Real Men Love "Death of a Ladies' Man"ByDavid Morgan December 11, 2007 - 8:30 am |
Leonard Cohen’s fifth album is unlike any of his other creative efforts, both in its back story and in its individual songs. His collaboration with unbalanced (to say the least) record producer Phil Spector resulted in eight unusual tracks that left die-hard Cohen fans upset and unsure about where his career was headed. Even now, thirty years after its release, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” is unjustly known as a an incredible failure, but its underappreciated artistic merits – when combined with the story of its creation – makes for an album that can be listened to and genuinely enjoyed.
The Back Story
What’s a good album without a back story? Just another good album. Not the case with “Death of a Ladies’ Man,” which technically toes the line of being a “good” album anyway. By 1977, Phil Spector had become known for his trademark “Wall of Sound” style of producing. He’d already worked with The Beatles (while they were together and some of them individually), The Righteous Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner. He’d also become known for being a bit of a psychopath. Mrs. Ronnie Spector claims that Phil bought a gold-plated coffin with windows and then showed it to his wife one night to tell her that her dead body would be prominently displayed if she ever tried to leave him. He’d waved (sometimes fired) guns around while working on albums with John Lennon, Dee Dee Ramone and -- you guessed it -- Leonard Cohen. What the context was that pushed Spector to put a firearm to Cohen’s head during the making of the record is hazy, but then again, Phil Spector isn’t an entirely rational man.
The two men worked on composing the songs together, something of a departure for Cohen, who was used to singing his own folk poetry with only an acoustic guitar to accompany him. But when recording time came, Spector’s testosterone and overbearing ego took total control, allegedly using Cohen’s practice vocals for the final cuts and barring the Canadian from the studio with armed guards. Over the following weeks, Spector all but drowned out the vocals with massive instrumentation and legions of back up singers. Cohen was nearly as surprised by the final result as his fans were. Spector’s opinion? “Some great fuckin’ music.” It wouldn’t be wise to argue with him.
The Album Cover
Leonard flanked by two ladies. No surprises there. Women love a poet.
Aside from the extremely lyrically gifted Cohen, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg sing backing vocals on “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-on.” How often do three of the twentieth century’s most well-known poets collaborate on one piece? It’s true, Ginsberg wasn’t much of a “ladies’ man”, but then real men love irony, too.
Perhaps Cohen’s most overtly sexual album up until that point, “Death of a Ladies Man” is full of lyrics about orgies, voyeurism, sexual frustration and the like. This is an album by a man who loves women, all they do to him and all he does back. But it’s also about domineering women, fake women and distrustful women. So whether you’re falling in love or ready to swear off the opposite sex, it’s a man’s album for any mood and opinion. “I Left a Woman Waiting” is about standing up a woman, running into her later, telling her he didn’t show up because she’d lost her beauty, and then ending up in bed with her anyway. Ah, the old “pretend you’re not interested and become more intriguing in the process” technique. Classic, Leonard.
Spector’s orchestrations put the album squarely in the seventies. “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-on” sounds like something that could play during a montage of disco dudes and ladies doing some funky moves under the spinning mirror ball. The spacey, drawn-out title track sounds (probably intentionally) reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.” “Iodine” reveals what happens when Phi Spector falls asleep on the reverb button. And despite this sort of total time-and-genre-embrace (or “selling out” as some might put it), it’s almost completely pulled off because it’s done with blatant confidence and, occasionally, a slight wink.
“Memories” is a nostalgic doo-wop song about dancing in the gym and trying to see the blondest girl in the room naked. If this song were better known, a gun-toting Phil Spector couldn’t stop a bar room full of men from singing along to the chorus that goes:
Won’t you let me see
I said won’t you let me see
I said won’t you let me seeeeeeeee
Your naked body
“Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-on” has similar qualities to it, too. It’s a rousing, danceable anthem about blue-balls. You can’t beat it.