One Very Underrated Song from Every Leonard Cohen Album

“Suzanne.” “Bird on a Wire.” “Hallelujah.” “Everybody Knows.” We could go on and on with a list of Leonard Cohen songs that have become nothing less than modern standards thanks to his immense songwriting skills. Cohen’s ability shone through on lesser-known songs as well. It’s just that those songs don’t get the same kind of exposure.

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We’re here to right that wrong. Here’s a look at one song from each of Cohen’s 14 studio albums that deserve classic status.

“The Stranger Song” (from Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967)

His stellar debut is jam-packed with unforgettable tracks. Because it doesn’t have a flashy hook, “The Stranger Song” might get a little lost in the shuffle. But Cohen’s use of the language is at its peak, and the flickering guitar creates a kind of trance-like state that’s unlike anything else on the record.

“Tonight Will Be Fine” (from Songs from a Room, 1969)

This song comes off in an unassuming manner, what with the simple bass notes and twanging accompaniment. Yet when you follow it along, you realize that it’s a moving portrait of a man trying to take in every last bit of goodness from a relationship, because he knows it’s about to end.

“Sing Another Song, Boys” (from Songs of Love and Hate, 1971)

Cohen threw audiences a bit of a curveball by including this live song on an album that’s otherwise filled with studio tracks. It turned out to be a good idea, since it manages to build over and again to some exciting levels, thanks to the rising melody and Cohen’s engaged performance.

“A Singer Must Die” (from New Skin for the Old Ceremony, 1974)

Cohen puts himself ironically on trial and then convicts himself in this unheralded track. The lyrics ended up taking a turn for the tough (Their knee in your balls and their fist in your face.) In the end, his simple la-la refrains say as much about the power of music as his eloquent lyrics.

“Paper Thin Hotel” (from Death of a Ladies Man, 1977)

Cohen’s infamous pairing with producer Phil Spector ended up more a curiosity than an essential part of the man’s catalog. But “Paper Thin Hotel,” which finds Cohen slipping into a familiar pop-ballad melody as he (maybe facetiously) suggests that learning of a lover’s infidelity is the best thing to happen to him, is a winner.

“Ballad of the Absent Mare” (from Recent Songs, 1979)

Recent Songs delivered an excellent return to form for Cohen, and there were several candidates for this list on the album. We went with the epic album-closer, in which he indulges in some Western clichés in an allegory about the inevitable twists and turns of a long-term love affair.

“Coming Back to You” (from Various Positions, 1984)

Cohen finds a nice little country-soul niche here, which allows him to deliver a straightforward yet affecting melody. The title might suggest that this is a reunion song. But when you delve into the lyrics, you realize that it’s really about how the fickleness of human nature often keeps us from those we need the most.

“I Can’t Forget” (from I’m Your Man, 1988)

There’s something almost surprising about the slinky beat that introduces this song. Cohen certainly seems to enjoy luxuriating within it. It’s a touching little ode to love’s ability to withstand the deficiencies brought about my old age. The summer’s gone but a lot goes on forever, he promises.

“Closing Time” (from The Future, 1992)

This feels like it can stand with any of Cohen’s verbose anthems, yet it doesn’t get that kind of attention. Maybe it’s the musical backdrop, with woozy synths battling for time with old-timey strings. That setup actually keeps things fresh as Cohen rolls his way through verse after verse of love’s ups and downs.

“Alexandra Leaving” (from Ten New Songs, 2001)

Cohen sings a touching duet with Sharon Robinson on this track, she high and ethereal, he deep and resigned. It’s an ingenious song, one where the narrator tries to convince a man about to be left behind by his lover not to kid himself about the reality of the situation.

“The Faith” (from Dear Heather, 2004)

Cohen borrowed the melody of this song from a 19th-century Canadian song about exiles. He turns it into a kind of dirge. As the narrator looks through the pain and suffering of human history, he wonders when it might end, or if it ever will.

“Come Healing” (from Old Ideas, 2012)

An odd sort of beauty always emerged when Cohen’s deep bellow contrasted with high, sweet female vocalists. Here, he lets the girls take the whole first verse to really play up the difference. It’s a beauty of a melody as well, one that begs for mercy, in its way, just as the lyrics do.

Cohen’s voice somehow managed to get more expressive as his range diminished. By the end of this track, he’s coming at us in a husky growl to make it known just how aggrieved he is by the tragedy and injustice of Hurricane Katrina, in a city better than America.

“Leaving the Table” (from You Want It Darker, 2016)

As he came closer to his parting hour, Cohen addressed with insight and tenderness the need to let bygones go right on by. Nowhere does he do it in more touching fashion than this sauntering ballad. Knowing that the brass ring of a perfect relationship is impossible, he settles here for the consolation of simple civility.

“The Goal” (from Thanks for the Dance, 2019)

With Thanks for the Dance, Cohen took advantage of one more chance for Settling at last / Accounts of the soul, as he calls it here in this spoken-word piece. Barely more than a minute long, “The Goal” sparkles with its honesty and bravery, and leaves us with Cohen’s touching conclusion that the goal / Falls short of the reach.

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