Songs of Leonard Cohen: Cohen’s sweet, moody debut is a uniquely-crafted folk rock masterpiece



“I’m cold as a new razor blade,” declares Leonard Cohen on “So Long, Marianne,” one of his signature songs and the sixth track of his debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen. Released through Columbia Records in 1967, it’s nearing its 55th birthday at the end of the month, and Cohen’s expertly crafted lyrics and melodies undoubtedly hold up today.

I really can’t praise this album enough. I listen to it often and in its entirety. For me, a real highlight is the album’s production. Many detractors complain that producer John Simon’s arrangements are far too lush to accompany Cohen’s masterful acoustic guitar work and conversational, intimate lyrics but I feel that it gives the album a unique feel that’s like no other. The production is lush, but not too lush, allowing all of the musical elements played by the session musicians to come through and have their spotlight during the song. For example, the accordions, chimes(?), and the “mechanical gear noise” on “Sisters of Mercy” create the atmosphere of a wonderful European toy store. Cohen himself disliked some of the production choices and fought to have them stripped back before the album’s release. His sophomore work, Songs from a Room, features the sparse production that he preferred–I feel, however, that this led to many of the songs sounding very similar, especially with the musical similarities between “So Long, Marianne” and “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes”.

Another particular highlight is Cohen’s lyrics–they’re intimate, reflective, delicate, abstract, and everything in between. Cohen’s previous expertise in poetry very clearly shines through and helps to create the dark, lonesome atmosphere of the finished work. “Teachers”, my personal favorite track, features what I consider to be some of the best writing on the whole album–Cohen’s spectacular, abstract storytelling style is on full display along with his fast-picked guitar and various Middle Eastern instruments.

Two bonus tracks are featured on the CD release–”Store Room” and “Blessed Is the Memory”. Both evoke feelings of middle-period Simon & Garfunkel around the time of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme–the songs even feature drums and organs. Both are really fantastic tracks that I enjoy more than a couple of the actually released songs on the album–my personal favorite of the two is “Store Room”. I speculate that they were ultimately never included because of the previously mentioned extra instrumentation and Cohen’s distaste for it.

Overall, I feel it’s a hugely important album in Cohen’s musically-diverse oeuvre and is only the beginning of his amazing, soul-baring career. Everytime that I listen to it, I feel like I discover something new in his lyrics–a new interpretation, a new idea of what he’s trying to get across. I would recommend everyone to go listen to it on a quiet, rainy night–creates a tremendous atmosphere–and I can’t say enough how great it is.