Leonard Cohen's Album Titles

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John Etherington
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Leonard Cohen's Album Titles

Post by John Etherington » Sat Aug 09, 2014 1:43 pm

Leonard’s album titles often appear to have the least priority in his work. They are virtually all succinct and to some degree unimaginative. Let’s consider them one by one (I will give my initial impressions on each).

Songs of Leonard Cohen : This seemed appropriate as Leonard had previously been known only as a poet. The straightforward title and sepia-toned photo followed the trend of albums like Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding” which was an exercise in subtlety after the excesses of psychedelia.

Songs from a Room: I love this title, and the front cover and title are appropriately minimalist. This was not a man seeking global attention, it was someone speaking personally to each of those who resonated with it. One wonders how different it might have seemed if the back cover of Marianne had been used on the front.

Songs of Love and Hate: My first reaction to the stark bold lettering was “Oh no!”. It came across as the scream of a desperate man. When I heard the album it all made sense, and I came to embrace the cover.

Live Songs: Back to basics. I love this mainly understated album. The cover makes more of a statement than the title.

New Skin For The Old Ceremony
I was not sure about the title when I first heard it, but found it interesting. At first it seemed primarily sexual with the graphic cover image, but I had recently started reading Jung’s work and was intrigued by the alchemical symbolism.

Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits: I remember NME saying “What hits? This man has never had a hit!”

Death of a Ladies Man: Again I initially wondered what to make of the title, but the irony became apparent when I saw the cover with Leonard flanked by Suzanne and the other lovely lady

Recent Songs: I like the sound of the title, and the cover’s colour and image, but the title was ill-considered as these would not remain recent songs for long.

Various Positions: Again I questioned the title at first, and assumed it had sexual connotations. However, the broader meaning of the title became clear when I heard the content of the album and songs like “The Captain”.

I’m Your Man: Ironic humour here, and a bold comeback. The title song was no doubt many people's favourite, though "Take This Waltz" or "Tower of Song" could also also feasibly been used as the album's title.

The Future: The cover and title were quite a shock at first, but again made perfect sense when I heard the album.

Ten New Songs: Like “Recent Songs” a pleasing title, but the songs would not be new for long.

Dear Heather: I prefer the title of this album to the actual song.

Old Ideas: I was initially not struck with the title, but have grown accustomed to it.

Popular Problems: I have a question mark here, too - though at the time of writing we don't know about the cover or content. The title would seem to fit songs like “Feels So Good” and “I’ve Got a Little Secret”. However, presumably it will include “Born In Chains” which as an important song for Leonard might have been a good title for a landmark album?

Your thoughts and favourite titles?
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Re: Leonard Cohen's Album Titles

Post by Citizen_Kane » Wed Aug 13, 2014 11:19 am


Nice to see you starting a thread that discusses this kind of matter. Takes me back to the days of the forum before LC started touring when, in the absence of any particular news, these kinds of threads and other discussions were started that would seek out every little detail of a song. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.

There is a particular selection of LC albums I always refer to as the 'Songs-albums': Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate, Live Songs, Recent Songs, Ten New Songs and I was glad to see this release: Songs from the Road, for it fits so neatly into this list. Coincidentally, these are my favourite LC Albums. But that's beside the point.

As you so elegantly say LC's album titles "appear" to have the least priority in his work. Though I fully agree on the fact that it makes much sense to name his first album "songs of" for he was already a published writer and poet, I think the simplicity of the next album titles is there to counterbalance the deep and heavy substance of the album itself. And not even in a marketing way (selling albums is probably easier when it reads "songs of love and hate" instead of "songs of self destruction, suicide, hopelessness and sex"), not that, but from a personal point of view I think I can understand the tendency to close off the album (which is a personal process in itself resulting in some deep songs and lyrics) by naming it appropriately, though simple. Also, it think the anti-climax a new, but simple album title brings, is very funny. For instance, LC hadn't released an album for 9 years, in which time he stayed in the Zen center. All those and previous years had resulted (and had to result!) in a new album (in essence a store room of thoughts and feelings, I think). So to properly close off that period and while doing so presenting an anti-climactic title, the new album was named Ten New Songs. But then again, these are my thoughts only.

Re Leonard Cohen: Greatest Hits; I believe this album was only released as "greatest hits" in Europe, where he'd had some chart notations that could account for 'hits'. In Nothern America, I believe, it was released as the "best of Leonard Cohen"'. Which makes for the 90's album "More Best Of" to make more sense!

Though a title long being considered (also for the Dear Heather album), the Old Ideas mark was finally stamped onto his january 2012 record. I wasn't and still am not struck by this title. Though maybe the same mechanisms I suggested above are at work here, I think this title is downright unimaginative without any apparent reason, moreover because it was a title long being considered. Popular Problems however I think is pretty funny. Though we still have to wait for what the album is all about, I'd like to think it is in a way a criticism of our current spirit of the age, wherein arguably everyone's whining about something.

So this is my contribution so far. O and, my favourite title is "Various positions" (I also used to think of this in a sexual way, until I read on several resumés that person x was working at company y in various positions).

2008: Manchester, Brussels (2), Rotterdam - 2009: Lisboa - 2010: Lille, Dortmund - 2012: Ghent (3), Amsterdam (2) - 2013: Antwerp, Oberhausen, Brussels, Rotterdam, Amsterdam!
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Re: Leonard Cohen's Album Titles

Post by HelenOE » Wed Aug 13, 2014 6:39 pm

Me, I think he's working alphabetically, and we can expect "Quiet Questions" next.

I can hardly wait for his "Zen" album.
John Etherington
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Re: Leonard Cohen's Album Titles

Post by John Etherington » Thu Aug 14, 2014 3:29 am

Thanks for your well-considered response Lennard (which contains many of the thoughts I was in the process of formulating!), and also thanks to Helen for your comments. I'm about to go away for a week or so, but will re-join the thread afterwards. All good things, John E
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