Songs of Leonard Cohen – Leonard Cohen
Although he began his career as a poet and writer, Leonard Cohen was quickly disappointed with his lack of financial success in the field. Soon, he moved to the United States to become a folk performer.
While working on his first album, Cohen’s producer John Hammond became ill, forcing Cohen to work with John Simon instead. The two clashed over the direction of Cohen’s music, with Cohen arguing for a sparse sound while Simon wanted to add additional instrumentation such as orchestral and brass performances. Cohen made changes to the tapes but couldn’t remove some of Simon’s adjustments on the master tape of Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Still, Cohen revealed his natural ability to construct a short story with his debut album. Few artists can manipulate silence to their advantage, yet Leonard Cohen made each song feel intimate and personal upon first listen. His emotionless voice was raw and personal, allowing Cohen to string hints of upheaval throughout his music without revealing too many details.
Although America didn’t fall in love with Cohen immediately, covers from James Taylor and Judy Collins, as well as Cohen’s consistently impressive releases, helped cement his legacy as a singer-songwriter.
Songs to listen to: “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “So Long, Marianne”
Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits
After a relatively successful stint in the ‘70s and a decent album, Heartattack and Vine, released in 1980, Tom Waits overhauled his career, dumping his longtime manager, producer and record label. By 1983, he had drastically adjusted his sound, switching from piano and string-based instrumentation to unpredictable horns, bass and percussion.
In terms of lyrics, Waits abandoned his old, dependable ballads and started writing in a more avant-garde style. Swordfishtrombones is often described as primitive, with Waits using a deep, drunken voice and odd grunting noises to build off alternative bluesmen.
After trying for 13 months to sell his album to a label, Waits finally found a buyer willing to put out his revolutionary effort. Although Swordfishtrombones didn’t chart well, fans of the the album’s style can point to its release as the moment Waits boldly reintroduced himself to the music world.
Songs to listen to: “16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six,” “In The Neighborhood,” “Soldier’s Things”