Leonard Cohen is a unique artist. So unique, in fact, that the idea of covering a song of his gives us the chills and not the good kind. The singer-poet carved himself out of such a specific niche that he very rarely produced live covers of material by his contemporaries during his career.
While a few traditional folk standards found their way into his set and on and records over the years, there were very few moments that Cohen picked up the mic and performed somebody else’s song in earnest. It would appear that Cohen reserved his vocals for only the esteemed work of the world. That is, of course, until The King, the original pop-rock and roller, Elvis Presley, got involved.
“I have plans to sing an Elvis song on stage soon,” said Leonard Cohen in a BBC interview from 1988. “I was a huge fan of Elvis! I was in town until today and bought a compilation LP of the man. Soon you will hear me sing ‘Don’t’ and ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ – but not at the plate. My voice is too deep. 20,000 cigarettes have led my tone of voice three to four notches down too far.”
There is no record of Cohen ever singing the two aforementioned tracks, despite how hard we have looked. However, those wishing for a Cohen and Presley crossover can count themselves lucky that in 1988, as the Canadian stepped onto the stage in Oslo, Norway, he had a special performance up his sleeves.
He would sing ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ for his adoring crowd and capture an entire audience as he did.
The song, originally written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss, was, of course, popularised by Presley as Cohen’s formative years began to grow under him. It would appear that for Cohen, Presley was truly The King. In another interview from the same year, Cohen said: “I was relieved that all the stuff we’d been feeling for so long found expression in Presley and in rock in general.”
The shock of recognition was enough to be enchanted by Presley: “I was playing his records all the time to friends when they’d come over,” continued Cohen. “I’d say, ‘This guy is a great singer’—and they thought this was some kind of inverse snobbery. But it wasn’t. Presley had that special kind of voice which makes your heart go out to a singer.”
It was enough to begin a lifelong love affair for Cohen. But he only, as far as we can tell, ever performed the one song of Presley’s—judging by the lack of covers in Cohen’s repertoire that’s enough to qualify Elvis as a favourite of Cohen’s.
Below, thanks to the bootleg The Other Songs of Leonard Cohen, we can listen to this rarely heard cover of one of Elvis’ most iconic hits from the incredible Leonard Cohen.
A pure joy.