Best Leonard Cohen covers from Nina Simone to Johnny Cash

Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah one of thousands of versions of Canadian musician’s songs

Leonard Cohen performs at The O2 in Dublin in 2013. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Leonard Cohen performs at The O2 in Dublin in 2013. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times


Leonard Cohen’s songs have been covered thousands of times. The best known is, of course, Jeff Buckley’s 1994 version of Hallelujah – itself one of hundreds of covers of Cohen’s 1984 track.

The Canadian singer/songwriter’s work has been interpreted by artists such as Nina Simone, REM, Johnny Cash and Lana Del Rey. Here are a handful of them.

Nick Cave – I’m Your Man (original: 1988, cover: 2006)

Australian musician Nick Cave has recorded a number of Cohen covers but his style was particularly well suited to the title track of the Canadian’s eighth studio album: a slow, seductive song that remained a mainstay of Cohen’s setlist since1988. Link:

Nina Simone – Suzanne (original: 1967, cover: 1969)

Nina Simone cut a bright, energetic version of Cohen’s debut single in 1969. First written as a poem, Judy Collins recorded a version in 1966 before Cohen recorded it the following year as part of his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen. One of his most covered tracks, it was inspired by Cohen’s platonic relationship with Suzanne Verdal. Link:

Johnny Cash – Bird on a Wire (original: 1969, cover: 1994)

This country version of Bird on a Wire remains faithful to the original’s melancholic loneliness. Produced by Rick Rubin and recorded in Johnny Cash’s home, the track appeared on the country veteran’s 1994 American Recordings album which would go on to rejuvenate his career. Link:

REM – First We Take Manhattan (original: 1988, cover: 1991)

First recorded by Jennifer Warnes in 1987, Cohen’s version of his own song, First We Take Manhattan, appeared on his quasi-synthpop eighth studio album, I’m Your Man. REM’s version appeared on I’m Your Fan, a tribute album released in 1991. Link:

Lana Del Rey – Chelsea Hotel #2 (original: 1974, cover: 2013)

Chelsea Hotel #2 details the brief, sexual affair between Cohen and Janis Joplin at New York’s Chelsea Hotel, the famous Manhattan hostelry closely associated with writers, musicians and other artists. Del Rey’s 2013 version is a spare, haunting cover. Link:

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (original: 1984, cover: 1994)

Interest in Cohen was at a low ebb when he released the album Various Positions in 1984. Although he agonised over the lyrics to Hallelujah, the track initially received little attention. But the Velvet Underground’s John Cale recognised something special in it and asked Cohen if he could do a cover. The songwriter sent him 15 pages of discarded notes to work with and from these Cale produced the track that Buckley would go on to immortalise in his 1994 album Grace.Link: