Oddly, there seems to be no comprehensive, accurate list of covers by Leonard Cohen – until now.
Cover Song Definition
At least part of the problem previously seems to have been the definition of cover song. The description offered by Wikipedia is representative:
A new performance or recording by someone other than the original artist or composer of a previously recorded, commercially released song.
While that explanation seems straightforward enough, it results in flawed algorithms, employed on covers sites such as SecondHandSongs, which has Leonard covering “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” by Judy Collins and “Ain’t No Cure for Love” and “First We Take Manhattan” by Jennifer Warnes. Yep, according to that definition, Leonard Cohen should be considered to have covered songs he wrote that happened to be released first by other artists.
So, I’ve created admittedly an arbitrary but, to my mind, more logical definition of Leonard’s covers. Leonard’s covers fall into two categories: Covers In Leonard Cohen’s Repertoire & Leonard Cohen’s Specialty Covers. Regardless of category, Leonard Cohen covers are songs – not lines written as or performed as poems, which would exponentially complicate matters. Moreover, performances are eligible as covers if they include at least one recognizable line of the original song.
Covers In Leonard Cohen’s Repertoire are songs with lyrics written by someone other than Leonard Cohen, which were previously released by another artist(s), that were performed repeatedly by Leonard Cohen in concert or released on one or more of his studio albums:
- Always: By Irving Berlin. Released on The Future (1992).
- Be For Real: By Frederick Knight. Released on The Future (1992).
- Choices: By Billy Yates and Mike Curtis, popularized by George Jones. First performed by Leonard Cohen at his Apr 26, 2013 Winnipeg concert. (See “Choices” Performed By Leonard Cohen – A Dossier)
- La Manic: By Georges Dor. First performed by Leonard Cohen at his Nov 29, 2012 Montreal concert. (See La Manic Performed By Leonard Cohen – A Dossier)
- Passing Through: By Richard Blakeslee, popularized by Pete Seeger, The Highwaymen, Cisco Houston, Earl Scruggs, & others. Performed in concerts from the 1970s through the 1990s. Also released on Live Songs (1973). (See Leonard Cohen Performs Passing Through With Hand Whistle – Bonn 1980)
- Save The Last Dance For Me: By Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, popularized in 1960 by Ben E. King with The Drifters. First performed by Leonard Cohen at his Aug 12, 2012 Ghent concert and at most shows thereafter. (See Leonard Cohen, Doc Pomus, Phil Spector, & “Save The Last Dance For Me”)
- Un Canadien Errant: By Antoine Gérin-Lajoie (1842). Released (as The Lost Canadian) on Recent Songs (1979).
- Whither Thou Goest: By Guy Singer (1954). Performed in concert intermittently beginning in 1988.
- The Partisan: By Anna Marly with lyrics by Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie. The most popular version is the English adaptation by Hy Zaret, which is the basis for Leonard’s cover. Released on Songs From A Room (1969) and performed in concert through 2013.
- Go No More A-Roving: By Lord Byron. Released on Dear Heather (2004)
- Tennessee Waltz: By Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King, popularized by Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys, Cowboy Copas, Les Paul, Patti Page, and others. Released on Dear Heather (2004).
- Villanelle For Our Time: By Frank Scott. Released on Dear Heather (2004).
- Die Gedanken Sind Frei: Traditional German song. Origins unknown. Popularized by The Weavers and Pete Seeger. Performed by Leonard Cohen in ten 1976 concerts, including Hamburg: April 24, 1976.
- Kevin Barry: Irish rebel song recounting the death of Kevin Barry, a member of the Irish Republican Army who was hanged on 1 November 1920. Author unknown. Performed by Leonard Cohen in six 1972 concerts. (See Rare Recording Of Leonard Cohen Singing Kevin Barry – 1972)
- You Are My Sunshine: Unknown origin. Popularized by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell in 1939. Performed by Leonard Cohen at three 1976 shows.
Leonard Cohen’s Specialty Covers are songs with lyrics written by someone other than Leonard Cohen, which were previously released by another artist(s), that were performed by Leonard Cohen only in soundchecks, interviews, TV appearances, on albums by other artists, or as a one-off in concert:
- Regina: By Harold Tipton. Popularized by Lester Flatt. Performed by Leonard Cohen on a 1970 French TV video and at an unpaid gig at the Henderson, a therapeutic community in Sutton on the southern edge of London. ( See “The Real Story Of Leonard Cohen Singing “Arms Of Regina” – Hints: It Involves Flatt & Scruggs And There Is No Song Called “Arms Of Regina”)
- Red River Valley: Folk song with uncertain origins. Performed by Leonard Cohen in soundchecks, including Dec 1979 at the Odeon in Birmingham.
- Can’t Help Falling in Love: By Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss. Popularized by Elvis Presley. Performed by Leonard Cohen in his 1988 Oslo show and in 1988 BBC Interview. (See 1988 Video Interview: Leonard Cohen On Romance, Poetry, Suicide, Janis Joplin, Sergio Leone, & Cigarettes)
- Born to Lose: By Ted Daffan. Popularized by Ray Charles. Performed by Leonard Cohen and Elton John on the 1993 Duets Album. (See Elton John Calls Leonard Cohen Concert “One of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. It was like a religious experience” + Elton & Leonard Duet Born To Lose)
- To Love Somebody: By Barry and Robin Gibb. Popularized by the Bee Gees. Performed by Leonard Cohen at his November 5, 1980 Eppelheim concert (See “I know that some girls like my songs, but a lot more like the Bee Gees.” Leonard Cohen Performs To Love Somebody By The Bee Gees – 1980)
- Silent Night: By Franz Xaver Gruber (music) and Joseph Mohr (lyrics). Performed by Leonard Cohen at his December 15, 1979 Brighton show. (See Leonard Cohen & Jennifer Warnes Sing Silent Night – 1979)
- Chiquita Banana Song: By an ad agency team led by Robert Foreman. Foreman and his staff using office talent, an old piano and a box of paper clips shaken to simulate maracas. Garth Montgomery wrote the lyrics and co-worker Len MacKenzie provided the music. Performed by Leonard Cohen on the October 25, 1991 episode of Much Music TV (Much Music TV Studio, Toronto, Ontario, Canada). (See “I´m a Chiquita banana and I’ve come to say” Leonard Cohen Goes Bananas: Banana Song Performance Video, I’m Your (Banana-Munching) Man Cover Art, & More)
- Az Der Rebe Zingt: Yiddish folk song. Performed by Leonard Cohen at June 14, 1976 Vienna concert. (See Rare Leonard Cohen Performance Of Az Der Rebe Zingt – Vienna 1976)
- Beloved Comrade: Lyrics by Lewis Allen (aka Abel Meeropol) and music by Fred Kat. Leonard Cohen first learned the song as a teenager during summer camp from The People’s Songbook. Performed by Leonard Cohen at his Sept 7, 1974 Paris, Parc de la Courneuve concert. (See Video: Leonard Cohen’s Only Performance Of “Beloved Comrade”At Fête de l’Humanité Show – Paris 1974)
- Banks Of Marble: By Les Rice. Popularized by Pete Seeger. Performed by Leonard Cohen at his April 6, 1972 Frankfurt show.
- Solidarity Forever (aka The Union Makes Us Strong): Written by Ralph Chaplin for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1915. Sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Performed by Leonard Cohen and his band, including Sharon Robinson and Jennifer Warnes, at the Dec 8, 1979 Birmingham soundcheck. (See Leonard Cohen Performs Solidarity Forever At 1979 Birmingham Soundcheck)
- Streets Of Laredo: Traditional ballad. Popularized by Johnny Cash, Johnny Western, Joan Baez, Burl Ives, Jim Reeves, Roy Rogers, Marty Robbins, Chet Atkins, Arlo Guthrie, Norman Luboff Choir, Rex Allen, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and many others. Performed by Leonard Cohen in 1979.
- We Shall Not Be Moved: Traditional spiritual. Performed by Leonard Cohen at Yad Eliahu Sports Palace, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1972.
- Old Paint (Ride Around Little Dogies): By Fred Hellerman, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert. Performed by Leonard Cohen in 1979 tour.
- Another Saturday Night: By Sam Cooke. Performed by Leonard Cohen at March 8, 1980 Melbourne show.
- La Marseillaise: By Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. Performed by Leonard Cohen at his 1976 Reims show (a few lines)1 and at his 1979 Paris concert.2