In honor of his 80th birthday this year, Leonard Cohen will release a new record of original material entitled Popular Problems next week. Both the album's title and its first single, "Almost Like the Blues," show the Canadian maestro firmly in his comfort zone, exactly where he should be. Nobody is really looking for an experimental album from Cohen 47 years into his recording career.
Still, the poet has shown that he doesn't need any frills to produce amazing record after amazing record. With so much material to look back on, it's hard to narrow down his greatest songs, so let's not even try. Instead, let's go over Cohen's best collaborations throughout the past near half-century.
5. "First We Take Manhattan" (w/ Jennifer Warnes and Stevie Ray Vaughan) Since its inclusion in Watchmen, "First We Take Manhattan" has gone from a beloved dance song from Cohen's weirdest songwriting period to his most beloved tune among twentysomething bros and comic-book nerds.
However, the song has a longer history than that. It was first written and recorded with Jennifer Warnes and released on her album Famous Blue Raincoat, a collection of Cohen covers. Stevie Ray Vaughan played on this version, while Cohen appeared in the video. Ultimately, he'd re-record it for his own record, I'm Your Man, a year later.
4. "Death of a Ladies' Man" w/ Phil Spector Cohen collaborated with Phil Spector on the bizarre Death of a Ladies' Man, and the end result was almost more Spector than Cohen. It met heavy opposition from critics upon its release, but in recent years has been much better received.
This epic-length title track is one of Cohen's longest songs ever, but also one of his most beautiful and haunting ballads. Say what you want about Spector or how he gelled with Cohen's style, but he had a knack for producing perfect sounding songs.
3. "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On" w/ Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan Aside from the overall collaboration with Phil Spector on Death of a Ladies' Man, Cohen also recruited a few famous friends to do backing vocals on this rollicking rock track. Although it's not like Ginsberg and Dylan contribute a whole lot more than just their voices, it's still sort of amazing that those three were in the same room together.
To be a fly on the wall for that particular meeting would be a dream come true. Imagine the kind of poetic, philosophical conversations that went on. On the other hand, the song they recorded together was a joke about boners, so who knows what really went on in that room?
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2. "Alexandra Leaving" w/ Sharon Robinson Robinson is best known specifically for her collaborations with Cohen, and she has been his songwriting partner and backup singer since 1979. However, Robinson has made numerous other songwriting contributions to other artists like Don Henley of the Eagles and Diana Ross.
Robinson is also an extremely talented singer in her own right, and showed that on this gorgeous ballad with Cohen from his 2001 album Ten New Songs. At live shows today, Robinson performs the song on her own, and stuns the audience every single time with the grace and beauty of her voice.
1. "Come Healing" w/ the Webb Sisters The Webb Sisters have now served for several tours with Cohen as his primary backup singers along with Sharon Robinson. They also made a stunning appearance on his latest album, Old Ideas, singing throughout "Come Healing" as Cohen joins in on the verses.
It is one of the greatest songs on what ended up being one of the best late-career records any artist of Cohen's age has made. If Popular Problems amounts to be anywhere near as good as Old Ideas, we're in for a treat, and hopefully the Webbs show up on this one too.
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