Song of the Day #4,816: ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ – Leonard Cohen

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen released his fourth studio album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, in 1974. It was a continuation of the spare, elegiac style of his first three releases, though he did introduce new instruments to the mix.

I’m familiar with Cohen more through his reputation than his music. The only full album of his I’ve owned is 1992’s The Future, a gloriously dark and apocalyptic record. Of course I know ‘Hallelujah,’ his most beloved (and at this point, overexposed) song, and a smattering of other singles (‘Suzanne,’ ‘Everybody Knows’).

My first spin through New Skin for the Old Ceremony left me simultaneously impressed and uninspired. Cohen was a poet before he was a songwriter, and his songs are all fascinating lyrically. But the melodies are often subtle veering toward invisible.

When one of his songs hits, though, it’s pretty special. Such is the case with today’s SOTD, ‘Chelsea Hotel #2,’ an account of a fling with Janis Joplin.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were talking so brave and so sweet
Givin’ me head on the unmade bed
While the limousines wait in the street

Those were the reasons, that was New York
We were runnin’ for the money and the flesh
And that was called love for the workers in song
Probably still is for those of them left

Yeah, but you got away, didn’t you babe?
You just turned your back on the crowd
When you got away, I never once heard you say

I need you
I don’t need you
I need you
I don’t need you
And all of that jivin’ around

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
You told me again, you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception

And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said “Well nevermind
We are ugly but we have the music”
And then you got away didn’t you babe?
You just turned your back on the crowd
When you got away I never once heard you say

I need you
I don’t need you
I need you
I don’t need you
And all of that jivin’ around

I don’t mean to suggest
That I loved you the best
I can’t keep track of each fallen robin
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
That’s all, I don’t think of you that often

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,816: ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ – Leonard Cohen

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Given Cohen’s critical reception, some further exploration, if not a deep dive, into his music might prove rewarding. And one of these days I might get around to watching the documentary that came out years ago about him.

  2. Andrea Katz says:

    For me, he is brilliant…equal to Bob Dylan at least. Saw him live in the early 70’s at U of M.

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