On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge 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 every day (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… legendary!
Jennifer Warnes – First We Take Manhattan (1986)
” First We Take Manhattan” is a song written by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. It was originally recorded by American singer Jennifer Warnes on her 1986 Cohen tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat , which consisted entirely of songs written or co-written by Cohen.
We remain in the US, dear reader, and find ourselves in Seattle, Washington today. Jennifer Warnes began her career in the late 1960s but it was in the 1970s that a key moment in her life came. She became friends with Canadian singer/poet, Leonard Cohen, and was a backup singer with him for a time. When we join Warnes in 1986 though she is a solo artist in her own right but so grateful to Leonard Cohen that her sixth album – Famous Blue Raincoat – is made up entirely of covers of her friends’ work and she has seized the chance to promote him as he did her. From that record, 1001 Songs have gone with a new track from Cohen written specially for Warnes – First We Take Manhattan.
First We Take Manhattan has images of end times, religious connotations and a hint of armageddon about it. Cohenhimself said in interviews that the song is akin to a terrorist’s melody. The narrator seems to have lived a normal life at one point, being a lover of music and by the sound of things involved in a relationship as well. He laments to his lover that he is not what she thought he was and that now it is time for him to go. The title is exactly as it sounds. Manhattan will be destroyed first and then the narrator plans to move on to Berlin to continue the devastation.
Jennifer Warnes is better known for Up Where We Belong which she recorded with Joe Cocker in 1983 and (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life which was a duet with Bill Medley in 1988. Sandwiched in between is First We Take Manhattan, a generous gift from mentor to apprentice but now the apprentice is excelling in her own right. You can only imagine how proud Cohen must have been of Warnes.
Favourite songs so far: