The Best Songs: Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen)


It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.

The problem with that song is that I’ve forgotten the actual triangle. Whether it was my own – of course, I always felt that there was an invisible male seducing the woman I was with, now whether this one was incarnate or merely imaginary I don’t remember, I’ve always had the sense that either I’ve been that figure in relation to another couple or there’d been a figure like that in relation to my marriage. I don’t quite remember but I did have this feeling that there was always a third party, sometimes me, sometimes another man, sometimes another woman. It was a song I’ve never been satisfied with. It’s not that I’ve resisted an impressionistic approach to songwriting, but I’ve never felt that this one, that I really nailed the lyric. I’m ready to concede something to the mystery, but secretly I’ve always felt that there was something about the song that was unclear. So I’ve been very happy with some of the imagery, but a lot of the imagery.
~Leonard Cohen (BBC Radio Interview 1994)

Sometime in the early 1970s, a thief stole Leonard Cohen’s old raincoat from Marianne Ihlen’s New York apartment. God only know what happened to it, but the thief almost certainly had no idea he was stealing an object that belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if not the Smithsonian. It was that very coat that inspired Cohen to write one of his most beloved and mysterious songs. It’s written in the form of a letter, possibly to the narrator’s brother, who stole his lover, Jane.
~rollingstone.com

Famous Blue Raincoat (from the album – Songs of Love and Hate)

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Great Tom Waits Song: Goin’ Out West

I’m goin’ out west where the wind blows tall
‘Cause Tony Franciosa used to date my ma
They got some money out there, they’re givin’ it away
I’m gonna do what I want and I’m gonna get paid
Do what I want and I’m gonna get paid

Bone Machine’s standout track was “Goin’ out West,” a throwback to the demonic R&B of “Heartattack and Vine” and “16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six.” Over possibly the greatest drum sound ever—Waits whacking what sounds like a metal door— Joe Gore and Larry Taylor created an infernal Cramps-ish racket that put the likes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion utterly in the shade. Waits raged away in the guise of a wannabe actor en route to California, a deluded ex-con who claimed he looked good with his shirt off and planned to call himself Hannibal or Rex. The song was Elmore Leonard’s Be Cool distilled into three frenzied minutes, a capsule snapshot of a dumb Everglades hunk with a head full of celluloid fantasies. Waits had seen dolts like this swarming into LA for years.
-Barney Hoskyns (Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits)

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Great Tom Waits Song – Kentucky Avenue

Well, Eddie Grace’s Buick got four bullet holes in the side
And Charlie DeLisle is sittin’ at the top of an avocado tree
Mrs. Storm will stab you with a steak knife if you step on her lawn
I got a half a pack of Lucky Strikes, man, so come along with me
And let’s fill our pockets with macadamia nuts
And go over to Bobby Goodmanson’s and jump off the roof

Still more lushly sentimental was “Kentucky Avenue,” the great song of Waits’ childhood. One of his most unashamedly emotional outpourings, it mourned lost innocence with a compassion few other songwriters have ever attempted, let alone achieved. This wasn’t The Waltons—the lyric was full of wanton violence and vandalism—but as the song reached its climax, the love in Waits’ voice, heaved from his memory, was almost too much to bear.
-Barney Hoskyns (Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits)

Studio version:

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Great Tom Waits Song – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Hey Charley I’m pregnant
Living on 9th Street
Right above a dirty bookstore
Off Euclid Avenue
I stopped taking dope
And I quit drinking whiskey
And my old man plays the trombone
And works out at the track

One of Tom Waits’ most beloved songs from one of his more obscure albums, Blue Valentine, “Christmas Card…” is a live standard. The song showcases Waits playing a barroom piano melody, weaving words together — in essence, doing what he does best in one long, bittersweet song. The lyrics are essentially a reading aloud of what the title says it is — a Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis. Waits takes the voice of the female character: “Hey Charley, I’m pregnant…”; you can guess the rest. The song is littered with characters with names like Mario. There are references to the track, a filling station, and a used car lot. There is whiskey, dope, grease, a trombone, and Little Anthony & the Imperials. What more could you want from a Tom Waits song?
– Denise Sullivan (allmusic.com)

Studio version:

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Great Song: Elvis Costello – Veronica

A great songwriter can take even an uncomfortable or difficult subject and turn it into an enjoyable and inviting song. When two of the best songwriters in the world come together, they can take that same subject and not only create a hit but also illuminate the subject in ways both surprising and moving.
-Jim Beviglia (Pump It Up: Elvis Costello’s 100 Best Songs)

Here are some facts, original version, lyrics & live versions.

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