Picture the smoky haze of a dimly lit room as the haunting melodies of Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” mysteriously drift through the air. This enigmatic masterpiece, with its melancholic lyrics and poignant melody, has captivated musicians and fans alike since its release in 1974. The inherent beauty and depth of the song has inspired countless artists to put their unique spin on its hypnotizing rhythm. If you’re ready to embark on a sonic journey exploring the best cover versions of this timeless classic, you’ve come to the right place. Prepare to be enticed by ethereal vocals, mesmerized by innovative interpretations, and emotionally transported through rich, layered soundscapes that pay homage to the original genius while elevating it to new heights. We’re delving into some unforgettable renditions of “Who By Fire” that have left audiences spellbound; are you ready to join us?
According to Second Hand Songs, some popular cover versions of Leonard Cohen’s song “Who By Fire” include Coil (1986), The Weather Prophets (1987), The House of Love (1991), Human Drama (1997), Henk Hofstede (2005), Sarach (2008), Fantastic Merlins With Kid Dakota (2009), Piers Faccini (2013), Barb Jungr (2014), Susanna (2015) and Art Of Time Ensemble Featuring Tom Wilson (Art of Time Ensemble) (2022). It is worth noting that there are many other cover versions of this song as well.
Celebrated Artists Covering “Who By Fire”
Since its release in 1974, Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” has captured the attention of artists across a broad range of genres. As a result, the song has been covered by some of music’s biggest names, each bringing their unique style and interpretation to this haunting ballad.
One such artist is the legendary Johnny Cash, whose cover of “Who By Fire” is often considered one of the best. However, other celebrated musicians have also put their own spin on the song, such as jazz diva Jill Scott and indie rockers The House of Love.
Despite their differences in genre, these artists all share a deep appreciation for Cohen’s evocative lyrics and haunting melody. Each interpretation highlights different aspects of the song that resonate with them personally, and the results are truly impressive.
Take Jill Scott’s soulful rendition, for instance. Scott takes on the song with her signature powerhouse vocals, bringing an emotional intensity to the lyrics that makes them sing with new meaning. As she croons over gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios, Scott finds an almost gospel-like quality to Cohen’s words.
Likewise, The House of Love injects some classic rock energy into “Who By Fire” with their electric guitar-heavy cover. With a driving rhythm section and soaring vocals from lead singer Guy Chadwick, The House of Love puts their own stamp on this iconic track while still honoring Cohen’s original vision.
But it isn’t just about adding your own flair to a classic. It takes a true understanding and reverence for the source material to create a standout cover version like these celebrated artists have done. Each one has taken great care to stay true to what makes “Who By Fire” so special while also bringing something new and exciting to the table.
Of course, there will always be debates about which version of the song is the “best.” Some may prefer Johnny Cash’s stripped-down, note-for-note interpretation, while others might find more emotional resonance in the atmospheric folk rock of The Weather Prophets. The beauty of music is that it allows for these kinds of subjective opinions and interpretations.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at one of the most celebrated covers of “Who By Fire”: Johnny Cash’s note-for-note rendition.
Johnny Cash’s Note-For-Note Cover
Johnny Cash’s cover of “Who By Fire” is often considered one of the definitive versions of the song. Released on his 1979 album Silver, this sparse and haunting interpretation showcases Cash’s powerful vocals and uncompromising approach to music.
What makes this version so special is its simplicity. Cash opts for minimal instrumentation, relying solely on a single acoustic guitar to accompany his mournful voice. This pared-down approach puts the focus squarely on Cohen’s masterful lyrics and allows them to speak with even greater clarity than before.
Take the opening lines, for example: “And who by fire, who by water, Who in the sunshine, who in the night time, Who by high ordeal, who by common trial, Who in your merry merry month of May.” These words are powerful enough on their own, but when delivered with Cash’s weathered vocal style and aching vibrato, they take on an even deeper meaning.
It’s like Cash is peeling away all of the layers and getting straight to the heart of what makes this song so devastatingly poignant. His delivery is raw and unflinching, capturing both the darkness and hopefulness in Cohen’s lyrics without embellishment or distraction.
In many ways, Cash’s version represents a kind of purity – a return to the song’s core elements without any excess or artifice. It’s a timeless interpretation that has no doubt inspired many other artists to take their own shot at this classic ballad.
But as we’ll see in the next section, not all covers of “Who By Fire” are created equal.
Alex Genadinik’s Cover Of “Who By Fire”
In this version of “Who by Fire,” Alex offers us a much more rock-themed and darker version of Cohen’s popular song. It’s not a cover that copies, but rather reinvents.
Jill Scott’s Soulful Rendition
When it comes to soulful, nuanced interpretations of Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire”, few artists can match the artistry and talent of Jill Scott. Her rendition of the song drew critical acclaim both for her vocal performance and for the way she injected her own unique style into a classic composition.
Scott’s version starts off with a stripped-down arrangement, featuring just a piano and sparse percussion. This allows her voice to take center stage, and she doesn’t disappoint. Her singing is rich with emotion and draws you in from the first note. As the song progresses, additional instruments are gradually introduced, adding layers of depth and complexity to an already beautiful arrangement.
One of the most impressive aspects of Scott’s cover is her ability to hold back when needed. She never over-sings or tries to force emotions where they don’t belong. Instead, she lets the lyrics speak for themselves, using subtle inflections and phrasing to convey emotional depth without ever sacrificing the beauty of Cohen’s original melody.
To illustrate this point, consider how Scott handles the line “And who shall I say is calling?” In Cohen’s version, this is delivered as a plaintive cry, full of anguish and uncertainty. Scott takes a different approach, delivering it in a hushed whisper that somehow manages to convey even more pain and vulnerability than Cohen did.
Overall, Jill Scott’s take on “Who by Fire” is a tour de force that showcases both her incredible vocal abilities and her instinctive musicality. It’s no wonder that her version is considered one of the best covers of Leonard Cohen out there.
Tribute Albums and Collaborative Efforts
While solo covers of “Who by Fire” can be stunning displays of individual artistry, there’s also something special about hearing an entire album dedicated to honoring Leonard Cohen’s legacy. Over the years, a number of tribute albums and collaborative efforts have emerged, each offering their own unique take on Cohen’s music.
One standout example is “The Who by Fire Project.” This album features covers of Cohen’s classic song by a diverse group of artists from around the world, including folk legends like Judy Collins, indie rock favorites like Deer Tick, and up-and-coming talents like k.d. lang. What’s particularly interesting about this album is how it manages to capture the essence of Cohen’s music while still allowing each artist to put their own spin on things.
Consider Deer Tick’s cover, which features a driving beat and plenty of distorted guitars. While this might seem at odds with the gentle, introspective nature of Cohen’s original, Deer Tick somehow manages to make it work. Their version is raw and energetic, but also full of heart – a fitting tribute to an artist who was known for his intensity and passion.
Another notable tribute album is “I’m Your Fan”, which was released in 1991 and featured covers recorded by an eclectic mix of musicians. From R.E.M.’s haunting take on “First We Take Manhattan” to Nick Cave’s powerful rendition of “Avalanche”, the album offers a fascinating glimpse into the wide-ranging influence that Cohen had on popular music.
Ultimately, whether it’s solo covers or collaborative projects, the best interpretations of “Who by Fire” are those that manage to capture the soulful beauty and emotional depth of Leonard Cohen’s original composition. While there will always be debates about which versions are the best or most faithful to the source material, what matters most is that these songs continue to resonate with listeners long after they were first written. That’s a testament not just to Cohen’s talent as a songwriter but also to the timeless quality of his music itself.
- Tribute albums and collaborative efforts are a special way to honor the legacy of an artist like Leonard Cohen, and they offer a diverse range of interpretations of his music. From Deer Tick’s energetic take on ‘Who by Fire’ to Nick Cave’s powerful rendition of ‘Avalanche’, these covers capture the essence and emotional depth of Cohen’s music in their own unique ways. Despite debates about which versions are the best or most faithful to the source material, it’s clear that Cohen’s talent as a songwriter and the timeless quality of his music continue to resonate with listeners today.
“The Who By Fire Project”
In 2017, a collaborative effort between Australian record label Intervention Arts and the Jewish Museum of Australia resulted in “The Who By Fire Project” album. The project featured twelve artists from diverse backgrounds covering Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece as a tribute to the late singer-songwriter. The album’s proceeds were donated to charitable organizations that support refugees and asylum seekers.
Each artist brought a unique style to their rendition, resulting in an eclectic collection of covers. For instance, Sui Zhen’s rendition was ethereal and dreamy, while Oscar Jimenez infused it with salsa beats. Meanwhile, TZU transformed the song into an electronic dance track with added rap verses.
What makes “The Who By Fire Project” exceptional is its aim to do good while paying homage to one of the greatest songwriters of all time. The project was able to bring people from different nationalities and cultures together to make a difference through music. In this sense, “The Who By Fire Project” proves that music can be much more than just entertainment.
The project also showcases that Leonard Cohen’s art is universal and timeless- something that transcends cultural barriers. The way each artist interpreted and delivered the song showed how Cohen’s music remains relevant even after his death.
Moving on to the next section, we will delve into how folk rockers and acoustic interpretations offer yet another dimension to Cohen’s classic piece.
Folk Rockers and Acoustic Interpretations
Leonard Cohen’s style was a blend of folk, country, pop, and rock. It comes as no surprise that many musicians have chosen to cover “Who By Fire” acoustically or by giving it a folk-rock twist.
One excellent example is American rocker Buck 65’s cover version of “Who By Fire.” Buck 65 opted for an acoustic interpretation of the song, which still grapples with the original’s timeless themes. The slow, bluesy guitar lines build up steadily, drawing listeners in for an emotional journey. Meanwhile, Buck 65’s deep, husky vocals do justice to Cohen’s lyrics.
Many other artists have interpreted “Who By Fire” through a folk-rock lens. One such artist is Swedish singer-songwriter Jill Johnson. Johnson’s cover has more instrumentation than the original, with prominent use of banjo and fiddle. Her lead vocals are soulful, accompanied by beautiful harmonies, which make for a haunting rendition of Cohen’s work.
Another excellent example of a folk-rock cover of “Who By Fire” is by Dan Fogelberg, whose version is guitar-driven and features brilliant guitar solos that add depth to the song.
These folk-rock covers demonstrate how Leonard Cohen’s music can be interpreted in multiple ways while retaining its core essence. They also showcase how different genres can intermingle to create something new but still pay homage to the original piece.
However, it could also be argued that these interpretations stray too far from the source material and dilute its impact. The simplicity of the original’s instrumentation helped elevate its lyrical content to the forefront without any distractions. The introduction of new instruments into the mix may steal attention away from Cohen’s lyrics.
It’s like adding paint to a priceless artwork; while it might seem like a good idea to “improve” it visually, sometimes less is indeed more.
Regardless of one’s personal opinion on these reinterpretations of “Who by Fire,” there remains no denying that they help keep Leonard Cohen’s legacy alive and introduce his work to newer generations of listeners.
Unconventional Takes on “Who By Fire”
While some artists take a traditional approach to covering Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire,” others have gone the unconventional route, adding their own personal touch to the song. One such artist is Jeff Buckley, who covered the song during his performances in the 1990s.
Buckley’s version of “Who By Fire” adds a sense of grandeur and drama to the song that was not present in Cohen’s original recording. With soaring vocals and guitar playing that alternates between gentle strumming and frenzied plucking, Buckley’s rendition feels more like a rock opera than a folk ballad.
Another artist who adds their own unique flair to “Who By Fire” is k.d. lang. Her cover of the song features haunting vocals accompanied by a sparse arrangement of piano and strings. Lang’s interpretation emphasizes the melancholy and introspective nature of Cohen’s lyrics, creating an emotionally powerful rendition of the song.
One of the most unusual covers of “Who By Fire” comes from experimental musician John Zorn. His version of the song is deconstructed, with fragments of Cohen’s lyrics and melody used as building blocks for a complex instrumental composition. While it may not be recognizable as a cover version at first glance, Zorn’s “Who By Fire” is a testament to the versatility and adaptability of Cohen’s music.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected takes on “Who By Fire” comes from a group called The Klezmatics. Their cover fuses elements of klezmer music – a traditional style of Jewish folk music – with Cohen’s lyrics, creating a blend that is both reverential and irreverent at the same time. The result is a boisterous and joyous tribute to one of Cohen’s most enduring songs.
Unconventional takes on “Who By Fire” demonstrate how artists can use their own style and creativity to reinterpret a classic song, adding new layers of meaning and emotion along the way. But how do we evaluate these cover versions? Is there such a thing as a “best” cover version of “Who By Fire”?
- According to Second Hand Songs, a cover songs database, there are a total of 36 adaptations and 8 original versions of “Who By Fire.”
- Some of the most popular cover versions stem from various years, such as Coil in 1986, The Weather Prophets in 1987, The House of Love in 1991, and Piers Faccini in 2013.
- While there is no definitive ranking or statistical data on the popularity or quality of these covers, the wide variety of artists who have made adaptations reflects the lasting impact and appeal of Leonard Cohen’s original composition.
Evaluating Cover Versions
When it comes to evaluating cover versions of “Who By Fire,” there are several factors to consider. One is how faithful the artist is to Cohen’s original vision for the song. Some covers strive for a note-for-note replication of Cohen’s recording, while others take more liberties with the melody and arrangement.
For example, Johnny Cash’s cover of “Who By Fire” from his album American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around stays true to Cohen’s original structure and melody, while infusing Cash’s signature deep voice and twangy guitar sound. In contrast, Coil’s cover from 1986 completely reinvents the song, using unusual instrumentation and arrangements that depart significantly from Cohen’s original recording.
Does this mean one cover version is better than the other? Not necessarily – it depends on what the listener values in a cover version. If someone is looking for a faithful replication of Cohen’s original sound, they might prefer Cash’s take on the song. But if they are more interested in hearing an artist’s unique interpretation of the lyrics and melody, they might prefer Coil’s version.
Another factor to consider when evaluating cover versions is the cultural context in which they were created. For example, some covers of “Who By Fire” were recorded as part of tribute albums or collaborative efforts aimed at celebrating Cohen’s legacy, while others were recorded independently by artists who felt a personal connection to the song.
Evaluating cover versions is similar to appreciating different interpretations of a play or novel. Each artist brings their own perspective and voice to the material, adding layers of meaning and nuance that may not have been present in the original work. What matters most is how effectively the cover version connects with its audience, whether it be through emotional resonance or intellectual stimulation.
A prime example of this can be seen in the recent cover version of “Who By Fire” by the Art Of Time Ensemble Featuring Tom Wilson. The ensemble reimagines the song as a spoken-word piece accompanied by jazzy instrumental backing. While this departure from the original melody might turn some listeners off, others might appreciate the way it emphasizes the poetry of Cohen’s lyrics.
Ultimately, what makes a cover version of “Who By Fire” great is not whether it adheres to Cohen’s original vision or not, but whether it speaks to the listener on a personal level. Great cover versions of songs can take on a life of their own, becoming beloved works of art that stand alongside – and sometimes even surpass – the original recording.
Impact on Music and Cultural Landscape
Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” has remained a timeless masterpiece since its first release in 1974. The song explores the complexities of life, death, and faith, making it a deeply resonating piece that spans across generations and cultures. Therefore, each cover version of the song adds to its narrative and offers a new perspective on Cohen’s thought-provoking lyrics.
Cover versions of “Who By Fire” have impacted the music scene by showcasing the songwriting skills of Leonard Cohen while providing an opportunity for artists to express their creativity and style. The covers range from note-for-note adaptations to experimental interpretations that push the boundaries of music genres. Each rendition offers new elements such as instrumentals, vocal styles, or arrangements not found in the original recording.
For instance, Johnny Cash’s cover of “Who By Fire” stays true to Cohen’s original composition with its slow tempo, guitar strumming, and spoken-word delivery. However, Cash brings his signature voice’s depth and texture, adding a layer of melancholy that suits the song’s theme. Additionally, Jill Scott’s soulful rendition highlights her powerful vocal range while injecting R&B and gospel influences into the song structure. Hence, both adaptations show how versatile Cohen’s creation is by accommodating multiple styles and showcasing different aspects of his artistry through other artists’ lenses.
Covers of “Who By Fire” have also played a role in shaping the cultural landscape by introducing Cohen’s work to newer audiences who may not have been familiar with his music before. These versions keep the essence of his words intact but bring them into different contexts that offer diverse perspectives on life experiences.
It is similar to how translations expose literature from one culture to another. A good translation keeps the author’s original voice while adapting it to suit the new audience’s language and cultural backgrounds. Similarly, cover versions take Cohen’s lyrics and express them in a way that resonates with an artist’s worldview while retaining the song’s core essence.
Therefore, it is fair to say that “Who By Fire” covers have contributed significantly to the music industry and the cultural landscape by introducing Cohen’s work to a broader audience and providing a platform for artistic expression and creativity through different styles, genres, and storytelling.
Honoring Leonard Cohen’s Legacy
Leonard Cohen passed away in November 2016 at the age of 82. However, his legacy continues through his extensive body of work, including “Who By Fire.” Thus, each cover version serves as a tribute to Cohen and his ability to create timeless classics that connect people across generations and borders.
Cover versions of “Who By Fire” allow artists to pay homage to Cohen while expressing their appreciation for his poetry and musicianship. It is also a way for fans to remember him through fresh perspectives that celebrate his craft.
However, some may argue that covers do not honor the original artist as they change or alter the song’s original composition. They see it as disrespectful or lacking in creativity. Although this argument has some merit, I believe that covers keep an artist’s work relevant by breathing new life into it and making it accessible to newer audiences.
For example, The “The Who By Fire Project,” a tribute album dedicated to covering every track from Cohen’s album New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), offers various artists’ interpretations of the songs. The album honors Cohen’s work while showcasing how respected musicians such as Judy Collins and Elvis Perkins can reinterpret his classics under different lenses.
Honoring Leonard Cohen’s legacy does not only involve performing cover versions but also recognizing his impact on music history. He was one of the most influential singer-songwriters who explored complex emotions through vivid storytelling and poetic lyricism. Moreover, his songs continue to inspire new artists by creating a blueprint for songwriting that challenges the traditional pop formula and explores unconventional themes.