in 2016, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." This may end up being a pretty short list, but. . .which other songwriters could be considered for a Nobel Prize for Literature? Any genre,any nationality, and repeats are encouraged.
Let's start with his early days as a writer. At university in the 1950s, he studied and wrote poetry and novel writing, published his work and won literary awards. In the 1960s he moved into songwriting. His ability was recognized by such prominent singers as Judy Collins (who recorded his "Suzanne" and who pushed him into singing), James Taylor and Joan Baez. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), became a cult hit. Jennifer Warnes, who started as his backup singer, later became one his most frequent interpreters.
His songs started appearing in movies, beginning with McCabe and Mrs. Miller; his songs were considered vital to the film's success. Throughout the '70s and '80s Cohen toured, recorded, and wrote songs for dozens of other singers, including Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley and John Cale.
Inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2010, Cohen was the songwriter's writer, to be sure, but he had quite a bit of success on his own. His deep, gravelly voice often seemed the vehicle his songs required, expressing the rough and real side of life. Rolling Stone called him "the Poet of Brokenness." His writing was bold; unafraid that listeners would take offense or misunderstand, he wrote about everything from religious ecstasy to drugs. His lyrics often combined the sublime with the profane, as in one of his best loved and most often recorded songs--I'll bet you've heard it even if you didn't know it was his: "Hallelujah."
Even Bob Dylan attempted it. By the way, Dylan said of Cohen's work, "These are more than songs. These are prayers."
He kept on writing, recording and touring, through 2016, when he died at age 82. Fifteen albums, 16 books of poetry, 2 novels, 48 awards, including a Lifetime Grammy and an honorary Doctor of Letters.
His songs have been analyzed to the corpuscle; there's just too much to discover in them. Listen to one today and you may think you've got it figured out, but tomorrow you'll find another meaning. And like any true writer, he wouldn't reveal what he intended them to mean. I wish I could tell you how much he meant to so many musicians, even those who don't know he influenced them--people who were mentored by someone who'd studied Cohen. But really, what matters are the songs themselves. Here are just a few of the best-loved (no particular order):