On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne (1967)
From Mississippi we take a plane north across the border and into Canada. Is this our first time here? I’m not sure but if we have been here previously it has been infrequently. Today’s artist began his career with poetry and novels, starting in the 1950s, and continuing into the 1960s. With such pursuits not proving as prosperous as he had hoped, Leonard Cohen headed to the US to begin a music career and the rest is history. Thanks to multiple cover versions, Cohen’s best-known song may be Hallelujah but 1001 Songs has gone with one of his earliest pieces – Suzanne.
Suzanne was written by Cohen about Suzanne Verdal, the girlfriend of sculptor, Armand Vaillancourt. Cohen and Verdal were close friends but their relationship was never a romantic one, purely platonic. In the song Cohen speaks of Suzanne, how beautiful she is, of her home by the river and spending endless days taking in this idyll hideaway. It’s all akin to a pleasant dream. In the chorus, Cohen sings of travelling with Suzanne and how she trusts him to keep their relationship purely as friends. One of the reasons Cohen eludes to this at different points in the song, is that both he and Suzanne have visited a romantic relationship with one another in their minds. Having imagined an intimacy between them, they don’t need to pursue it. Theirs is a beautiful but restrained relationship.
Suzanne began life as a poem that Cohen wrote before it was recorded as a song. Lyrically it is stunning, capturing the many memories of Suzanne and the carefree days spent with her. Every line is flawless. The song would be covered by many artists and due to signing a misleading contract, Cohen lost the right to any royalties for the song, with the only money he made being from singing it live. Cohen’s hopes of early retirement were scuppered by his long-time manager Kelley Lynch, who was responsible for his business affairs and, sadly, drained his accounts for personal gain and to clear her debts. Despite a successful lawsuit against Lynch, Cohen was unable to recover much of his lost money. Instead, Cohen toured the world in his later years, recouping some of the losses he had suffered. He died aged 82 in the infamous year of 2016, which claimed a frightening amount of much-loved celebrities such as David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Carrie Fisher and George Michael.
Favourite songs so far:
Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Who – Substitute (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs (1967)
The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset (1967)