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Thursday, February 02, 2012

LEONARD COHEN & COLUMBIA RECORDS

         I saw that a new Leonard Cohen record came out this week, and that there is an attempt by Columbia "more relevant" to youngsters by having bands like CULTS cover Cohen songs, which seems a-ok to me.  I thought I'd share the story of how Leonard Cohen signed to Columbia, from the epic  The Label: The Story of Columbia Records, by Gary Marmorstein (MY REVIEW)(AMAZON PRODUCT PAGE):

   In the months before the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and [Clive] Davis's ascension to the presidency, [John] Hammond's most recent discovery was probably the Canadian poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen.  The previous year Hammond had seen a documentary film, Ladies and Gentlemen...Mr. Leonard Cohen and, impressed, asked him to come to New York and play for him.  Cohen recorded his first Columbia album, which included "Suzanne," on May 19, 1967, at the 30th street studio, with Eric Weissberg on guitar and Felix Pappalardi on Fender bass.  There was a tremendous push by the legal department to have Cohen sign with its publishing unit April-Blackwood because, of course, the songs would be more expensive if the album became a hit.  With memos from Dick Asher and Walter Dean flying back and forth, Cohen and his producer Hammond felt the pressure.  Fortunately, Cohen responded postively to incoming publishing chief Neil Anderson, and the deal was made.
   Cohen's career was an illustration of the move away from Tin Pan Alley, in which songwriters sold their wares to publishing companies, who connected the songs to singers or "artists." At Columbia, Cohen wasn't the first songwriter to record his own music the way he wanted to.  Oscar Brown was probably the progenitor of the practice, Bob Dylan the prime mover, and Paul Simon no less an orignal than Dylan.  Cohen's style, however, was unique- his druggy, susurrant parlando backed by guitar and voices- and appealed to record buyers who surrounded themselves with books of poetry, incense and macareme.  In Dylan and Simon, as with so many novelists, their content was said to be their style; in Cohen, his style was the content.  This was true even after Hammond, extending the old pattern, was pulled away from producing Cohen- apparently at Cohen's request-- and young Columbia producer John Simon brought in to provide a more elaborate, cathedral-like sound.
  Check out that book- The Label: The Story of Columbia Records, by Gary Marmorstein, if you are serious about the music business. REQUIRED READING

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