Music Critique: Lenny Sucks. Yeah, I said it.


Today’s Music: Oh, all sorts! See below…
Note: I just needed to get this off my chest. It was annoying the hell out of me.

Driving back from a really good noodle place (I had the broad rice noodle soup with beef brisket stew. TMWGITU had the mei fun noodle soup with duck. Delicious!), wfuv (stream here) played a live version of Leonard Cohen singing Tower of Song.
Let’s listen, shall we? (It’s a bit long, but this is the same version that set me off tonight.)

Great.
No, not really. The lyrics are pretty good. The sentiment of the song, also pretty good.
Leonard writes a great song, but his performance ain’t worth a damn.
So how can you tell it’s a great song?
Watch this.

Toms live version gives the song depth. He wakes up the sadness, the experience, the pathos,and gives it voice. Leonard? Well. he sounds like he’s performing on buffet night at the I-66 Hilton.
(Even more poignant is this video version by time, which is even stronger. I used this as a “Today’s Music” shortly after I heard it.)

Still think I’m slandering a genius? Try this on – one of his most popular (and best) songs.
This time, we’ll start with the cover.
If you’re familiar with the song, you know it’s very poignant and moving. So moving, even Bon Jovi can’t screw it up. It’s a bit hammy, but still…

Here’s Leonard’s original.

Did you know if you show your ticket stub at the check-in desk, they give you a free continental breakfast?

None of this is meant to knock Leonard’s skill or talent. There’s a story I heard, perhaps apocryphal, that Leonard couldn’t get any traction as a poet, so he began setting his poems to music to get a wider audience. And it worked. Google “Leonard Cohen”,and you get a wealth of information – the artists he’s influenced, the impact his songs have had, the lives he’s touched.
And god bless him for that.
But I doubt it was his singing that did it.

I expect many of you will disagree vociferously in the comments.

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107 responses to “Music Critique: Lenny Sucks. Yeah, I said it.

  1. I understand his writing talent, but I can’t stand his presentation. These are my two favorite versions of Hallelujah.

    Poetry that powerful needs the right voices to give it strength.

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  2. I will always remember those Olympics because of that song. I have never been a fan of his audible voice and never will be. His poetic voice is brilliant.

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  3. Well, I’m not very familiar with his work, though I’ve heard enough of his voice that it is familiar sounding…. but, what I’ve heard him do all sounds exactly the same…. same tone, same pace, same cadence, same same… which is just silly. Plus, as you say, his voice’s emotional depth in this performance is on par with a teaspoon… I suspect, by the sound of him, he uses a LOT of Valium right before concerts, if this performance is typical… it’s that, or he is a recovering stroke victim… You’re right about the poetry, though, it’s more than just decent…. So, I’d count this as an agree…. πŸ™‚

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    • Thanks Gigoid.
      I give him extra credit for his lyrics, but he just doesn’t have the…skill? talent? to give them life.
      I’m glad others recognize his lyrics and unlock them.

      Like

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Paying money to hear that voice? Yikes. I’d rather hear nails on a chalk board. Of course he’s talented but singing is not his gift.
    Tom Jones is amazing. What a soulful man he is. Even as a kid I recognized his passion. I may have to feature him on music Monday.
    Great post. I love when you do the comparisons. Always cool.

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  5. I thought you were talking about Kravitz, and I was gonna say ‘yeah, American Woman and Fly, not his best work.”

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  6. I’m not going to argue for or against because, honestly, he’s more icon than singer at this point. Two points: One story goes that he began singing to get girls. The other is one of my favourite music reviews ever, the opening line, I believe in Rolling Stone, for the Leonard Cohen tribute album: “This is the way Leonard Cohen’s songs should be sung: by other people.”

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  7. Thought you were going to slam Lenny K and was slightly offended. 100% with you on Cohen. I enjoy reading him, but I happily pass up any chance to listen to him sing

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  8. Benny Goodman is blasting out here at the moment! Must agree with you about Monsieur Cohen – iconic songs but a dreary singer, Daddy-oh!

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  9. free penny press

    I so agree with you on Leonard not ebing an even remotely good singer.. i go to sleep on his singing.. Tom however is still cool and can perform.. A true legend..
    here is my offering.. a wonderful rendition of neil young’s “helpless”

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    • That’s what a cover should be, fpp! Stands up well to the original, but just a bit different to be its own thing.
      (Also, I’m digging the KD love in the comments!)

      Like

  10. Pingback: Sunday songs that stand the test of time | free penny press

  11. I feel that way about David Bowie covering Lou Reed’s “Waiting for (the) Man”….and I HATE that he changed “my” to “the”…

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  12. whiteladyinthehood

    Well, I’m a rocker so I’ll agree – he’s not that great…I don’t have your musical aptitude though…I’m thinking. “Where are the screaming guitars?” lol.

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  13. I don’t quite know how I got over Dylan’s voice to love his recordings, but couldn’t do that with Leonard Cohen. Dylan feels his poetry. Cohen? He must, but you never see it. That combined with a rotten rotten voice, well, thanks for the songs.

    And I can’t believe I am actually voluntarily listening to Tom Jones. He was a joke in high school (the creepy too old sex symbol) and then he recorded Love Bomb. But this song is beautifully done. Thanks for opening my mind.

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    • I’m glad you liked it, Elyse. One of my favorite things is hearing performers do something good I would never have expected, like the Tom Jones Tower of Song cover
      This post was originally going to be “Bob and Lenny “suck, but there are some Dylan songs where he is actually better than the cover.
      Not so much with Cohen…

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  14. In all of the videos Bon Jovi was the one most familiar to me. Now I’m very sad. She’s a lady!

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    • Bon Jovi was one of my favorite bands until I realized he wasn’t a girl, Abyss.
      One of my girl’s favorite lyric substitutions is changing “livin on a prayer” to “livin on my hair”.

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  15. No, I agree with you, Guap. (Is that an oxymoron?) But I wouldn’t put the “even Bon Jovi can’t screw it up” in there. I mean, 80’s metal has its proper place in rock history. I’ll admit it – I was a fan. Still am, really, and sing along to Cheap Trick any chance I get. (Is that an oxymoron?) ❀

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    • I saw Cheap Trick about two years ago. They still put on a great show.
      I’m with you on that!
      Bon Jovi? Yes, their music was definitely a product of their time…

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  16. I suppose it’s good to know where to draw the line on which of your songs suit you and which are better left to better artists. Clapton and Dylan are two that come to mind who knew when to pass the microphone.

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    • I agree, H.E. Too be fair though, Clapton does a pretty good job even when he’s covering himself…
      (As does John Hiatt listen to his and Bonnie Raitts versions of Thing Called Love, the song that put her on the map.)

      Like

  17. I forever associate Hallelujah with Rufus Wainwright’s version.

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  18. Oh my. I guess I am one of those you expect to disagree vociferously in the comments. Instead, I shall just hang my head and gently weep as I listen to “the golden voice” of Leonard Cohen.
    Ok, just one thing…Tom Jones?!? Really?!?

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    • Even after listening to the other versions Michelle?
      I’ll admit that I can’t agree, but I love enough stuff that is objectively deplorable to not understand it.
      Tom Jones Tower of Song did nothing at all for you?

      Like

      • Tom Jones did absolutely nothing for me.
        As far as the singing of “Hallelujah”, Bon Jovi, Kd Lang, David Foster, are all brilliant and I happen to like all of them as performers and own some music from each one.
        But, Tom Jones!? Really?!

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        • Wow, I’m surprised by that.
          One lastquestion – do you not like what Tom did with the song, or do you just have an aversion to all thins Tom Jones? (Which I would completely understand. After a traumatic incident of being trapped in a room with Corcodile Rock, it was years before I could listen to Elton John.)

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  19. I would like to just say that I hate my internet provider. I stupidly clicked on the last video first, and then tried to hear Bon Jovi (which I was looking forward to) and it won’t load. None of the others will either. Now I get to be haunted by the worst version. I KNEW I should have clicked on Bon Jovi first.

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  20. OK, weird synchronicity moment: I just turned on Spotify radio with a folk station (so sue me: I’m old.) And the song Suzanne came on, by Judy Collins, and I clicked on this post and….well. We’re connected, Guap, that’s all I’m saying. Good song by Judy, crappy song by Leonard.

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  21. Lenny has a certain style, so different from anyone else. So, I guess people respect this and his songwriting. He’s singing his words. I love the kd lang version. That was beautiful. It’s interesting to compare all these songs.

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    • Thanks Bumble. It’s fun to listen to the different versions of a song and compare.
      But I love the Tom Jones version of Tower of Song, and when I heard Cohens version, I was just angry because I thought it was bad.

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  22. Sometimes, although not often the cover improves on the original. Fair to say for Mr. Cohen, it’s definitely the case!

    Like earlier commentators, I too thought you were having a go at Lenny K. Are you the first critic to dub the Lenny moniker on Mr. Cohen?!?

    As for Mr. Jones, his dulcet and rocking tones are one of the few shared musical memories The Engineer and I have πŸ˜‰

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  23. Tom Jones can sing and even now in his more mature years, he can still sing… πŸ™‚

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  24. I’m with you on this one, Guap. Leo C. has an interesting quality to his voice, but he’s not a great performer. For “Tower of Song,” I much prefer the Tom Jones version you linked.

    “Halleluja” is his only song I’m familiar with, and my favorite rendition of it has always been Rufus Wainwright’s:

    Incidentally, Wainwright also performed “Across the Universe” better than the Beatles, in my opinion. Jai guru deva. Ommmmmm…

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    • If I were only going to know one version of one LC song, that’s the one I’d go with, Brian.
      And to be fair, I never drank the Beatles Kool Aid. I think they’re a really good band, and I understand their influence, but I never thought they were the be-all-end-all…

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  25. Evidently I’m uncultured because Bon Jovi is the only name I recognized in this post. Please don’t hate me.

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  26. Somebody beat me to KD’s version. Good ear Susan. I heard that at the Vancouver Olympics and had it downloaded before she finished singing it. Cohen is definitely a better writer than performer, probably my greatest turn off. Basically wait on new music from him in the hopes that someone else records it later. His style is, politely speaking, unique.

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  27. I am so with you on this one! I’ll add to your list: KD Lang singing “Hallelujah” and Madeleine Peyroux singing “Dance Me to the Edge of Love.” Waaay better than Leaonard.

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  28. Had no idea all those other people did Leonard Cohen!

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  29. ok so I listened and here is my Final Judgement. Jones and the other guy just don’t do it for the Tower of Song. However, Bon Jovi rocks! And Guapo, any woman hearing that voice naturally is transported straight into a red velvet lined bedroom fantasy. THAT’s why we like him.

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  30. I love Leonard Cohen’s songs and used to love his gravelly voice. Now he’s finding it hard and there are some splendid covers of his beautiful songs. My choir is singing Dance me to the end of love – and it’s brilliant!!

    All the best – despite your rubbishing of LC! πŸ™‚

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    • Ha! Thank you for your magnanimity despite our difference of opinions, MBT.
      I love his songs. Just not his versions of them. I can’t get past him sounding, well…amateurish.
      (But I also like a bunch of certifiable crap, so…)

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  31. Saw Jools and his band just before Christmas. I just love watching his hands on the piano. I love too how generous he is to all his fellow performers. It was a brilliant night. πŸ™‚

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  32. Geez, I had to scroll for days to get to the end of the comments here! That’s what I get for being a latecomer… anyway, thanks for this! I never knew that Cohen was such a crappy performer, but what you said about him being a [failed] poet first makes sense! Hallelujah is definitely one of my favorites. I really like all the verses, but if you want to catch a very beautiful shortened version, google Jason Castro’s version on YT. (Forgive me, it’s from American Idol, but still very beautiful!).

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    • Great to see you whenever you come around, Laura!
      I’ll have to check out the Castro version.
      It really is a very beautiful song. I’m glad so many cover it and do it justice.

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  33. I’m really late with this, but I agree totally. Though he may be a good songwriter, Leonard Cohen has never been a good singer! Almost anyone’s version of Hallelujah is better than his.

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  35. I vote for Bon Jovi’s version and Tom Jones version. πŸ˜€
    Those were the only ones I enjoyed listening from the beginning till the end of the song. Their voices and singing style are my cup of tea πŸ˜€

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  36. Not sure how I missed this one, but I disagree vociferously.Leonard Cohen is awesome! Except for being Canadian, he’s an American treasure!

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    • If it were the old days when popular songs were only sold as sheet music for for the masses, Leonard Cohen would be universally praised.
      Any version of any of his songs that isn’t him is a joy to hear.
      Being Canadian, Leonard is just too polite to say so.

      Like

Ahem *best Ricky Ricardo voice* Babble-OOOoooo!!!

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