Death of a Ladies' Man (album)
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|Death of a Ladies' Man|
|Studio album by|
|Released||November 13, 1977|
|Recorded||June and July 1977|
|Label||Warner Bros. (original release)|
|Leonard Cohen chronology|
Death of a Ladies' Man is the fifth studio album by Leonard Cohen, produced and co-written by Phil Spector. The album was in some ways a departure from Cohen's typical minimalist style by using Spector's Wall of Sound recording method, which included ornate arrangements and multiple tracks of instrument overdubs. The album was originally released in the US by Warner Bros., and on CD and the rest of the world by Cohen's long-time label, Columbia Records.
By the mid-1970s, both Cohen and Spector were on a downward slide commercially. Although he remained popular in Europe, Cohen had never achieved the success in the United States that Columbia had hoped for. Spector had created hits such as "Be My Baby" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" with his "wall of sound" production technique in the 1960s, and had some success in the early 1970s by producing albums by John Lennon and George Harrison; however, his behaviour became increasingly erratic.
The craziness would escalate when Spector reunited with Lennon to record a rock and roll oldies project called Roots, which would eventually come out in 1975 under the title Rock 'n' Roll. The sessions took place in a chaotic fog of drugs, booze, and hangers-on as the equally troubled Lennon drank his way through his infamous "lost weekend". In the 2003 book Phil Spector: Wall of Pain, biographer Dave Thompson recounts one famous incident when Spector fired a pistol in the studio. "Listen Phil, if you're goin' to kill me, kill me", Lennon remarked dryly, "but don't fuck with me ears. I need 'em." Such behaviour did Spector's reputation no favors, and as the hits dried up he was viewed more and more by the rock press as an oldies act.
As Ira Nadel notes in the 1996 Cohen biography, Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen, stories differ as to how Cohen and Spector became collaborators:
- The liner notes on the album state that Marty Machat, who was Spector's lawyer as well as Cohen's, introduced them. According to Cohen, this occurred backstage after one of his performances at the Troubadour in L.A. Spector had uncharacteristically left his well-protected home to see Cohen, and at the show was strangely silent. Spector then invited Cohen back to his home, which, because of the air-conditioning, was very chilly, about "thirty-two degrees," Cohen recalled...Spector locked the door and Cohen reacted by saying, "As long as we are locked up, we might as well write some songs together." They went to the piano and started that night. For about a month they wrote (and drank) together and Cohen remembers it as a generous period, although he had to wear an overcoat almost constantly to work in Spector's freezing home.
Biographer Anthony Reynolds writes in the 2010 book Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life that friend and fellow Canadian songwriter Joni Mitchell tried to warn Cohen about working with Spector, Mitchell having witnessed some of the insanity between Spector and Lennon in Los Angeles, but initially - at least at the songwriting stage - the pair worked well together. Songwriter John Prine, who had also witnessed the producer's bizarre antics when he had been invited to his house to compose a song together, later marveled to Paul Zollo of BluebirdRailroad magazine that as soon as Spector "sat down with an instrument, he was normal." Things would change once Cohen and Spector entered a studio, with the producer's paranoia taking over and Cohen becoming increasingly disengaged from the project.
Spector would use three studios for the album, although his favorite remained the Gold Star Studios complex located at 6252 Santa Monica Boulevard near the corner of Vine Street in Hollywood. Spector recruited a plethora of top-shelf Los Angeles studio musicians to play on the songs, including guitarists Dan and David Kessel, drummers Hal Blaine and Jim Keltner, and pedal steel player Al Perkins, among many others. It was precisely in front of an audience, however, that Spector's megalomaniacal switch turned on, and soon Cohen felt overwhelmed. Speaking to Mojo's Sylvie Simmons in 2001, Cohen described his feelings at the time:
- It was one of those periods when my chops were impaired, and I wasn't in the right kind of condition to resist Phil's very strong influence on and eventual takeover of the record. There were lots of guns around in the studio and lots of liquor, a somewhat dangerous atmosphere. He had bodyguards who were heavily armed also. He liked guns - I liked guns too but I generally don't carry one, and it's hard to ignore a .45 lying on the console. When I was working with him alone, it was very agreeable, but the more people in the room, the wilder Phil would get. I couldn't help but admire the extravagance of his performance, but at the time couldn't really hold my own."
During a cryptic exchange detailed in Ira Nadel's Cohen biography, Various Positions, Spector pointed a loaded pistol at Cohen's throat, cocked it, and said, "I love you, Leonard." Quietly, Cohen responded, "I hope you love me, Phil." Nadel also writes that the recording of the nine-minute title track began at 7:30 in the evening and lasted until 2:30 in the morning with the session musicians working on quadruple time, typical of the sessions as a whole. Another night, poet Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan showed up and were ordered by Spector to sing background vocals on the raucously burlesque "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-on". Most of the songs deal with themes of unbridled sexuality and brutal voyeurism, such as "Paper Thin Hotel" ("The walls of this hotel are paper thin/Last night I heard you making love to him..."), and are couched in Spector's bombastic sprawl of sonic grandeur. The buoyant "Fingerprints" is a fiddle-infused hootenanny that recalls Cohen's love of country music. Early versions of "Iodine" (then called "Guerrero") and "Don't Go Home with Your Hard-on" were performed in concert as early as 1975 (with music credited to John Lissauer) and are widely available on bootlegs. As Anthony Reynolds reports in his 2010 Cohen biography, the sessions did not even "officially" end:
- One day Phil just failed to return to the studio, keeping all the tapes (as he had done with Lennon's masters) and going on to mix them alone. Cohen was aghast. He did not consider his recorded vocals to be anywhere near definitive. As far as he was concerned they were merely "guide" vocals for the benefit of the musicians. He had expected to be able to take time on his singing but with Spector holding the tapes hostage at an unknown location this now seemed impossible, unless he brought his own bunch of heavies to take on Spector's. "I had the option of hiring my own private army and fighting it out with him on Sunset Boulevard or letting it go...I let it go."
Marty Marchet's son Steven secured a deal with Warner Bros. to release the record, one that Cohen would always harbor mixed feelings about. "I'm too ashamed to tell the whole truth of what happened there", Cohen confessed to Adrian Deevoy of Q magazine in 1991. "People were skating around on bullets, guns were finding their way into hamburgers, guns were all over the place. It wasn't safe. It was mayhem, but it was part of the times. It was rather drug-driven. But I like Phil, and the instinct was right. I'd do it again." Interviewed for the 2005 documentary I'm Your Man, Cohen expressed disappointment in the record and felt that the songs "got away" from him; he also noted that it was a favorite among "punksters" as well as his daughter. At the time of the album's release, however, he was much less generous in his public response to the album, calling Spector's production "a 'catastrophe'". Of the album's eight selections, "Memories" is the only track Cohen regularly performed in concert (on tours in 1979, 1980 and 1985). He apparently liked the song enough that he included it in his 1983 experimental art film I Am a Hotel, as the sole non-acoustic piece alongside four other songs which have generally enjoyed more positive fan response: "Suzanne", "Chelsea Hotel #2", "The Guests", and "The Gypsy's Wife". A "de-Spectorized" version of "Memories" ended up being released when Cohen's album Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979 was issued in 2001. This version includes a saxophone solo different from that of the album version's.
In 1978, Cohen would release a book of poetry with the slightly altered title Death of a Lady's Man. It has nothing in common with the album, with only one exception: it contains the poem "Death of a Lady's Man", which is identical to the lyrics of the album's title song.
The photo shown on the cover of Death of a Ladies' Man is very similar to that of Art Garfunkel's 1975 album Breakaway. The liner notes of the Cohen album disclose that the photo was taken by an "Anonymous Roving Photographer at a Forgotten Polynesian Restaurant". It features (from left to right) Eva LaPierre, Cohen himself and Suzanne Elrod—mother of Adam and Lorca Cohen.
|Christgau's Record Guide||B–|
Death of a Ladies' Man was released to universal confusion and largely bad reviews, leaving many die-hard Cohen fans stunned. Rolling Stone headlined its review with "Leonard Cohen's doo-wop Nightmare" and observed, "Too much of the record sounds like the world's most flamboyant extrovert producing and arranging the world's most fatalist introvert." The Toronto Star declared in large type, "Leonard Cohen is for Musical Sadists". While defending the album, AllMusic writer Dave Thompson concedes, "It is also true that a cursory listen to the album suggests that the whole thing was simply a ragbag of crazy notions thrown into the air to see where they landed." In 2010, Cohen biographer Anthony Reynolds singled out "True Love Leaves No Traces" for praise, describing the song, which Cohen sings with Ronee Blakley, as "incandescently beautiful as anything either man would ever commit to tape".
Up to 1978, the album was one of Cohen's biggest sellers in Sweden.
Cover versions and live performances
Death of a Ladies' Man has inspired fewer cover versions than any preceding Cohen album, but both "True Love Leaves No Traces" and "Don't Go Home with Your Hard-on" were covered on the Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan. The songs were performed by Dead Famous People and the duo David McComb & Adam Peters, respectively. "Memories" has also been covered at least five times by other artists, including John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, although the latter modifies the lyrics considerably. "Iodine" earned three known performances in Cohen's European tour of 1979. The Last Shadow Puppets performed a version of "Memories" on their autumn 2008 tour. Swedish singer Svante Karlsson mentioned the album title in the song "I Nöd & Lust" (from Tro Inte Att Du Känner Mig 2010) in which the female character listens to it in her head phones during a train ride. In 2013, Guitars and Bongos Records released Greg Ashley's cover version of the entire Death of a Ladies' Man album. Kimberly Morrison, a.k.a. "The Duchess" from The Duchess and The Duke! provides some backing vocals. Greg's cover photo mimics Cohen's original photo, but replaces actual women with two mannequins.
All songs written by Leonard Cohen (words) and Phil Spector (music).
- "True Love Leaves No Traces" – 4:26
- "Iodine" – 5:03
- "Paper Thin Hotel" – 5:42
- "Memories" – 5:59
- "I Left a Woman Waiting" – 3:28
- "Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On" – 5:36
- "Fingerprints" – 2:58
- "Death of a Ladies' Man" – 9:19
- Art Blaine – guitar
- Hal Blaine – drums
- Ronee Blakley – background vocals, featured on "True Love Leaves No Traces", "Iodine" and "Memories".
- Bobby Bruce – fiddle, violin
- Brenda Bryant – background vocals
- John Cabalka – art direction
- Conte Candoli – trumpet
- Leonard Cohen – composer, vocals
- Ron Coro – design
- Jesse Ed Davis – guitar
- Billy Diez – background vocals
- Steve Douglas – flute, saxophone, wind
- Oma Drake – background vocals
- Bob Dylan – background vocals
- Gene Estes – percussion
- Venetta Fields – background vocals
- Gerald Garrett – background vocals
- Terry Gibbs – percussion, vibraphone
- Allen Ginsberg – background vocals
- Bruce Gold – engineer, assistant engineer
- Barry Goldberg – keyboards
- Tom Hensley – keyboards
- David Isaac – guitar
- Pete Jolly – keyboards
- Jim Keltner – drums
- Dan Kessel – organ, synthesizer, guitar, keyboards, background vocals
- David Kessel – guitar, background vocals
- Clydie King – background vocals
- Sneaky Pete Kleinow – guitar, pedal steel, slide guitar
- Michael Lang – keyboards
- Larry Levine – engineer
- Charles Loper – trombone
- Sherlie Matthews – background vocals
- Bill Mays – keyboards
- Don Menza – flute, saxophone, wind, horn arrangements
- Jay Migliori – saxophone
- Art Munson – guitar
- Bill Naegels – design
- Ray Neapolitan – electric & upright bass
- Al Perkins – pedal steel, slide guitar
- Ray Pohlman – bass, guitar
- Emil Richards – percussion
- Don Randi – keyboards
- Jack Redmond – trombone
- Bob Robitaille – synthesizer, assistant engineer, synthesizer programming
- Devra Robitaille – synthesizer, producer
- Stan Ross – assistant engineer
- Phil Spector – guitar, composer, keyboards, background vocals, producer, vocal arrangement, rhythm arrangements
- Nino Tempo – arranger
- Bill Thedford – background vocals
- Julia Tillman Waters – background vocals
- Oren Waters – background vocals
- Lorna Willard – background vocals
- Robert Zimmitti – percussion
|Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)||85|
|Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)||20|
|Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)||15|
|UK Albums (OCC)||35|
Cohen published the book Death of a Lady's Man in 1978. It has nothing in common with the album, with only one exception: it contains the poem "Death of a Lady's Man", which is identical to the lyrics of the album's title song.
- Nadel, Ira B. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Pantheon Books: New York, 1996.
- Allmusic review
- Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: C". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved February 23, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
- Sounds magazine review
- Schulman, Leif (21 January 1978). "From The Music Capitols Of The World - Stockholm". Billboard. p. 122. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
- "Guitars and Bongos Records." Product RSS. N.p., 2013. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.
- "The Shields- You Cheated". YouTube. 2008-04-12. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
- "You Cheated, You Lied Lyrics The Shields". Mp3lyrics.org. 1926-03-27. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 68. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
- "Norwegiancharts.com – Leonard Cohen – Death of a Ladies' Man". Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
- "Swedishcharts.com – Leonard Cohen – Death of a Ladies' Man". Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
- "Leonard Cohen | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
- Album lyrics, from The Leonard Cohen Files