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Leonard Cohen was a great songwriter. He was a poet that wrote poems and those poems became songs when he decided to sing them, instead of just read them aloud.
Of course, when you write excellent songs, you’ll have numerous other excellent bands and solo artists lining up to cover your work. And some of them might even transcend your original versions in popularity and commercial success. Such as it is with Leonard Cohen, who has been covered many times over, and even had just the one of his songs covered thousands of times (I’m sure you can guess of which song I speak). If you ask my wife, though, she’ll tell you that Mr. Cohen is tops on the list of artists that should never be covered and that no one can come close to touching his versions. Conversely, my friend Tim has said to me on more than one occasion that he likes Leonard Cohen’s songs, but only when someone else performs them.
And I’m pretty near certain that these words were first uttered by him whilst listening to the 1991 tribute album, “I’m your fan”. This excellent 18-song compilation was put together French music magazine, “Les Inrockuptibles”. The album’s title is a play on Cohen’s 1988 album, “I’m your man”, and its track listing included varied versions of Cohen tunes by artists such as Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch, House of Love, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Lloyd Cole, John Cale, James, R.E.M., and of course, this excellent cover by the Pixies.
Recorded in the same year as “Trompe le monde”, their final album before dissolution, the Pixies’ version of “I can’t forget” was unsurprisingly more upbeat and hard-hitting than the original. Indeed, it could almost be mistaken for one of their own tunes, if it had only been a bit more weird and off-kilter. Cohen’s original was recorded a mere three years earlier for the aforementioned album, “I’m your man”, and while all of its songs were great – classics now – it took me a while to get over its production and instrumentation, which were synth heavy and definitely of their time and place.
Sorry Victoria. I think I’d take the heavy guitars, faster rhythm, and Frank Black’s yelp and Kim Deal’s chiming backup over the easier listening marimba synth-programmed hangover, even if it does include Cohen’s inimitable, rich sing-speak vocals.
What about you? What are your thoughts?
For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.