Songs of Leonard Cohen is the debut album of Canadian musician Leonard Cohen. It foreshadowed the future path of his career, with less success in the United States and far better in Europe, reaching #83 on the Billboard chart but achieving gold status only in 1989, while it reached #13 in UK and spent nearly a year and a half in the UK album charts.
Cohen's lonely and emotional songs were informed by his literate approach, part and parcel to a burgeoning singer/songwriter movement in popular music. Seen by later critics as a reaction against the psychedelic band-oriented styles (as were the country-rock developments of 1968 and 1969) enjoying a vogue in 1967, determining whether indeed the singer-songwriters were 'reacting against' the baroque tapestries of Sgt. Pepper or the San Francisco bands is problematic.
Instigated by the work of Bob Dylan, singer-songwriters appeared to be folk singers on the surface, but were not allied to the folk movement's politics or repertoire, instead performing original material in styles at times reminiscent of the folk singers of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Songs of Leonard Cohen was one of the first in this new sub-genre, along with the debut albums of Laura Nyro, Tim Buckley, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, propelling the approach to an eventual position of dominance in the early 1970s. Judy Collins, one of the first of the 'traditional' folk singers to champion new writers such as Mitchell and Cohen, along with actor Noel Harrison previously had hits performing the song "Suzanne" (in 1966 and 1967 respectively).
Cohen and John Simon, producer and musical director, managed to give the album a distinct sound while also relying on typical sixties effects such as instruments panning from channel to channel. Although Cohen was granted much freedom in the recording process, they did not always agree on how the record should be mixed. Finally, Simon departed for his Christmas holiday and left the final mix to the artist himself. In a 2001 interview Cohen told British music magazine Mojo: "We did have a falling out over the song "Suzanne." He wanted a heavy piano syncopated and maybe drums and I didn't want drums on any of my songs, so that was a bone of contention."
On some of the tracks Cohen was backed by strings, the band Kaleidoscope and Nancy Priddy's vocals. The original producer was John Hammond, who signed Cohen to Columbia, but he was replaced by Simon because of health problems.
"Suzanne", which begins and ends as an ode to a "half-crazy" woman capable of personal connection, contains a discussion of Jesus in the second verse which has been removed in at least one cover of the song, "Suzanne" was ranked 41st on Pitchfork Media's 'Top 200 Songs of the 1960s'. The track "So Long, Marianne" also featured on the list – ranked 190th.
Three of the album's songs, "Winter Lady," "The Stranger Song," and "Sisters of Mercy," were used in the 1971 Robert Altman film McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Songs of Leonard Cohen was released on CD in 1989, while a digipak edition was released in some European countries in 2003. A remastered version, with bonus tracks, was released in the United States on April 24, 2007, and in Japan on June 20, 2007. The Japanese version was a limited edition replica of the original record album cover with lyric card insert.
In 2009, the album (including the 2007 bonus tracks) was included in Hallelujah - The Essential Leonard Cohen Album Collection, an 8-CD box set issued by Sony Music in the Netherlands.
On the vinyl and remastered versions is a picture of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes in a fire looking towards heaven. According to the liner notes, apparently Cohen had collected the picture when he was much younger.
- Master Song
- Winter Lady
- The Stranger Song
- Sisters of Mercy
- So Long, Marianne
- Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye
- Stories of the Street
- One of Us Cannot Be Wrong
- Store Room (remastered)
- Blessed Is the Memory (remastered)