The musical and lyrical perfection of “Songs Of Leonard Cohen”

The debut album by Leonard Cohen was released on this day in 1967

The musical and lyrical perfection of “Songs Of Leonard Cohen”

“Songs of Leonard Cohen” is the debut album by Canadian folk singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released on December 27, 1967. Cohen 50-year-old debut record still holds up as perhaps his most essential work. He poured a lot of his life into these first songs, and many of them remain at the core of Cohen’s canon: Suzanne, Sisters Of Mercy, So Long, Marianne and Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. Cohen ( who passed away on November 7, 2016, at age 82 ) still looms as such a large figure in music because he never followed expectations or conventional wisdom, building the kind of career and biography that will never be replicated. Songs of Leonard Cohen is an ideal entry point into a lengthy, impressive career that never followed any kind of straightforward path. Cohen announced himself in the most extraordinary way with the song “Suzanne,” the immortal opening track of Songs. He narrates an encounter by a river with a dream-like vision of a woman, with whom he draws explicit parallels to Jesus Christ. “Sisters of Mercy,” which closes side one, is one of the album’s true joys. Written about two hitchhikers Cohen met in Edmonton and scored with celebratory percussion, “Sisters” is a simple ode to human interaction and spontaneous gifts, as Cohen thanks the two women for inspiring this song. Many of these tracks are about people he has crossed paths with, especially women who have inspired him, and they’re all poetic ballads and epics in the folk and storytelling tradition. Unlike many other folk singers of his era, Leonard Cohen was never known for acidic wit or complexly funny turns of phrase, and he stays remarkably clear-headed throughout Songs. While Dylan would tell a departing lover, “You just kind of wasted my precious time,” Cohen offers only, “Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.” Cohen’s singing voice was dry and limited and never likely to connect with mainstream pop tastes but he imbues his extraordinary lyrics with introspective commitment. These songs are worldly, detailed and multi-faceted which is understandable, considering Cohen was already an accomplished writer before his music career and didn’t release this album until he was 33. To listen to Leonard Cohen sing in that uniquely transfixing voice was to learn and to live, to dream of and to believe in a vision of the world only someone as strange and thoughtful and beautiful as him could truly understand. “Songs Of Leonard Cohen”, besides containing many of Cohen’s most beloved and oft-covered songs, it’s musical and lyrical perfection.

Side 1
1 “Suzanne”
2 “Master Song”
3 “Winter Lady”
4 “The Stranger Song”
5 “Sisters of Mercy”

Side 2
6 “So Long, Marianne”
7 “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
8 “Stories of the Street”
9 “Teachers”
10 “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong”

All songs written by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen: vocals, acoustic guitar
Jimmy Lovelace: drums (“So Long, Marianne”)
Nancy Priddy: vocals (“Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne”, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”)
Willy Ruff: bass (“So Long, Marianne”, “Stories of the Street”)
Chester Crill, Chris Darrow, Solomon Feldthouse, David Lindley: flute, mandolin, Jew’s harp, violin, various Middle Eastern instruments (“Master Song”, “Winter Lady”, “Sisters of Mercy”, “So Long, Marianne”, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”, “Stories of the Street”, “Teachers”)

Produced by: John Simon
Recorded during: October – November 1967 at Columbia Studio E, New York
Released: December 27th, 1967
Label: Columbia

None released

Strongest tracks:

Watch a clip with footage and photographs of Leonard Cohen for the song “So Long, Marianne”


Watch Leonard Cohen performing “Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” live in London

Listen to “Songs Of Leonard Cohen” on Spotify

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David Warren

David Warren is editor and author for Pop Expresso reach out at

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