Leonard Cohen‘s legacy goes beyond the numerous covers of his songs, and the seemingly endless soundtrack appearances. Those things helped afford him some small measure of fame, but they never gave a full accounting of his genius. Often, Cohen discussed things that others couldn’t (or at the very least wouldn’t) like politics, sexuality, and religion. But he never pulled a punch when it came to his own frailties and, as you’ll see in this list of the Top 5 Leonard Cohen songs, he always approached things with a sharp, writer’s eye.
Even non-fans might remember Leonard Cohen reading the lyrics from this witheringly self-aware, yet somehow delightfully funny song upon his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Along the way, he makes fun of his basso-profundo voice, appears to unfavorably compare his writing style to Hank Williams Sr., and laments how time wears us all down:
On a twilit album of apocalyptic worry, “Anthem” provides a moment of lasting insight – all of it encapsulated in one line: “There is a crack, a crack in everything,” Cohen sings, before adding: “That’s how the light gets in.” Elsewhere, Cohen wrestles with bigger topics, approaching them with his usual introspective aplomb, but that one line – so full of rugged spirituality – holds everything up.
“Chelsea Hotel #2″
“Famous Blue Raincoat”
This is far from the only time that Cohen dove into the tangled web of a love triangle, but his descriptive skills put “Famous Blue Raincoat” in its own league. As Cohen wrestles with the intricacies of his main character’s response – the man’s wife, in fact, seems to be happier – we’re left with the indelible image of the lover’s raincoat, “torn at the shoulder.” In fact, every word – beginning with the devastating opening line, “It’s four in the morning, the end of December” – is simply unforgettable.
Leonard Cohen, thanks to a lengthier history as a writer, arrived to music fully formed. Need proof? “Suzanne,” the very first song on his very first album, is one of his best. As with “Hallelujah,” found next on our list of Top 5 Leonard Cohen songs, he brilliantly juxtaposes an arching Biblical theme – this time with a story of sensual beauty that nevertheless thrums with real-world emotion.
Unlike most things Cohen, this song is all but ubiquitous – seeming to appear in any television episode or movie scene meant to conjure #thefeels. And yet Cohen’s original reading somehow still holds such resonance. That’s because “Hallelujah” constantly questions its own power, rather than luxuriating in it. In that moment of wonder-filled doubt, Cohen finds new faith – and that’s something which will always speak to humanity.