Hear For The First Time: Leonard Cohen’s Early Studio Recording Of Joan of Arc

Maarten Massa, a stalwart member of the Cohen clerisy, writes

I was reading your posts regarding Joan of Arc1 and reading Tom Sakic’s interpretation of the male-female pattern and the recitation versus the sung parts in the song reminded me of a precious item in my collection which I have dug up for you.

A few years ago, I acquired (read: I was willing to pay the most for) an acetate disk on sale on eBay which contained songs from Leonard’s superb 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate.

And although the first two songs on that one-sided 3-track acetate disk didn’t surprise me, the final track surely did!

The first two tracks were the standard album versions of Avalanche and Last Year’s Man, but the third and final track, Joan of Arc, made me smile the first time I heard it. This version is slightly but significantly different than the album version: this early mix lacks Leonard’s spoken word / recitation of the first and final verses that was part of the final album version we all have come to love so deeply.

Despite the age (dating from the early 70s, this item is nearly 50 years old) and the medium (acetate disks are more subject to wear and tear than commercial LP records), the sound quality is exceptional. Because of my limited audio capacity (I couldn’t hear the difference between a do or a fa if my life depended on it) and musicological skills, I engaged Lennard Torbijn from The Netherlands to pitch correct the original track to present the best possible version of this rarity.

Until now, this gem hasn’t been available anywhere. But perhaps it’s time to let it go and let it find its place in the world, so I’m sending you this recording of the Joan of Arc from this particular acetate, along with a couple of photos of the disk, label and Transco inner record sleeve in which it came. Feel free to post this as a follow up on your Joan of Arc dossier series which I very much enjoyed reading.

Leonard Cohen In The Studio

This recording is almost certainly an early studio version of Joan of Arc. These excerpts from Acetates and Test Pressings – Souvenirs of Record Production are explanatory:

Acetates are made for two purposes – to evaluate a recording and its suitability for pressing records and to use in the production of the finished product itself.

Sometimes, artists have acetates prepared of songs just to hear how they sound as a record, though they may not have any intention of releasing them commercially. These may be working versions of songs that are later changed before release or songs that aren’t intended to be released at all. On other occasions, acetates may be cut of “working” versions of albums, where the order of the songs may not be final.

Of course, recording “working versions of songs that are later changed before release” would be consistent with Leonard Cohen’s habitual revision of his songs. He routinely wrote multiple polished verses and then discarded all except the most pristine lines before presenting his work to the public.

In this case, Leonard’s methodology has resulted in this opportunity to us to hear one of his works in progress.

 

 

 

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc
Early Acetate Recording2

 

 

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc
Studio Version: Songs Of Love And Hate

 

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  1. See Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen – A Dossier and Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen: The Concert Performances – Including Some Duets You (Probably) Haven’t Heard []
  2. Update: Alan Mawhinney performed some technological magic on the audio file of Joan of Arc, rendering it truer to the original acetate recording. []

8 thoughts on “Hear For The First Time: Leonard Cohen’s Early Studio Recording Of Joan of Arc

  1. A superb recording, I just loved singing along to the chorus…..completely uplifting. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks so much–I may be in the minority, but I have always found the voice over distracting from the beauty of the song.

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