Death of A Ladies Man
Produced by Phil Spector
Warner (USA), CBS / Columbia (rest of the world) 1977
All songs written by Phil Spector & Leonard Cohen
Released 13 November 1977
|side one||side two|
|True Love Leaves No Traces||I Left A Woman Waiting|
|Iodine||Don’t Go Home With Your Hard IOn|
|Paper Thin Hotel||Fingerprints|
(outro: You Cheated You Lied )
|Death of A Ladies; Man|
The full, full-on Spector overkill wall of sound:
Drums: Hal Blaine, Jim Keltner
Guitars: Art Munson, David Kessel, David Isaac, Jesse Ed Davis, Phil Spector, Ray Pohlman
Slide pedal guitar: Albert Perkins, Sneaky Pete Kleinow
Keyboards: Dan Kessell, Pete Jolly, Tom Henley, Don Randi, Bill Mays, Barry Goldberg, Mike Lang, Phil Spector
Synthesizers: Dan Kessel, Devra Robitaille
Bass: Ray Pohlman, Ray Neapolitan(upright and electric)
Percussion: Terry Gibbs, Emi Radacchio, Gene Estes, Bob Zimmiti
Fiddle: Bobby Bruce
Sax: Dan Menza, Steve Douglas, Jay Miglari
Sax solos: Steve Douglas
Flute: Dan Menza, Steve Douglas,
Trombone: Charles Loper, Jack Redmond
Trumpet: Conte Candall
Organ: Dan Kessel
Vibes: Terry Gibbs
Synthesizer programming: Bob Robitaille
Background vocals: Dan Kessel, David Kessel, Sherlie Matthews, Gerry Garrett, Clydie King, Venetta Fields, Brenda Bryant, Bili Thedford, Oren EWaters, Lorna Willard, Julia Tillman, Oma Drake, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg, Bill Diez, Ronee Blakeley
Ronee Blakely featured vocalist on True Love Leaves No Traces, Iodine, Memories
CHART: UK #35 SWEDEN #15 NORWAY #20
The nerve of it!
The general rule is that you list writers in alphabetical order unless one made a greater contribution. Every song is ‘Spector & Cohen.’ That non-alphabetical credit order suggests Spector made the greater contribution. Leonard Cohen used co-writers, notably Sharon Robinson, but do you believe that Phil was the greater contributor?
This one fits the “the producer ruined my album” category joining Let It Be and then Some Time in New York City and Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Lennon. Three other Spector screw-ups. He will reappear when Reviled gets to John Lennon.
Some critics gave this a thumbs down at the time. (Was it his only bad album?) In fact, it pointed to the future Leonard, rocking out, rather than the somewhat dour and serious poet of the first albums.
It’s a perfect example for the Reviled! series because like Self Portrait, Berlin and several others, it was reviled on release back in 1977, but the recent reviews online are overwhelmingly positive, one going as far as to say It might be his masterpiece. See below. That’s because we’re now used to the full-on, flat-out Leonard of The Future, Everybody Knows, Democracy, First We Take Manhattan. In the late 70s, he was still thought of as an introspective, highbrow Canadian poet who hadn’t started a musical career until he as thirty-three. People expected two guitars, or a small chamber orchestra backing him. It is hard to see the line between Suzanne and the material on Death of A Ladies Man, but far easier to see the line between Death of A Ladies’ Man songs and First We Take Manhatten.
I wish I’d spent more time listening to Leonard earlier. When I was a student Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs From A Room were the ultimate records for female students who wandered the campus in black cloaks looking depressed at best, weeping silently at worst. Leonard Cohen was the epitome of bedsitter music (or rather, Hall of Residence music), a genre which became more cheerful as Al Stewart and Cat Stevens took over his role. It was a generally held view:
Although often overwrought in a pop context, his lyrics are invariably fascinating for lovers of terminal depression and morbid imagery, and his Columbia albums are well worth seeking out for aficionados of gloom.
Dave Marsh, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979
I never got to appreciate them. I first encountered Sisters of Mercy as did so many on the CBS sampler album The Rock Machine Turns You On. They wisely stuck it on the end of side one, as it was so different to the rest … and I found it totally addictive. Then its successor, Rock Machine I Love You put Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye in exactly the same slot … Track seven on Side one. Both samplers were sizeable hit albums.
I only bought Death of A Ladies Man comparatively recently, and on CD. I had every other album by then and several live LPs released under European copyright laws.
The sleeve design
The sleeve is cleverly done. On the front, he’s between the two women. When you turn it over, the wrap around places a gap between the two women … so he has gone. Death of A Ladies’ Man. The similarity to Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway, in 1975 is obvious. That was photographed by Norman Seef. This was ‘an anonymous roving photographer at a Polynesian restaurant.’
You can see design philosophies running through labels at certain periods. Design managers, art directors, photographers. ‘Anonymous roving photographer’ sounds like a guy who takes a photo, gives you a little ticket and says ‘It’ll be on a board in the lobby if you want to buy it.’ No way. They are both top quality professional photos. Both are monochrome tinted. Norman Seef got known doing the photo in the gatefold of The Band’s Stage Fright. That was commissioned by the designer, Bob Cato. By 1975, Seef was the top Los Angeles music and film photographer. He had photographed Leonard Cohen at the Isle of Wight in 1970. He had just done Joni Mitchell’s Hejira. I have strong suspicions on ‘the anonymous roving photographer.’ Perhaps he had a deal with CBS / Columbia at the time, which precluded Warner. Another possibility is that they deliberately staged it with another photographer based on the Breakaway photo and were worried about accusations of plagiarism. (Not that there could ever be a legal case.)
How did it happen?
Phil Spector owed an album to Warner. He was not doing well, the aggression was out of control. He had ended up in court in 1976 after sticking a gun in a parking valet’s face, and was banned from owning or being in proximity with firearms, a ruling he ignored. The relationship with Warner had started well. Spector got his own label, and in 1974 Warner reissued his hits as singles.
Warner were fast beginning to regret the association:
Joe Smith (Warner / WEA) The biggest thing I got out of it was going to the studios and watching Phil work. But the problem with Phil is that he’s carrying a big monkey on his back. He’s Phil Spector and people expect whatever he does to be a Phil Spector record. And he couldn’t do the same record because people will say he’s just repeating himself, but he couldn’t come up with anything else either.
Spector shared lawyers with Leonard Cohen, who had witnessed a flop with New Skin For Old Ceremony and hadn’t released anything for nearly three years. Leonard was in a bad way too. His family was breaking up, his mother was dying and the drinking was out of control.
They first met in 1974. They had a strong manager / lawyer-driven impetus to work together from their joint lawyer, Marty Machat. In retrospect, you could see a link. Maybe Leonard was thinking that his deep somber voice could be framed like Phil Medley’s on perhaps Spector’s greatest work, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. Leonard Cohen has expressed admiration for Phil Spector’s 60s girl group recordings (as has Brian Wilson) and it wouldn’t be long before female backing vocalists were crucial to his live shows. Then Spector had co-produced All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, a resounding success.
The liner notes on the album state that Marty Machat, who was Spector’s lawyer as well as Cohen’s, introduced them. According to Cohen, this occurred backstage after one of his performances at the Troubadour in L.A. Spector had uncharacteristically left his well-protected home to see Cohen, and at the show was strangely silent. Spector then invited Cohen back to his home, which, because of the air-conditioning, was very chilly, about “thirty-two degrees,”
Ira Nadal: Various Positions – A Life of Leonard Cohen 1996
Cohen would later recall he found the occasion ‘tedious,’ the mansion ‘dark, cold and dreary.’ When the other guests departed, and Spector locked the door and refused to let Cohen depart, Cohen was nonplussed. ‘To salvage the evening, I said “Rather than watch you shout at your servants, let’s do something more interesting. And so we sat at the piano and started writing songs.”‘
Mick Brown, Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, 2007
They started working on a Patti Page song together (I Went To Your Wedding) and by the next morning had co-written two songs, with Leonard, pen in hand, and Phil Spector on the piano.
When work resumed seriously they spent about three weeks, drinking and writing all night. They composed fifteen songs. Eight made it to the album. A ninth was recorded but not used. The Kessell Brothers, Dan and David, were present in another room, and called in from time to time to play a little guitar. As well as being part of Spector’s studio set up, they seem to have had a ‘gopher’ relationship with him.
Songwriter Doc Pomus visited and said Spector and Cohen were ‘two drunks staggering around.’ Joni Mitchell warned Leonard that Phil Spector was ‘well-past his prime and difficult.’ Joni Mitchell had been recording Court and Spark in a neighbouring studio while Spector was working with John Lennon, and was speaking from close observation and experience. Cohen could have asked Dion DiMucci who disowned his recording with Spector, Born To Be With You. Writing so many years later it’s hard not to remember reading Ronnie Spector’s autobiography, nor that he threatened The Ramones with a gun, nor that he finally died a convicted murderer. In 1994 he vociferously opposed The Ronettes induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the grounds that they were mere puppets in his plans. (They were finally inducted in 2007). That last fact betrays his attitude to performers.
Problem: Steven Machat was the son of their lawyer and present throughout as project co-ordinator:
Steven Machat: Spector was now working with artists, but treating them like he used to treat his session musicians. He wasn’t writing the songs and creating the sound, he was producing those who had a sound and wrote their own songs. He was not the man for that job. His ego was way too big for him to be just the producer.
Quoted in Anthony Reynolds Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life, 2010
Second problem. Steven as project manager didn’t like Leonard Cohen nor his songs:
I never liked Leonards music. It had no energy, no love of life. It was all inward looking … Both Spector and Cohen were commercial suicide in the USA.
Quoted in Anthony Reynolds Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life, 2010
So on to the sessions.
Recording started in June 1977 in three different Los Angeles studios. Spector had become impossible. He was throwing stuff around, locking himself away in a bathroom to comb his hair for hours at a time, drinking nonstop. Mostly the cast of musicians had worked with Spector before, and regarded it as a job. Most weren’t familiar with Leonard Cohen. Some were newbies to the sessions, others like Hal Blaine, Jim Keltner and Al Perkins were greatly in demand. It wasn’t all smooth … fiddler Bobby Bruce packed up and left after Spector threatened him with a gun while recording Fingerprints.
Venetta Fields (backing vocals): I truly remember that session. Yes, Spector had his bodyguard in the room with us, at the mike with a gun in his holster, with his jacket off. Every time we would record a take (Spector) and his bodyguard would go to the bathroom and do more lines (of cocaine) making us wait for him. I walked out. Phil was so rude and coked up and drunk, making racist remarks. I could not take it any more.
Quoted in Anthony Reynolds Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life, 2010
Venetta Fields, as an ex-Ikette, had seen enough extreme rock behaviour. Other participants deny that Spector was taking coke or making racist remarks … Harvey Kubernick, who later wrote Everybody Knows, was employed as a gopher on the sessions and states he saw no drugs. The Kessels said the same, as did Devra Robitaille. She was his assistant, ex-lover and keyboard player. Note that all four were on Spector’s payroll. Allen Ginsberg however remembers ‘Spector taking a lot of cocaine’ leading to his hysterical behaviour.
Ray Neapolitan, bassist on the sessions said:
When you work for Phil, it’s a Phil record, and Leonard was incidental and I think he felt that. He’d just come in, then he would do a live vocal but he would pretty much stay out of the fray.
Anthony Reynolds Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life, 2010
Leonard Cohen: Phil is not a great songwriter, but he’s a bold one. He’s bold enough to employ the most pedestrian melodies, and yet somehow, make them absolutely successful. That’s why his compositions are brilliant … Working with Phil, I’ve found that some of his musical treatments are VERY … er, foreign… to me. I mean I’ve rarely worked in a live room that contains twenty-five musicians, including two drummers, three bassists and six guitarists.
1977, quoted in Everybody Knows by Harvey Kubernick, 2014
The boozy camaraderie between Spector and Cohen had quickly degenerated into fractious arguments – about song tempos, structures, arrangements, everything. ‘They didn’t see eye-to-eye at all,’ Devra says, ‘and there were a lot of creative differences. It was always very tense, very uncomfortable.’ Effectively relegated to the role of sideman, Cohen was doing his best to keep an even temper in the midst of the growing chaos … Spector was not simply ‘eccentric’ but seriously disturbed.
Mick Brown Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, 2007
Leonard Cohen: It was one of those periods when my chops were impaired, and I wasn’t in the right kind of condition to resist Phil’s very strong influence on and eventual takeover of the record. There were lots of guns around in the studio and lots of liquor, a somewhat dangerous atmosphere. He had bodyguards who were heavily armed also. He liked guns – I liked guns too but I generally don’t carry one, and it’s hard to ignore a .45 lying on the console. When I was working with him alone, it was very agreeable, but the more people in the room, the wilder Phil would get. I couldn’t help but admire the extravagance of his performance, but at the time couldn’t really hold my own.
Sylvie Simmons: I’m Your Man. The Life of Leonard Cohen 2013
Leonard Cohen: I was flipped out at the time, and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him megalomania and insanity and devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, The atmosphere was guns … the music was subsiduary, an enterprise.
Quoted in Mick Brown Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector, 2007
Spector pointed a loaded pistol at Cohen’s throat, cocked it, and said, “I love you, Leonard.” Quietly, Cohen responded, “I hope you love me, Phil.”
Quoted in most of the biographies
One day Phil just failed to return to the studio, keeping all the tapes (as he had done with Lennon’s masters) and going on to mix them alone. Cohen was aghast. He did not consider his recorded vocals to be anywhere near definitive. As far as he was concerned they were merely “guide” vocals for the benefit of the musicians. He had expected to be able to take time on his singing but with Spector holding the tapes hostage at an unknown location this now seemed impossible, unless he brought his own bunch of heavies to take on Spector’s. “I had the option of hiring my own private army and fighting it out with him on Sunset Boulevard or letting it go…I let it go.”
Anthony Reynolds Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life, 2010
Dan Kessel worked for Spector, and pushes out the producer’s line:
Dan Kessel: Leonard may have thought he had not done his best job vocally; may have felt frustrated that he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to improve on that. But any of these decisions were always going to be according to Phil’s sole judgment as the producer. That’s how things work. When Leonard says he felt that he lost control, I must say with all due respect, and I do respect him very much as an artist, it wasn’t a co-production. It wasn’t produced by Phil Spector and Leonard Cohen. It was always going to be Phil’s decision as to how things happened, how the songs were arranged musically, which songs were keepers, how the recordings were mixed and everything else.
Quoted in Harvey Kubernick Everybody Knows, 2014
Thus speaks a Spector employee. I could not disagree more. That is not how things work at all. Cohen wasn’t a backing singer or session musician booked by Spector. He was the reason for the project. In my own career in such disputes with an editor, I always came back to, ‘At the end of the day, MY name and MY reputation are on the front cover.’ True for Leonard too, but more so. it was highly unusual to get such a prominent producer credit, but the record is BY Leonard Cohen. Period. That’s what it says on the front, the back, the spine and centre label. So, on The Beatles first session George Martin as producer might have called the shots because they were studio novices, but here we have a highly-rated singer with four albums under his belt.
Would Bob Dylan or Paul Simon have ever let a producer put their name on the front of a record? In a dispute over what went on the record, would they have accepted it as meekly as Leonard Cohen did? No way. In such a dispute with Dylan or Simon, the producer would simply have been fired on the spot. There is a crucial difference. The project was set up by Spector, Cohen and their lawyer independently. It had not been commissioned by a record label, though Marty Machat’s purpose was to fulfil an obligation to Warners. It was not a done deal, and as it turned out, Machat had a very hard time persuading Warner to take the finished product. A label which had commissioned an album would have intervened on the artist’s side.
The resulting album was Warner in the USA so as to fulfil Spector’s contract, which may explain his co-billing . It was released on Columbia / CBS worldwide as Cohen was signed to them. It soon reverted to Columbia / CBS everywhere.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Unfortunately when he made the switch to Warners (USA only) in 1977, after a recording hiatus of a couple of years, he worked with former genius producer, Phil Spector, who managed to botch the best set of lyrics that Cohen had written since his debut album, by recording them with completely irrelevant musical arrangements. Nonetheless, the record might be worth searching out if only because of its fascinatingly elliptical attack on feminist values, Death of A Ladies’ Man. One star.
Dave Marsh, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979
The bad music here can’t be blamed on Phil Spector’s melodies- Cohen has never posed as a particularly tuneful guy himself. And the main thing wrong with Spector’s settings, banal though they are, is that they lack lack doors. Ordinarily, Cohen whispers, murmurs, whines, croaks, and even screams THROUGH the music. Here he has to try and sing OVER it, using more or less normal volume and timbre. B –
Robert Christgau, Christgau’s Guides to Albums of the 70s.
Cohen’s dirge-like pessimism would hardly appear to be the perfect fodder for Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound cum Richard Wagner ecstatic street noise. But surprisingly it works for some unfathomable reason.
Sandy Robertson, Sounds, 1977
Leonard Cohen’s doo-wop Nightmare … The LP probably has fewer admirers than buyers. Cohen himself, though he feels the songs are strong, has expressed severe dissatisfaction with the record. Spector, it seems, simply took what the singer felt were tapes still in progress, kept them under lock and key, mixed them like a solitary mad genius and released the album without bothering to consult with the artist. … Too much of the record sounds like the world’s most flamboyant extrovert producing and arranging the world’s most fatalist introvert.
Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, 9 February 1978
(This) paired him with Phil Spector in an odd bid to join Spector’s pop-orchestral Wall of Sound bravado with Cohen’s high-art seriousness and occasional mystic concerns.
Paul Evans, Rolling Stone Album Guide, 1992
The only total waste (among his albums) is Death of A Ladies’ Man
Rob Sheffield, The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, 2004
Notwithstanding the problems surrounding its creation, the record has aged well and at least has value as being the least typical record in both Cohen and Spector’s canon. The songs are essentially solid, melodically strong pieces that swim woozily within a hugely lush panoramic and paranoiac sea of sound. Despite his criticism of Spector’s mix, Cohen’s vocals are at the forefront of the track in most cases and every word is audible, even if the singing itself is not pitch perfect and often sounds blearily stoned and self-conscious.
Anthony Reynolds: Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life 2010
Kenneth Kubernick: But what to make of the music? Not surprisingly it rang of pastiche. The much vaunted Wall of Sound came across as a viscous stew of triple percussion, double keyboards, thrumming guitars, swaddled in a blanket of backing vocals which, paradoxically rendered them both unripe and overcooked … all the musical weight was more of an echo of an era than the portrait of the artists operating in the here and now.
Cohen fans were absolutely taken aback by the widescreen wash that accompanied their idol’s customary tones, and many hastened to complain about the almost unbridled sexuality and brutal voyeurism that replaced Cohen’s traditionally lighter touch — as if the man who once rhymed “unmade bed” with “giving me head” was any stranger whatsoever to explicitness. It is also true that a cursory listen to the album suggests that the whole thing was simply a ragbag of crazy notions thrown into the air to see where they landed …BUT … it represents the peak of Cohen’s first decade or so as a recording artist, both lyrically and stylistically stepping into wholly untapped musical directions — and certainly setting the stage for the larger scale productions that would mark out his music following his return. It might even be his masterpiece.
Dave Thompson, All Music Guide online
it is definitely not an album for everyone. It is a jarringly different album to anything else Cohen ever did; and the layered and sometimes crowded production choices are neither artists’ best. Death of a Ladies Man is a truly bizarre album, but it is not without some moments of great lyrical and musical beauty.
Sputnik Music, online, 2019
Last word to a Phil Spector biographer:
Out of the fog of alcohol and recrimination, Spector had somehow fashioned a series of almost vaudevillian settings that were perfectly pitched to Cohen’s unsparing depiction of himself as a weary boulevardier, desperately speaking spiritual consolation in the pleasures of the flesh, in the face of advancing years and diminishing opportunities. A weary waltz for True Love Leaves No Traces, bump-and-grind burlesque for Iodine. Paper Thin Hotel was a minor-key bittersweet rumination on infidelity … even the country hoe-down arrangement of Fingerprints made a bizarre kind of sense … (it) may not have been Spector’s greatest ever production, but it was certainly the oddest and in many ways the most compelling.
Mick Brown, Mick Brown Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector 2007
WHAT LEONARD SAID LATER …
He has called it his ‘most autobiographical album.’
To Steven Machat: This album is junk. It’s your father’s masturbation. I love Marty. He’s my brother. But I never want to see that man Spector again. He is the worst human being I have ever met … we were drunk and stupid. I do not wish this album to see daylight.
Quoted in Anthony Reynolds, Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life 2010
To be fair this is Reynolds reporting what Steven Machat said that Leonard had said. Hardly verbatim. But it was said when Marty Machat was trying to finalise the Warner / CBS split deal, and Mo Ostin of Warner didn’t want it.
The music in some places is very powerful, but by and large, I think it’s too loud, too aggressive. The arrangements got in my way. I wasn’t able to convey the meaning of the songs.
New York Times, 6 November 1977
I’m feeling more tender about the record now, It really was a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation. Phil turned into another person in the studio. That album keeps turning up in critics lists. It has a certain power to it. But it’s the only piece of work in my whole life of twenty-five or thirty years of working, that I didn’t form the final product. But I’m glad I met Phil, and he remains in my mind as one of the most extraordinary men, I’ve ever met.
1985, quoted in Everybody Knows by Harvey Kubernick, 2014
True Love Leaves No Traces
Ronee Blakely – co lead vocal
The first track was the single. That’s usually a good idea.
It was based on the poem As The Mist Leaves No Scar which is from The Spice Box of Earth, his second collection in 1961 . It only uses the first four lines of the poem.
The introductory bars keep morphing into Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone from The Sun as I listen. The striking thing is that the first voice you hear on this first track is Ronee Blakely, then you realize Leonard Cohen is echoing her, but she seems louder, so that he is backing her, not the other way around. It’s not up to the shock of All The Tired Horses on Dylan’s Self Portrait, but it is still unexpected for the purchaser of a Leonard Cohen album in 1977.
It is as incandescently beautiful as anything either man would ever commit to tape. Cohen’s voice is married lushly to that of Ronne Blakely’s, like two halos mating, and he rarely sounded sadder or more sorrowfully seductive.
Anthony Reynolds: Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life, 2010
When Leonard Cohen died in November 2016, Swedish duo First Aid Kit set up a tribute concert in Stockholm in March 2017. The CD recording was released in 2021, Who By Fire (highly recommended, too for any Leonard Cohen fan). The song Who By Fire has a recitation of the three short verses of the original As The Mist Leaves No Scar in the middle, keeping the backing melody of Who By Fire. They keep completely away from the tune of True Love Leaves No Traces. First Aid Kit yet again prove that female versions of Leonard Cohen songs often work better than male ones. (Two exceptions that prove the rule would be John Cale on Hallelujah and Rufus Wainwright on Chelsea Hotel No. 2).
Ronee Blakely – co lead vocal
This was the first song recorded for the album and it was arranged by Nino Tempo.
Iodine had been slated for the “lost album” Songs for Rebecca which Leonard had worked on with John Lissaur, and the song had originally been called Guerrero. The lyric survived partially, but melodies were changed (as well as the arrangements).
Apparently, when he got to the studio, it was the first Leonard had ever heard about doing it as a duet. If you look at Spector’s track record in the 60s, it’s clear that he worked well with female singers, and that he regarded singers as interchangeable … The Crystals, The Ronettes, Bob. B. Sox & The Blue Jeans all blend into each other. A lot of the time, it was Darlene Love singing, and a lot of the time Cher was one of the backing singers. He paid Leonard no more regard than his other artists. Ronee Blakely had been touring and singing with Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue.
She had done solo albums in a folk vein, and was a singer-songwriter herself. Her appearance in Nashville was her greatest claim to fame. She noted astutely back in 1977 that there was a certain magic in blending Leonard’s voice with a female vocalist.
There were no rehearsals or parts they simply sang the song through once or twice, and Blakely made up her part. She remembers that it wasn’t easy.
Sylvie Simmons I’m Your Man, 2012
Iodine was performed a few times (Setlist.com says three times, but it would be more) on the 1979 Tour. There was no official release. You Tube has a live version from Paris, 1979. He introduces it in French (he is from Montreal, Quebec, after all).
Paper Thin Hotel
I conclude that these guys, Dylan, Simon and Cohen listened to each other extensively. In Duncan (1971) Paul Simon is kept awake by:
Couple in the next room bound to win a prize
They’ve been going at it all night long
Well, I’m trying to get some sleep
But these motel walls are cheap …
Six years later, Leonard has a far darker twist on the same situation. This time he knows the woman, Not only that, unlike Paul Simon’s Lincoln Duncan trying to get some sleep, with a pillow pressed round his ears, Leonard Cohen’s listener is an active auditory version of the voyeur. And in the end he finds it comforting as he comes to terms with it. He immerses himself in pain to find peace.
The walls of this hotel are paper-thin
Last night I heard you making love to him
The struggle mouth to mouth and limb to limb
The grunt of unity when he came in
I stood there with my ear against the wall
It has that gently lurching Central European café feel that Cohen was fond of using. His final touring band would have done it full justice, with Javier Mas on mandolin, Alexandru Bublitchi on violin and a touch of accordion from Nell Larsen. A pity they never played it.
Gallery- click to enlarge
Picture sleeve for single: Germany, Netherlands, Italy 1978
Ronee Blakely – co lead vocal
Cohen taps into both his adolescent sexual angst and his unrequited lust for tall, Teutonic singer Nico in this over-the-top Wall of Sound takeoff on the Shields’ 1958 doo-wop hit “You Cheated, You Lied,” which he quotes by way of outro. Later, onstage, Cohen introduced “Memories” as a “vulgar ditty … in which I have placed my most irrelevant and banal adolescent recollections.” It’s actually rather glorious in its uncharacteristic over-the-top-ness.
Richard Gehr: Leonard Cohen: 20 Essential Songs, Rolling Stone, 11 November 2016
It was one of several songs said to be inspired by Velvet Underground singer, Nico … Joan of Arc, Take This Longing and One of Us Cannot Be Wrong are the others, Did Leonard make the Nico connection explicit? He later regretted telling audiences that Chelsea Hotel #2 was about a liaison with Janis Joplin … while the limousines waited in the street. In Nico’s case, it is said he was spurned.
This one is set at the High School Hop … Frankie Laine is singing Jezebel. That’s a hit from 1951, when Leonard was 16 or 17.
Frankie Laine, he was singin’ ‘Jezebel’
I pinned an Iron Cross to my lapel
I walked up to the tallest and the blondest girlI said,
“Look, you don’t know me now but very soon you will
So, won’t you let me see?”
I said, “Won’t you let me see?”
I said, “Won’t you let me see your naked body?”
You have to think why a Jewish lad in 1951 would pin an Iron Cross (German military medal) on his lapel and approach the “tallest blondest girl”. Nico was German … Aryan. So beguiled was the youth that he would pretend to be his worst enemy (the war was only six years away) in order to attempt seduction. This was released in November 1977. In June 1978 Bob Dylan sang:
There’s a wicked wind still blowin’ on that upper deck
There’s an iron cross still hanging down from around her neck
Señor, (Tales of Yankee Power) from Street Legal
Great minds think alike? Cross-fertilisation?
Later we get to the last dance of the evening, the slow smoocher:
So we’re dancing close, the band is playing ‘Stardust’
Balloons and paper streamers, they’re floating down on us
She says, “You’ve got a minute left to fall in love”
So he connects his thoughts of the unobtainable as a youth (let me see your naked body … ) with a similar impression, a flashback to being a teen, when he meets Nico as an adult (if the connection is correct). When he introduced the song in Bonn, Germany on the 1979 Tour he said:
The next song is one of my least significant songs. In it I have placed as though it were data in a tiny time capsule which is fired at a distant star and actually dissolves in the colder reaches of Space, far before its ultimate destination……In this tiny song I have placed all the irrelevant material concerning my extremely dismal adolescence. It is a song called “Memories”.
Quoted in GENIUS Lyrics online
Overall, I’d say it’s the best track. Leonard is powerful against that mountain of sound and he forced to give it his full range too. It fits easily into his major 80s work.
The Doo-wop classic You Cheated You Lied is in the background at the end. The song was in the US chart (#12) in September / October 1958 when Phil Spector’s first hit, To Know Him Is To Love Him by The Teddy Bears was #1.
You cheated, you lied
You said that you loved me.
ASIDE: You Cheated You Lied. I’ve written extensively on this song elsewhere. It was a local hit for The Slades (eventually US #42) then a bigger hit for The Shields US #12, 1958). It was written by Don Burch, lead singer of The Slades. Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks covered it on Mr Dynamo in 1960 and credited it to Levon Helm. Then The Shangri-Las covered it again in 1965 and carried on the attribution to Levon Helm, who certainly did not write it. The attribution was a Morris Levy / Roulette steal, and Levon was credited, but almost certainly never paid.
This is the only one from the album that Leonard returned to in live performance (77 times). Just two years later a live version from Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK came out on Field Commander Cohen. It is the definitive version of the song. He brought the girl backing (Laura Branigan, Jennifer Warnes, Sharon Robinson) right up and they sound even more doo-wop. Less is more, they create the effect way better than what sounds like a huge heavenly chorus on the studio album. His voice is loud and clear and the crunchy bass line is by his future musical director Roscoe Beck … how wonderful to hear it clearly in the mix rather than the muffled boom of the Spector version. The sax solo remains, now played by Paul Ostermeyer, but loud and clear. It’s better recorded (though live) and just a better mix all round. The song escapes! What is surprising (and pleasant) is that it gets instant recognition from the English audience.
There’s another version from the same tour recorded for ZDF Television in Germany. It appears on a 1993 bootleg CD produced in Switzerland, Last of The Bohemians. It may be “grey” rather than bootleg as live performances weren’t copyright in some European countries at the time. It looks more like a bootleg to me though. It’s the same arrangement.
I Left A Woman Waiting
A pastoral opening with twittering instruments. The bass line seems somewhere vaguely near Je t’aime … mois non plus. There’s a touch of Tears of A Clown in there too.
This is the track with Leonard’s voice loudest and clearest with subdued backing. In other words, it’s the one that sounds most like our expectation of a Leonard Cohen record. It’s got a lovely melody line. If this were better known, it would have had cover versions galore.
Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On
Backing vocals: Bob Dylan & Alan Ginsberg
Based on Beauty Salon from the aborted Songs For Rebecca, put to an initially Bo Diddley-ish beat:
I was born in a beauty salon …
It’s the Rainy Day Women #13 and #35 of Leonard’s career. It was the second recording session. Ronee Blakely was in Cantor’s Deli in LA with Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg and mentioned she was on her way to the session. They elected to wander along with her, uninvited.
David Kessell (guitar): I really got a kick when Dylan walked into Gold Star Studios with his arms around two broads. He was holding a bottle of Scotch or Wild Turkey in his right hand and he turned up with Allen Ginsberg. Listen to the two twelve strings play … I call it punk folk. Leonard was a different vocalist. He vocalizes poetry and sometimes addresses melody within the context of that. I still remember Hal Blaine conducting us doing background singing with Dylan, Ginsberg and a female singer. Allen was cool. He had the bells, he had the finger chimes and was talking peace.
Quoted in quoted in Everybody Knows by Harvey Kubernick, 2014
Allen Ginsberg: Spector was in a total tizzy, ordering everyone around, including Dylan … Get over there! Stay off the microphone!
quoted by Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man
Several participants believe Cohen had left the room while the chorus was being rcorded.
They listened to the playback together:
Phil Spector: That is punk rock, motherfucker!
Leonard Cohen: Everybody will know now, that under this serene Buddha-like exterior, beats an adolescent heart.
Quoted by Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man
Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On” may well be the funkiest thing either Spector or Cohen ever produced. An unexpected bit of strutting funk, “Hard-On” rides along on Ray Neapolitan’s bubbling, proto-disco bass and Jim Keltner’s martial, almost second line-esque snare work on the song’s chorus. Coupled with the horns, it’s a wildly enjoyable ride that managed to rope in both Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg on backing vocals.
Spectrum Culture, online 27 April 2021
David McComb and Adam Peters covered the song on the 1991 Columbia Tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. It’s slowed down and over dramatic.
It was performed during the Hal Wilner Came So Far For Beauty tribute show in Brighton and Sydney, sung by the whole company. The lead vocalists, one per verse, were Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave and Teddy Thompson. I was at Brighton, and thought it a mistake for any vocalist to attempt to follow Rufus Wainwright.
In Stranger Music, the 1993 collection of poems and songs, Fingerprints comes under the Parasites of Heaven section, NOT under Death of A Ladies’ Man. The song lyric has six verses from the ten in the poem. It’s a good edit. So the lyric dates from 1966, before he ever started recording. The collection contains several poems which became songs including Suzanne, Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye and Sisters of Mercy.
Was he trawling back through the collection looking for inspiration as it had furnished him with his best-known three songs up to that time? If you read the poem, or knew the poem, the great surprise is what he did with it.
It suddenly became a raucous campfire hoe down ditty that reminds me enticingly of so many tunes. It’s an odd song … it’s cowboy in the sense that Oklahoma is cowboy. You’re waiting for the dancers in jeans and plaid shirts, high-kickin’ with fingers tucked in their waistcoat pocket, while the girls flounce the layers of petticoats under their pink gingham frocks. You expect either Jimmy cracking corn, or the corn growing incredibly high … and it IS indeed corny, but then you get the first verse, a (probably) crude lyric about fingerprints, which are of course one’s identity. Surely there’s a reference to Orthodox Jewish menstruation taboos (niddah) in the first verse:
I touched you once too often
Now I don’t know who I am
My fingerprints were missing
When I wiped away the jam …
His identity was missing because he was impure (according to Leviticus)?
David Kessell: You will hear Jim Keltner playing sticks on the string bass … stuff that they did on rockabilly records on the Sun label. Or they would have them play sticks on a suitcase or something that had a real marble feel to it.
Quoted in Everybody Knows by Harvey Kubernick, 2014
In 2020, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour performed Fingerprints (YOUTUBE link) to celebrate his wife (Polly Samson)’s novel Theatre For Dreamers which has Leonard Cohen as a character.
Death of A Ladies’ Man
It’s 9 minutes 20 seconds long. The session had started at 7.30 pm, but at 3.30 am they still hadn’t played the song all the way, with Spector insisting on working six bars at a time.
At 4 a.m. Spector stood at the window of the control room and clapped his hands and Leonard began singing his nine minute meditation … The enormous studio room had a cathedral pipe organ in it, which Spector told Dan Kessel to play. Kessel had never played one before. ‘I turned on the power switch, sat down and experimented with the stops till I got the hugest sound I could find. Then Spector began leading us like a symphony orchestra conductor and Leonard came in at the perfect moment and started singing his heart out, while forty musicians came in with sensitive attendance to very breath of Leonard’s vocal. Miraculously without a chart, without rehearsal, we all managed to glide in together for a smooth landing. We were all exhilarated when we wrapped, and no one more so than Leonard.’
Dan Kessel, quoted by Sylivie Simmons, I’m Your Man
It reminds of the famed Al Kooper takeover of the organ for Like A Rolling Stone a dozen years earlier … a novice on the organ creating the sound.
The title song displays elements of female rather than male chauvinism, the women finding the man in distress, taking him, using and losing him, emasculating him … the song and album conclude with emptiness, with the repetitive trailing sound of “I guess you go for nothing / If you really want to go that far.”
Ira Nadel: Leonard Cohen: A Life In Art, 1995
This is a weird one. Nadel mentions the reference to St Francis f Assisi, and points out that Cohen had taken part in an aborted attempt to make a movie about St Francis by Zefferelli:
The project had fallen apart when Cohen suggested that everyone work free in the spirit of the saint.
Ira Nadel: Leonard Cohen: A Life In Art, 1995
Now the master of this landscape he was standing at the view
With a sparrow of St. Francis that he was preaching to
She beckoned to the sentry of his high religious mood
She said, “I’ll make a place between my legs,
I’ll show you solitude.”
He offered her an orgy in a many mirrored room
He promised her protection for the issue of her womb
She moved her body hard against a sharpened metal spoon
She stopped the bloody rituals of passage to the moon
The book Death of A Lady’s Man by Cohen was written before the recording, but published afterwards. The lyric remains the same. He went from Lady’s on the book (singular) to Ladies’ on the album (plural). This may reflect his life at the time. It might be simpler – the photo they found for the sleeve (taken in a Polynesian restaurant by an anonymous photographer) has two women. So ladies not lady.
It was performed by Jarvis Cocker and Beth Orton during the Hal Wilner Came So Far For Beauty tribute show in Brighton and Sydney.
Setlist.com informs that Leonard Cohen played Memories seventy-seven times live. He played Iodine and Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On just three times each.
I bought this album some years ago on CD, but still not more than a decade ago, when I started watching him live. Let’s not get esoteric on vinyl versus CD, but I did compare them switching between the two. My vinyl copy was bought very recently as I was about to begin this article, and it’s an Italian original pressing in a UK original CBS sleeve. I’ve seen this often … with gatefold sleeves, CBS would print in one country for economy of scale. I’ve also seen Columbia USA sleeves on early CBS UK pressings with a “CBS” sticker placed (shakily) over ‘Columbia.’ Anyway, it’s a clean secondhand copy, a little crackle on the play in groove then none. No sign of wear. It definitely sounds richer than the CD. I don’t think CBS have ever remastered the CD since its initial release. It’s Phil Spector. Stuff blends together. Separation was not a word in his vocabulary.
The thing was recording Leonard’s voice so badly. Spector managed to make it sound thin on most of the tracks, which is some feat. In his live concerts in the 21st Century he could go to a whisper and still be heard around a 20,000 seat hall.
On the other hand, the pairing with Ronee Blakely looked forward to later collaborations with Laura Branigan, Jennifer Warnes, Perla Batalla, Julie Christensen, Sharon Robinson, The Webb Sisters.
Just two years later, he recorded Field Commander Cohen live with a full band, sax solos, three female singers, featured duets with Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson … and it includes Memories.
Leonard had three musical careers. Folk singer, then the fierce rock singer of his major albums. Retirement to a monastery led to return to the fruitful mature period following Ten New Songs leading into the incredible world tours. Death of A Ladies’ Man is the bridge between phase one and phase two.
The tunes are great. The more I play it, the better it gets. I’d like to see someone exhume the master tapes and manage a total remix pushing the vocal track right up, just as they did recently with John Lennon’s “buried” voice on the Gimmee Some Truth box set . John Lennon liked to have his voice immersed in the mix, and Yoko Ono decided to pull it forward for recent box sets. Reviews of the imminent All Things Must Pass box set say the remix has clarified the vocals and separated instruments more than on the Spector co-produced original.
Then as Leonard has said, he thought his voice on this was merely a guide vocal. Who has the master tapes? That’s another question. Sadly, even if they were available, it seems highly unlikely that the track could be pulled out.
Phil Spector: When I record, I put everything on tape echo … I record basic tracks then put it all to one track, or maybe two. Then I condense. I put my voices on. The finished track never ends up on more than one track. I don’t wear a “Back to Mono” badge for nothing. I believe in it.
Quoted in Harvey Kubernick, Everybody Knows.
Spector said that in 1977. That would be a reason why he could not admit Cohen’s request to re-record the vocals. However, Anthony Reynold’s biography states that the masters were 24-track on two inch tape. So was everything really shifted onto two tracks?
The thing about Leonard Cohen … listen long enough and every one of his albums deserves five stars. This included. It sorely needs a remix treatment and re-release.
MY REVIEWS OF LEONARD COHEN LIVE:
THE REVILED ALBUMS ARE (so far) …
Beatles For Sale – The Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request … The Rolling Stones
Speedway (and Elvis film music) – Elvis Presley
Electric Mud– Muddy Waters
Self Portrait – Bob Dylan
Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
Cahoots – The Band
Carl and The Passions- So Tough! – The Beach Boys
Wild Life – Wings
Sometime in New York City – John and Yoko / Elephant’s Memory
Recall The Beginning: A Journey From Eden … The Steve Miller Band
Hard Nose The Highway … Van Morrison
Chicago III … Chicago
Berlin– Lou Reed
Pinups – David Bowie
Death of A Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen
Born Again – Randy Newman
Mingus – Joni Mitchell
Everybody’s Rockin’ – Neil Young
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane (1989)
And here’s a rule-breaker. I’d decided one album each, but Van Morrison got so much vituperation from critics (unjustly) in 2021, that I had to add it:
Latest Record Project Volume1… Van Morrison
This list will grow steadily