Leonard Cohen

Suzanne

Composed by Leonard Cohen

Song Review by

"Suzanne," from Leonard Cohen's debut album, is probably his most well-known composition. Cohen was noted as the first musician to bring heavy credentials as a previously published novelist and poet into rock music, and "Suzanne" is certainly imbued with the qualities of poetry in its lyrics. It is a character sketch, of a mysterious and ethereal woman who lives by the river and serves tea and oranges; in the song's most memorable line, the narrative touches her perfect body with his mind. Although like many Cohen songs, "Suzanne"'s melody is basic, it's attractive and soothing, though as haunting as the words. Though like much of Cohen's early work it's predominantly built around acoustic guitar, the addition of spectral backup female vocals and strings greatly enhances the song's power. The song gets an added dimension, too, from its second verse, where Cohen detours from the narrative about Suzanne to sing in equally mystical terms about Jesus, who touches your perfect body with his mind. It's hard to know exactly what Cohen might have been intended here, but it does seem to intermingle or compare the experiences of sex and romantic attraction with those of a religious experience or revelation. Cohen revealed that "Suzanne" was inspired by a real woman in Montreal, Suzanne Vaillancourt, who did indeed serve him tea with oranges in her loft. As she was married to a friend of his, he has explained, the only opportunity to touch her perfect body was with his mind. "Suzanne" has been covered by many artists, including Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Roberta Flack, Peter Gabriel, Francoise Hardy, Pearls Before Swine, and Nina Simone. The first singer to bring it to wide attention, however, was Judy Collins, who sang it on her 1966 In My Life album, which was released well before Cohen put it out on Songs of Leonard Cohen. Oddly, the first occasion many listeners had to hear the song came in 1967, also before Cohen's first album, when Noel Harrison, better known as an actor, took "Suzanne" to #56 as a single. The best cover of "Suzanne," however, was by Fairport Convention, whose 1968 version featured excellent alternation of male and female lead vocals from Ian Matthews and Sandy Denny, as well as a total musical rearrangement featuring dramatic stuttering tempos. Unfortunately this version, recorded for the BBC and included on their 1960s BBC compilation Heyday, never made it onto their studio albums of the period, though a studio outtake from the time (which is inferior to the BBC version, as it has only Matthews on vocals) did surface in 2003. Joni Mitchell, incidentally, has commented that the character-sketch quality of "Suzanne" was influential on some of her own early compositions built around characters, like "Marcie."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967 Columbia / Legacy
Greatest Hits 1975 Sony Music
The Oldie Collection, Vol. 2 1992
Various Artists
Columbia 3:48
No Image 1993
Various Artists
Alex
Cohen Live 1994 Sbme Special Mkts.
Songbook: The Best of Singer/Songwriters 1995
Various Artists
Magnum
Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 [Sony] 1996
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:03
Breaking the Waves [Hollywood] 1996
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 3:49
Oh What a Feeling: A Vital Collection of Canadian Music 1996
Various Artists
Juno
More Best of Leonard Cohen 1997 Columbia
Never Any Good [Single] 1997 Columbia 4:19
Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:49
Ultimate Singer-Songwriter Col 2000
Various Artists
Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp.
Singers and Songwriters: Late '60s 2001
Various Artists
Time/Life Music
Songwriter! 2002
Various Artists
Columbia / Sony/Columbia 3:49
The Essential Leonard Cohen 2002 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 3:50
No Image 2003 Sony BMG 3:50
Mojo Presents 2003 Sony Music Distribution / Columbia 3:50
No Image 2003
Various Artists
Universal Music
Woodstock Generation [Sony Box] 2004
Various Artists
Columbia 3:48
No Image 2004
Various Artists
Virgin
Pure Acoustic 2004
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 3:49
Greatest Love Songs of the 60's 2005
Various Artists
Marks & Spencer 3:48
Songs of Leonard Cohen/Songs of Love and Hate 2006 Sony Legacy 3:50
Songs of Leonard Cohen/Songs of Life 2007 Col 3:48
The Collection 2008 Columbia 3:50
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Sony BMG 3:48
Live in London [DVD] 2009 Sony Music / Sony Music Entertainment
Live in London 2009 Columbia 3:47
Greatest Hits [2009] 2009 Music on Vinyl
Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 2009 Columbia/Legacy / Sony Music
Bird on a Wire: Live in Europe 1972 [DVD] 2010 Tony Palmer Films
Songs from the Road 2010 Col 3:41
All Time Best: Reclam Musik Edition 2011 Columbia
The Complete Studio Albums Collection 2011 Sony Music 3:50
Back in the Motherland 2011 Left Field Media / Leftfield 4:01
A Groovy Kind of Love 2013
Various Artists
Sony Music 3:48
Wild [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 2014
Original Soundtrack
Sony Music 3:47
Live in Dublin 2014 Columbia 4:25
Toronto, 1988 2016 Roxvox
Once More for Marianne 2016 Golden Rain 4:14
No Image
Various Artists
Pure... Acoustic
Various Artists
Sony Music 3:49
Ultimate... 60s
Various Artists
Legacy
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