. "It's not that I've resisted an impressionistic approach to songwriting, but I've never felt that this one, that I really nailed the lyric. I'm ready to concede something to the mystery, but secretly I've always felt that there was something about the song that was unclear." 

Leonard Cohen, Suzanne


There was a real Suzanne. Contrary to what the song implies, she never had sex with Leonard Cohen. The stunningly gorgeous Suzanne Verdal did, however, serve tea and oranges when he visited her and her boyfriend, renowned Canadian sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, at their home in Montreal. Cohen was forced, as the song says, to "touch her perfect body with his mind." The song began as a poem and was first recorded by Judy Collins in 1966. Cohen cut the song himself the following year. It's the first track on his debut record, kicking off one of the most incredible careers in music history. 

Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah


The year 1984 was a pretty amazing time for pop music, with new releases by Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Van Halen filling the airwaves. Amidst all that greatness came Leonard Cohen's Various Positions, which landed with a thud towards the end of the year. Interest in Cohen was so low that Columbia initially refused to even release it, figuring it wouldn't be worth the effort of printing copies and sending them to stores. Virtually nobody paid attention to a little song called "Hallelujah" that kicked off the second side of the LP.

Cohen, however, knew he had something special. He spent an unusually long time on the lyrics, obsessing over every word and going through 80 different drafts. When the Velvet Underground's John Cale asked him to send over the lyrics so he could cover it, he received a 15-page fax full of discarded verses. Cale cobbled together a new version of the song, which he recorded on the piano. It was that version that Jeff Buckley covered on his 1994 LP Grace, and slowly the song became an absolute sensation, covered so many times that Adam Sandler spoofed the practice at the 12/12/12 charity show at Madison Square Garden. 

By now, people that have never even heard the name "Leonard Cohen" know "Hallelujah." It's become a modern-day hymn, performed everywhere from street corners to American Idol. Even people that feel they could go the rest of their lives without hearing it again get a lump in their throats when the spotlight hits Cohen at his shows and he begins singing, "I've heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord…"

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