Staff Top 10
Top Ten Funniest Leonard Cohen Songs



for those unacquainted with the sardonic mysteries of L. Cohen, humor might not seem the man's most prominent virtue. But to a black blazer-clad, cigarette-wielding minority, the man is a living shrine to the coexistence of heartfelt, resonant poetry and uncontrollable giggling. Even the gloomiest of Cohen songs is suffused with a palpable love of life; beauty might often take us down the road to hell, but the path that descends is the very one that also spirals upwards. His awareness of this means that optimism and regret, exultant joy and sharp self-recrimination, and the positive and negative charges of the human heart are all intertwined in the best of his work. Such a sensibility is no easy load to bear, so our illuminated troubadour eases the burden with the gift of laughter.

At first, Cohen ended each album with a coda of semi-farcical nature. As time went on, things became a bit jumbled—humor was woven throughout his material in ebbing and flowing currents rather than deposited as a discrete package at the end of one's journey. Though each album contains varying moments that lead a listener to question Cohen's seriousness (before finally getting past that hobgoblin of thought), I've chosen to focus on the time-tested knee-slappers of the Lenny oeuvre, the songs that, no matter how many nuggets of wisdom they may contain, will still be found forever lapping at the watering-hole of absurdity.

10. "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” (Songs of Leonard Cohen)
We should've guessed right away something was wrong with this man. A poet and a novelist recognized by his native government, the subject of a short film, an untried singer / songwriter given a record deal by the label that signed Dylan and he chose to end his first record with this? Songs of Leonard Cohen is an ocean-album of vast, plaintive farewells, dripping with melancholy and sexual longing sublimated in an almost-spiritual sacrifice to abstract beauty. "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" is a painfully simple finger-picked guitar figure gurgling under opaque, bitter piss-takes like "I showed my heart to the doctor / He said I just have to quit / Then he wrote himself a prescription / And your name was mentioned in it," which finally degenerates into out-of-tune whistling and wavering background 'singing' that makes Tiny Tim sound like Maria Callas.

09. “Tonight Will Be Fine” (Songs from a Room)
Unable to think of anything really new to provide this whack song on his second album, Cohen merely adds the slightest hint of country and a hillbilly take on the tuneless whistling of "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong," and adds killer lines like "sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past / We swore to each other then our love would surely last / You kept right on loving / I went on a fast / Now I am too thin and your love is too vast." Luckily, he put plenty of jew's harp underneath it all, cause, you know, jew's harp is always funny.

08. “Who by Fire” (New Skin for the Old Ceremony)
Leonard Cohen Writes Song Based on Day of Atonement Prayer, Hilarity Bound to Ensue! Though not the most obvious choice, this is a song that becomes almost unlistenable with one subtle change: imagine you don't know the title or lyrics and merely replace each intonation of "who" with the word it really sounds like—"poo." "Poo in your merry merry month of May / Poo by very slow decay," "Poo by barbiturate," "Poo by avalanche / Poo by powder," "Poo by accident," "Poo in this mirror / Poo by His Lady's command / Poo by his own hand." And Poo, shall I say, is calling? Damn right it is.

07. “Memories” (Death of a Ladies Man)
Death of a Ladies Man remains a criminally overlooked record, perhaps because merely listening to it actually feels like some sort of crime. Whether Phil Spector held a gun to Leonard's head during the recording process or not is irrelevant; the music on display is clearly the result of two deranged drunks past their prime, lost in the wilderness and seeking salvation in... erm, booze and floozies. "Memories" is the ultimate old man's leer—a swaying Weimar beerhall anthem of absurd horns and soaring chorus making epic poetry out of "won't you let me see / Won't you let me see / Your naked body."

06. “Is This What You Wanted?” (New Skin for the Old Ceremony)
A great concurrence of silly and sublime and the kickoff track to his best album. Cohen delights in contrasting the poignancy of "and is this what you wanted? / To live in a house that is haunted / By the ghost of you and me" with "you were Marlon Brando / I was Steve McQueen / You were KY Jelly / I was Vaseline / You were the father of modern medicine / Yeah I was Mr. Clean / You were the Whore & the Beast of Babylon / I was Rin Tin Tin," dropping a funky little jew's harp warble under each punchline. Couldn't afford the rimshot, Lenny?

05. “The Future” (The Future)
Only the prophet St. Leonard could concoct a Revelation so believable, so grim, so clearly impending and then ride atop the wave of Earth's destruction commanding "give me crack and anal sex." And only he could round off a catalogue of plagues and horrors with "There'll be fires on the road / And a white man dancing." An image so deeply terrifying that he brings it up not once, but twice. The mind recoils.

04. “Leaving Greensleeves” (New Skin for the Old Ceremony)
"Then I saw you naked / In the early dawn / Oh I hoped you would be someone new," is fairly cutting, but it's really the way he sings much of the song—especially the word "greensleeeeeeeves"—as though he were taking the world's most painful crap through an iron grate. I mean, Lord, you can almost hear the chafing. The fact that this made it on to my 2005 Christmas CD is probably saying more about myself than I really care to think about.

03. “Diamonds in the Mine” (Songs of Love and Hate)
Midway through Cohen's starkest, darkest record, one in which he observes, "Some women wait for Jesus / Some women wait for Cain / So I hang upon my altar / And I hoist my axe again" we find this bizarre C&W in H-E-L-L little ditty. Leonard tries to sing like Manson, but instead of being chalk-white terror in a swastika tattoo and Christ-beard, he's Dylan out of speed and smokes sporting three days of stubble, equating the death of the 60's dream with there being "no chocolates in the boxes anymore." Magnificently unhinged, I can only wonder what was made of this one back in the day. "Well I saw the man in question / It was just the other night / He was eat-ing up a la-dy / Where the lions and Christians fight!" Indeed.

02. “Jazz Police” (I'm Your Man)
Who are the Jazz Police, and what do they want? Well, they're "paid by J. Paul Getty," "working for my mother," "looking through my folders," and "talking to my niece." Apparently, the female lead (the niece?) is falling in love with them as well. So what's to be done about these crazy mofos? "Stick another turtle on the fire / Guys like me are mad for turtle meat." Oh, right, the old "turtle meat" defense. How could I forget?

01. “Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On” (Death of a Ladies Man)
"You can't melt it down in the rain."


By: Mallory O’Donnell
Published on: 2006-05-19
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