The Canadian poet, novelist and songwriter Leonard Cohen (21 September 1934 - 10 November 2016) achieved international success with the release of the LP Songs of Leonard Cohen (late 1967 in the US, early 1968 in the UK). He had already established a reputation as a songwriter after Judy Collins recorded his song "Suzanne" for her 1966 LP In My Life, and, despite the handicap of a (much-mocked) droning voice, became an accomplished live performer and a favourite of the hippy generation - without being a hippy himself. Cohen was older than most of the popular artists of that era and, despite obvious sympathies with his young audience, had affinities with the Beats rather than the hippies. He managed to outlast most of the "bedsit troubadours", the introverted singer-songwriters of the early 1970s with whom he was sometimes bracketed by rock critics . In subsequent decades he continued to record and tour the world, an indication of his lasting popularity; in his own way he changed with the times and some of his later songs, notably "Hallelujah", rivalled his 1960s compositions in attracting cover versions from a wide variety of artists. In 2012 he was still touring and performing.
Cohen's long and fascinating career as poet, novelist, singer-songwriter, recording artist, live performer and public figure is described in an extensive Wikipedia article..
Links to Peel
On his Perfumed Garden show on Radio London in summer 1967, Peel frequently played tracks from Judy Collins' In My Life LP, among them her version of "Suzanne", which later became Cohen's most famous song. When he obtained a copy of Songs of Leonard Cohen, he was impressed. In his Perfumed Garden column in International Times of 8 March 1968 he wrote:
"The Leonard Cohen LP on CBS fills any room with that elusive atmosphere of deep peace and warmth normally reserved for Donovan's poetry."
This was high praise, as Donovan was still one of Peel's very favourite artists. Cohen tracks began to appear regularly in Peel's playlists and when the singer visited Britain in July 1968 he was booked to do a Top Gear session; it was recorded on 9 July, broadcast on 14 July and repeated on the show of 11 August. In Ken Garner's "The Peel Sessions" it is featured (p.54) as a "One-Session Wonder", being Cohen's only BBC radio session. Peel is quoted as finding Cohen a "very organised guy", dressed "in a rather nice suit", not at all the doomy, denim-clad figure he had expected. 
After this, Peel's enthusiasm for Cohen intensified; when, on the Top Gear of 16 February 1969, he played Judy Collins' version of "Story of Isaac", from her LP Who Knows Where The Time Goes, he announced it as as a song by "Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen". Soon afterwards, he wrote in his International Times column (28 March 1969) that his readers would soon be able to buy "a British edition of some of the poems of Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen" ("I can't tell you who's the publisher because my copy is bringing its strange, autumnal melancholy to someone else's room"). The singer's second album, Songs From A Room, was an immediate chart success in the UK, reaching number 3 in the BBC's new LP chart; this caused Peel to remark sardonically, "Not bad for minority stuff" on the "nameless show/son of Night Ride" of 07 May 1969 - responding to those in the BBC who thought this show was only of minority interest, changed its broadcast time, and eventually took it off the air.
Cohen's first two LPs established him as a "star" of his era and he began to tour widely, a period which is captured by film of him at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and by Tony Palmer's film Bird on the Wire, which documented his world tour of 1972, with Cohen having to deal with turbulent political events and noisy audiences. At times he seems affected by the stress of his schedule, but some of the backstage scenes show him living up to his reputation as a ladies' man. The Olivetti Chronicles reprints a piece Peel wrote for Disc & Music Echo of 1 April 1972 in which he describes (p.41) the London concert of this tour, at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 March, as "a bit of a disappointment", saying that the venue was unsuited to his music ("Leonard Cohen is the sort of singer you should come across unannounced in some despairing place"). Peel describes a reception for Cohen with "a torrent of smart and fashionable folk from smart and fashionable papers and TV programmes" and observes that the singer "looked harassed and frustrated".
Although Peel continued to play Leonard Cohen's records, he was never quite so enthusiastic as he had been about Cohen's first two LPs. Cohen was not a prolific songwriter and the overall critical reception to his early 1970s releases was mixed. By the time Cohen recovered his reputation, Peel had switched his attention to the youthful energy of the punk and post-punk artists, and Leonard Cohen, whose appeal had always been to adults rather than teenagers, would have been out of place in his playlists.
"Sisters of Mercy", from Cohen's debut LP, was included in the Peelenium - oddly enough, for the year 1966, although the LP was issued two years later.
Festive Fifty Entries
- Peelenium 1966: 'Sisters Of Mercy'
- One session only. At the time, the Ministry Of Labour had ruled that American acts could only record sessions if a reciprocal arrangement existed in their native country: since US radio had no such facility at the time, very few of the bands Peel wanted to hear were captured. Cohen's session was one exception due to the fact that he was backed by five British musicians (including Dave Cousins on banjo) and three backing singers, all directed by Tony Gilbert.  Produced by Bernie Andrews.
That's No Way To Say Goodbye / You Know Who I Am / Like A Bird On A Wire / So Long, Marianne (& Dress Rehearsal Rag, first TX on repeat).
Other Shows Played
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all plays are from Songs Of Leonard Cohen (CBS)
- 24 November 1968: 'Teachers'
- 27 April 1969: Seems So Long Ago Nancy (b-side of single Bird On A Wire) CBS
- 07 May 1969: 'A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes (LP-Songs From A Room)' (CBS)
- 18 May 1969: 'The Butcher (LP-Songs From A Room)' (CBS)
- Radio Luxembourg Tracklistings 4: 'Sisters Of Mercy'
- 05 April 1973: 'Nancy (LP-Live Songs)' (CBS)
- 17 May 1973: 'That's No Way To Say Goodbye'
- 21 June 1973: 'Sisters Of Mercy'
- 16 December 1980: The Partisan (LP - Songs From A Room) CBS
- 04 May 1987: The Stranger Song
- 28 June 1988: 'Sisters Of Mercy'
- 02 July 1993: 'Bird On The Wire (LP-Songs From A Room)' (CBS) (JP: ‘In 1969 that meant more to me than just about any other record I think. What a bright eyed merry little scamp I was then too.’)
- 11 November 1997: Suzanne
- 27 May 1998: 'Sisters Of Mercy' 
- 02 November 1999: 'Sisters Of Mercy' (Peelenium 1966)
- 16 February 2000: 'That's No Way To Say Goodbye'
(The list below was compiled only from the Cover Versions page of this site. Please add more information if known.)
Artist | Track | First Known Play
- Joe Cocker: Bird On The Wire 23 May 2000
- Judy Collins: Story of Isaac 16 February 1969
- Fairport Convention: Bird On A Wire (session) 22 January 1969
- Fairport Convention: Suzanne (session) 29 September 1968
- James: So Long, Marianne (29 September 1991
- Pixies: I Can't Forget 28 September 1991
- Prudes: Bird On The Wire 07 July 1991
- ↑ Garner also relates that Ashley Hutchings of Fairport Convention was present at the recording, and his band were later to add their only studio recording of live Cohen favourite Suzanne to their next session.
- ↑ For further discussion of this, see Sessions That Never Happened.
- ↑ Pursuant to a play of 'When You Put Leonard Cohen On' by Melys.