Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

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Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by B4real » Wed Sep 22, 2021 11:30 pm

Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/leonard-co ... st-lyrics/
When Leonard Cohen said, “Music is the emotional life of most people,” it wasn’t just a pithy soundbite with a grain of truth, but a veracious belief that he candidly propagated throughout his career. Music is a boon and Leonard Cohen’s work harnessed what is best about a lot of art in general: he divulged hard truths with the sort of careworn beauty that triumphantly makes sense of human tragedy while offering up solace as it does so. His discography might not be perfect, but because each record lives and breathes on this principle, there is always at least one moment to savour, and it is these which we have collated below.

There is a second quote to go with this first that seemed to sum up his worldview. Shortly before he died, Cohen spoke to The New Yorker and elucidated his views on creativity, views which had transmuted over the course of his career. He recited a verse from a half-finished song that seemed to encapsulate his philosophy: “Listen to the hummingbird / Whose wings you cannot see / Listen to the hummingbird / Don’t listen to me / Listen to the mind of God / Which doesn’t need to be / Listen to the mind of God / Don’t listen to me.”

Those words illuminate the poetic way in which Cohen saw the world and his place as a creator within it. As he spoke the words like an almost mystical chanted incantation, he sunk into the same plashy mire of wisdom, reverence and exultation from which he had plucked his entire back catalogue. He then cleaned up these chunks of bliss-bleached verse and transfigured them into the gleaming boon of music, and littered them throughout a half-century worth of work which he left us before he sadly waved goodbye and stepped into the hereafter.

Poet, singer or songwriter, he wasn’t all that ardent about the labels that were applied to him, he was just happy to have his words find an ear that was willing to listen. As he declares himself in the poem Thousands: “Out of the thousands who are known, or want to be known as poets, maybe one or two are genuine and the rest are fakes, hanging around the sacred precincts, trying to look like the real thing, Needless to say I am one of the fakes, and this is my story.” Thousands is a poem that goes to show, he even had floors for humour in his gilded tower of song.

Thus, to dissolve Leonard Cohen’s lyrical career, perfuse with soulful intent and bountied with reverence, down to a top ten, seems not only impossible but a bit heavy-handed in terms of treatment of such art. That being said, he himself had no problem in sifting through the ether, picking the poignant thistle with both hands and making it easily palatable; he made that abundantly clear throughout his career.

Cohen was more than happy to leaf through his own professional life and champion the zeniths, too, having once named Recent Songs his favourite Leonard Cohen record. So, with that liberating sense of emancipation in mind, let’s delve into the back catalogue of a folk master who harnessed ‘the light in the cracks of life’ and painted the foregathered glow onto the canvas of silence, by looking at the most shining brushstrokes amid his triumphant portraits.

Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics:

‘Tonight Will Be Fine’
“And I choose the rooms that I live in with care,
The windows are small and the walls almost bare,
There’s only one bed and there’s only one prayer,
I listen all night for your step on the stair.”

Simple lyrics, simple rhythm and simple melody combine in ‘Tonight Will Be Fine’ to a spellbinding confluence of simple joy. The song is comprehensible and transparent but beautiful showing that Cohen knew all too well some of the best poetry is in the way that you say it. It is a rare thing indeed for the simplicity of the language exhibited in this song to hold such reverential power.

This track finds Cohen in a fleeting moment of contentedness, the type that the universe doles out for free every now and again, and he transposes it faithfully into song but adds a twist of the yearning for that “foot on the stair” that he knows he’ll be hopelessly hoping for by nightfall.

‘Stranger Song’
“And leaning on your window sill,
He’ll say one day you caused his will,
To weaken with your love and warmth and shelter.”

‘The Stranger Song’ is gorgeously written with some of the most poetic lyrics that have ever been put to a song. You listen along and yearn for the lines to be put to paper so that you can catch up to the rolling stream of pathos that he so casually delivers. With a steady melody and repetition of chords, he imparts a sound befitting of the subject matter.

The tale of a woman constantly providing “warmth” and “love” and “shelter” for men who are using her is a stirring exposition of life. The whole thing exhibits beauty and insight but the melody, although necessary, is not the most soaring that he has crafted.

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.”

An odd phenomenon occurs when a true music legend dies, there is a rush for everyone to distil their work down to one line. The epitaph that now defines Leonard Cohen is: “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” As far as lines go, that is not a bad one to be remembered by.

His life’s work soars on this mantra that he brilliant laid down in song. It coats trouble with a sanguine gloss without papering over the proverbial. Cohen would be the first to admit that he was imperfect and shattered, but the line celebrates the catharsis in that admission alone.

‘Bird on the Wire’
“Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried in my way to be free.”

‘Bird on the Wire’ traverses a journey from the Hydra room in which it was conceived, to the birds perched on the telephone wires that had begun to weave their way across the Greek island, through to memories of nights gone by and ultimately the Hollywood motel room where Cohen finished the song.

The brilliance of much of Cohen’s lyricism is that it etches itself on the sensibilities of any attentive listener. As such the refrain of “I have tried in my way to be free” is one that nestles into the psyche like a bird in the nest.

“Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord,
That David played, and it pleased the Lord,
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth,
The minor falls, the major lifts,
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.”

‘Hallelujah’ isn’t so much a love song as it is a song about love and a simple declaration to all other artists who would try to cling to its coat tails: why bother? Heralding from an album entitled Various Positions, the song tackles love in a more encompassing way than just about any other song has ever managed.

Written in the classic gospel timing of twelve-eight time and strewn with meta-references to musical structure, the song itself sings of a pious devotion to love, which is imbued by the religious metaphors that run throughout. This all amounts to an anthem that lifts love to rarefied heights and imparts music itself with a certain Godly hymnal salvation and its ability to offer a cathartic cleansing to a weary heart. He may well have been a poet first and a musician second, but ‘Hallelujah’ is undoubtedly his ode to sonic deliverance; even the exultant chorus is placed between personal hardships.

‘So Long, Marianne’
“Your letters, they all say that you’re beside me now,
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web,
Is fastening my ankle to a stone.”

To throw lines like “held on to me like a crucifix” and “I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web / is fastening my ankle to a stone” into something that could be considered an ‘earworm’ is a gargantuan feat that expresses his well-rounded craft and delineates the difference between poetry and lyrics that Cohen knew all too well about.

Once again Cohen delves into the complexities of love, pitting contentedness against curiosity and the happiness of lasting love alongside the thrill of fleeting lust. The song, as a whole, is an exuberant elucidation of all that music can offer, and it soars freely above workaday woes, showering down the embalming boon that Cohen’s songbook freely scatters like rays of warming sun or showers of godly rain. What towers above it all is the imagery in the words alone.

‘Tower of Song’
“I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long,
Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song.”

It is very rare for any artist to couple solemnity with a bit of a light-hearted flourish, but ‘Tower of Song’ almost seems to exhibit a sort of meta mastery that allows for a coy wink to his forebearers in song. He places himself in good company in the lineage of music but never has such posturing seemed so utterly devoid of ego, as he studiously looks to better his craft.

When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which in its own way seems laughable) he recited the lyrics to this song, betraying the fact that there is wryness to words befitting of the joy of music that he’s singing about in the first place.

‘Listen to the Hummingbird’
“Listen to the mind of God,
Which doesn’t need to be,
Listen to the mind of God,
Don’t listen to me.”

As posited in the intro to this piece Leonard Cohen’s last word on record seemed befittingly defining. And what’s more his son’s production likewise took the song back to the bare bones of the poetry that he first started out with.

The long winding chronicle of triumphs and tribulations was ruminated on at length and what he was left with was a defiant state of equanimity that James Baldwin hinted at when he wrote: “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it […] But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”

‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’
“I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
Yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
In city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
But now it’s come to distances and both of us must try,
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.”

The fatuous field of love songs is crowded with cliches, and its most well-trodden corner is the classic tale of star-crossed lovers that offers an arid terrain for any tired troubadour to traverse. Cohen, however, isn’t bothered about all the platitudes that have gone before him and he manages to bring a new level of sincerity and the mellowing wisp of wisdom to the subject.

His lyrics on the matter are so delicately picked that the verse plays out like a pastiche of an entire relationship from the giddy beginnings, to realising that you’re in the same battle as anyone else. With that, Cohen seems to recognise the place of his song amid the piles of love-lost tales that have gone before him, and his version steps aside and picnics pleasantly as the more visceral reams of regret stream by.

‘Chelsea Hotel #2’
“Well, never mind, we are ugly, but we have the music.”

Amid the unfurling poetry, jazzed up arrangements, and dry production of New Skin For The Old Ceremony is this line that holds weight like no other. Whether it is a direct quote from Janis Joplin, as Leonard Cohen’s tale surrounding the song seems to suggest, will never really be known. But what is undoubted is that it delineated the backbone of Cohen’s work and a fair chunk of the post-counterculture notion of alternative art.

Although this line might have been uttered in a hotel room with the intention of it never leaving, it has such a rich universality that it transcends the song, never mind New York’s most bohemian overnight domicile. It is a kindly comforting mantra for all the drifting demimondes. Cohen’s music, and indeed much of folk in general, is not the anthem of winners. ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ is never going to grace a Peloton advert or be used by an investment company. As Bob Dylan once said: “Folk music is just a bunch of fat people.”

However, if you strip away the brutal adjectives of “ugly” and “fat” put forth by the unflinching duo and replace it with something like ‘everyday’ you are left with the second half of the line that celebrates the beauty of the songs and how they offer salvation for the mass proletariat. In the post-Woodstock world, suffering in slumber after a slide from prelapsarian grace, Cohen’s line proclaims the humble triumph of the beautiful music that the counterculture movement had to fall back on. “Never mind… we have the music,” wasn’t so much an acquiesce to apathy but a slink back onto a bed of pillow-propped contentment, where the subversive words of the era’s troubadours remained as poignant as ever even if they hadn’t toppled the empires of power.
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by AlanM » Thu Sep 23, 2021 9:21 am

Hi Bev,
Thank you for posting this. It is always interesting to read other people's thoughts on this topic.
However, as we both know, that's all it is - just someone else's opinion.
My own top ten would be different, as I'm sure so would the choices of many people on this forum.
Even where there is overlap, I would choose different lines from the common songs as they mean more to me.
For example in The Stranger Song:
And while he talks his dreams to sleep
You notice there's a highway
That is curling up like smoke above his shoulder
It's curling just like smoke above his shoulder

Also my top 3 were not even included.

So, interesting, but not definitive, however anything that spreads Leonard's work to a wider audience can't be bad.

Best wishes,

Too much Leonard Cohen is never enough.
London 1972, Adelaide 1980, 1985, 2009
Sydney 2010; Adelaide 2010
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by B4real » Fri Sep 24, 2021 12:24 am

Ah, Alan, you know I had to post that link because it contained LC's lyrics ;-)
And yes, everyone has their own favourite lyrics and that's a good thing!
I do agree with those of 3 songs here being Anthem, Bird On The Wire and Chelsea Hotel but that doesn't mean they are in my top 3, except for Anthem :)
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by B4real » Sat Sep 25, 2021 4:58 am

I've just spent half an hour very quickly looking at my book with LC's lyrics and noting down those lines which instantly caught my eye at the moment. Now I know we've done this before a few times in the past posting favourite (or best for you) LC lyrics but there are all songs to consider :) Anyway, here's some old and new lines that move me -

I’m good at love
I’m good at hate
It's in between I freeze...
~A Thousand Kisses Deep

I have begun to long for you,
I who have no need;
I have begun to ask for you,
I who have no greed
You say you've gone away from me,
but I can feel you when you breathe.
~ Avalanche

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life...
~ Famous Blue Raincoat

I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you...
~ Hallelujah

I'm not looking for another as I wander in my time,
walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme...
~ Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye

If the sea was sand alone
And the flowers made of stone...
~ If I Didn’t Have Your Love

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before...
~ If It Be Your Will

The child I never knew
My lullaby in blue...
~ Lullaby In Blue

I'm a fool, but I think I can heal it
with this song.
~ Minute Prologue

This was your heart
This swarm of flies
This was once your mouth
This bowl of lies...
~ Nevermind

Yes, and here's to the few
Who forgive what you do
And the fewer who don't even care...
~ Night Comes On

I lit a thin green candle, to make you jealous of me...
~ One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong

You smiled at me like I was young
It took my breath away...
~ On The Level

I felt so good I couldn't feel a thing...
~ Paper Thin Hotel

and all your armour has turned to lace...
~ Priests

I'm not much nourished by modern love...
~ Queen Victoria

I'm cold as a new razor blade...
~ So Long Marianne

I floated, floated like a seed.....
~ Standing On The Stairs

And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook…
~ Take This Waltz

Next Tuesday, when the sun goes down,
I will play the Moonlight Sonata backwards...
~ The Great Event

Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows...
~ The Old Revolution

My page was too white
My ink was too thin
The day wouldn’t write
What the night pencilled in...
~ The Hills

Now the solitudes vary
They go from nothing to loud
If you're buying lonely
Take the one with the crowd...
~ The Law

A sun tanned woman yawned me through the summer...
~ The Traitor (actually, you could say the whole song) ;-)

Oh chosen love, Oh frozen love
Oh tangle of matter and ghost
Oh darling of angels, demons and saints
And the whole broken-hearted host
Gentle this soul...
~ The Window

And I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill...
~ Treaty

The autumn slipped across your skin
Got something in my eye
A light that doesn’t need to live
And doesn’t need to die...
~ You Came To Me

You got me singing
Even though the world is gone
You got me thinking
That I'd like to carry on.
You got me singing
Even tho’ it all went wrong
You got me singing
The Hallelujah song.
~ You Got Me Singing

You know who I am,
you've stared at the sun,
well I am the one who loves
changing from nothing to one.
~ You Know Who I Am
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by AlanM » Sat Sep 25, 2021 6:18 am

I would also chose many of those.

Too much Leonard Cohen is never enough.
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by its4inthemorning » Sat Sep 25, 2021 11:47 pm

So many lyrics to choose from. Couldn't control myself and choose 10, here are 15 that I really like a lot.

Complain, complain, that's all you've done
Ever since we lost
If it's not the Crucifixion
Then it's the Holocaust

The ponies run, the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat
You win a while, and then it's done--
Your little winning streak

We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky,
and lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye

Shouldering your loneliness
like a gun that you will not learn to aim

Well, I stepped into an avalanche,
it covered up my soul

And if by chance I wake at night and I ask you who I am,
O take me to the slaughterhouse, I will wait there with the lamb

You got me singing
Like a prisoner in a jail
You got me singing
Like my pardon's in the mail

There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
and the ones who say there isn't

Steer your way past the ruins of the Altar and the Mall
Steer your way through the fables of Creation and The Fall
Steer your way past the Palaces that rise above the rot
Year by year, month by month, day by day
Thought by thought

Too early for the rainbow, too early for the dove
These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood

The rain falls down on last year's man
That's a Jew's harp on the table
That's a crayon in his hand
And the corners of the blueprint are ruined since they rolled
Far past the stems of thumb tacks
That still throw shadows on the wood

Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

When you've fallen on the highway
and you're lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you're doing
of course you say you can't complain--
If you're squeezed for information,
that's when you've got to play it dumb;
You just say you're out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come

Ah the last time we say you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by B4real » Sun Sep 26, 2021 1:04 am

Ha! 4, Talk about controlling yourself, I didn't even count the number of different lyrics I posted above til just now! There are 29 so I thought I would make it an even number of 30.
...and that's not counting those 3 I liked in the initial post from faroutmagazine ;-)

"Look at me, Leonard
Look at me one last time, one last time."
~ Because Of
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by yentek » Sun Sep 26, 2021 2:27 am

O lady with your legs so fine
O stranger at your wheel
you are locked in to your suffering
and your pleasures are the seal
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by Magy » Mon Sep 27, 2021 3:05 pm

A weekend on your lips
A lifetime in your eyes


With one hand on the hexagram and one hand on the girl
I balance on a wishing well that all men call the world.
We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky,
and lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye.

Stories of the street

But everything will happen if he only gives the word;
the lovers will rise up
and the mountains touch the ground.

Last Year's Man

Ah, lover come and lie with me, if my lover is who you are,
And be your sweetest self awhile until I ask for more, my child
Then let the other selves be rung, yeah, let them manifest and come
till every taste is on the tongue,
till love is pierced and love is hung,
and every kind of freedom done, then oh,
oh my love, oh my love, oh my love,
oh my love, oh my love, oh my love.

Alternative Verses

Oh, love come and lie with me, if my lover is who you really are,
And be your sweetest self at first, till we come see the deeper thirst
Then go to where the selves are from, summon them and let them come
Till love is pierced and love is hung, And every taste is on the tongue,
And every kind of freedom done, then oh,
Oh my love, oh my love, oh my love, Oh my love, oh my love, oh my love,
Oh my love, oh my love, oh my love. Oh my love, oh my love, oh my love.

Field Commander Cohen

Be the truth unsaid
And the blessing gone,
If I forget
My Babylon

By the rivers dark

Don't matter if the road is long
Don't matter if it's steep
Don't matter if the moon is gone
And the darkness is complete
Don't matter if we lose our way
It's written that we'll meet
At least, that's what I heard you say
A thousand kisses deep

Thousand Kisses Deep

And she says, Drink deeply, pilgrim
but don't forget there's still a woman
beneath this
resplendent chemise.

Light As The Breeze

Oh the world is sweet
the world is wide
and she's there where
the light and the darkness divide
and the steam's coming off her
she's huge and she's shy
and she steps on the moon
when she paws at the sky

Ballade of the absent mare

Yeah but I remember, yeah when I moved in you,
And the holy dove, she was moving too,
Yes every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah.


And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone;
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon.

Here is your cross,
Your nails and your hill;
And here is your love,
That lists where it will.

Here it is

I haven't said a word since you've been gone
That any liar couldn't say as well
I just can't believe the static coming on
You were my ground - my safe and sound
You were my aerial


I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
Saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long..., I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and must it..., must it be so very bright?

Joan Of Arc

Moving through the world
And mind itself is magic
Coursing through the flesh
And flesh itself is magic
Dancing on a clock
And time itself
The magic length of God
God is alive, magic is afoot . . .

God is Alive, Magic is A Foot
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by Magy » Wed Sep 29, 2021 7:18 pm

In the poem, Suzanne Takes You Down, from Cohen's collection, Parasites of Heaven (1966), the penultimate line of the last chorus is:
and you‘re sure that she can find you

Leonard Cohen has often sung this line when he sang Suzanne in concert: And you know she will find you
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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by vlcoats » Sat Oct 09, 2021 1:42 am

Pick my favorite lyrics?
I will not, cannot, even try.
They are always changing.

I don't trust my inner feelings, inner feelings come and go....

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Re: Leonard Cohen’s ten best lyrics

Post by ScottM » Fri Oct 15, 2021 5:30 pm

I'll try to say a little more
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then love itself
Love itself was gone.........
2008: Dublin/London (O2)-Jul 17/London (O2)-Nov 13/London (RAH)/Brighton
2009: Liverpool/Madrid/Barcelona
2010: Sligo x2/Lille/Las Vegas x2
2012: Ghent/Amsterdam/London x2/Dublin Sep 11&12/Paris Sep 28
2013: London (O2) Jun 21/Brighton/Manchester/Cardiff/Birmingham/Amsterdam
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