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 – Famous Blue Raincoat (1971)
From the US back to Canada today, dear reader, and we have a return to the blog from Leonard Cohen. He previously appeared back in 1967 with the song, Suzanne. It’s now 1971 for Cohen and his third album, Songs of Love and Hate, has just been released. Though it didn’t chart highly in the US the album was a big success in the rest of the world. 1001 Songs has been having another listen and they have lifted the sixth track on the record – Famous Blue Raincoat.
Famous Blue Raincoat centres on a love triangle with Cohen being the narrator and one part of said triangle. The other participants are his wife, Jane, and an unnamed man who he writes a letter to. The song is sung in the form of this letter and we hear how this man has given Jane some of his hair as a keepsake. Well, that’s nice. Cohen refers to him as a “brother” and a “killer” perhaps suggesting that that is one way the love triangle can be resolved with the death of the narrator. Jane has clearly been left torn between her husband and this other man; it sounds like he has potentially treated her better from what is divulged in the letter. How the triangle unfolds is not stated and we are left to speculate.
This was a masterfully crafted song from Leonard Cohen and lyrically it has mystery and ambiguity to it. I loved the letter form and long after Cohen signs off the correspondence I was left thinking over the contents and what it all means. Famous Blue Raincoat was not released as a single but it has become one of Cohen’s best-loved songs. It’s making me keen to explore his discography in more depth given what I have listened to on this list thus far.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)
The Kinks – Days (1968)
King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)