First We Take Manhattan

"First We Take Manhattan" is a song written by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. It was originally recorded by American singer Jennifer Warnes on her 1986 Cohen tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat, which consisted entirely of songs written or co-written by Cohen.

"First We Take Manhattan"
Jennifer Warnes First We Take Manhattan
Single by Jennifer Warnes
from the album Famous Blue Raincoat
B-side"Famous Blue Raincoat"
RecordedSpring 1986
GenreFolk rock
  • Ariola
  • Attic
Songwriter(s)Leonard Cohen
Jennifer Warnes singles chronology
"All the Right Moves"
"First We Take Manhattan"
"Bird on a Wire"


The song's oblique lyric is suggestive of religious and end time themes with references to prayer, meaningful birthmarks and signs in the sky. Ben Hewitt writing for The Guardian in 2015 drew attention to the lyric's apocalyptic nature, imagining Cohen "greedily eyeing world domination like a Bond villain".[1] Rolling Stone magazine's Mikal Gilmore similarly described the song as a threatening vision of "social collapse and a terrorist's revenge".[2] The Daily Telegraph's Robert Sandall likewise observed the prophetic character of the song, but emphasized the song's political statement, placing it in the context of the last days of the Soviet Union.[3]

Cohen explained himself in a backstage interview:[4] "I think it means exactly what it says. It is a terrorist song. I think it's a response to terrorism. There's something about terrorism that I've always admired. The fact that there are no alibis or no compromises. That position is always very attractive. I don't like it when it's manifested on the physical plane – I don't really enjoy the terrorist activities – but Psychic Terrorism. I remember there was a great poem by Irving Layton that I once read, I'll give you a paraphrase of it. It was 'well, you guys blow up an occasional airline and kill a few children here and there', he says. 'But our terrorists, Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein. The whole world is still quaking.'"

Jennifer Warnes version

The original recording is notable for the distinctive driving lead guitar played by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Producer Roscoe Beck was from Austin, Texas and friends with Vaughan. In late February 1986, at the annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Beck asked Vaughan to record the guitar for the song. In a 2007 interview, Beck recalls that Vaughan did not have his guitar or amp with him, and used one of Beck's old Strats instead. After working on a few technical problems, the finished recording was achieved after two or three takes.[5] According to Jennifer Warnes' official site, Vaughan finished recording his takes at 4 AM.[6]

Music video

The music video for Warnes' version of "First We Take Manhattan" was directed by Paula Walker. Filmed in New York City, the video features Stevie Ray Vaughan playing his weathered "Number One" guitar (with its distinctive "SRV" logo) on the Brooklyn Bridge. Cohen also appears with Warnes in the video.

The album version of the song is 3:47 in length, whereas the single is 3:32 long. A promotional 12-inch single version, entitled "Jennifer Warnes — First We Take Manhattan, Radio Remix — featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan", contained extended and edited versions.


Leonard Cohen version

"First We Take Manhattan"
First We Take Manhattan
Single by Leonard Cohen
from the album I'm Your Man
ReleasedFebruary 1988
LabelColumbia Records
Songwriter(s)Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen singles chronology
"Take This Waltz"
"First We Take Manhattan"
"I'm Your Man"

Leonard Cohen's own quasi-synthpop version of "First We Take Manhattan" (with additional verses) was released in 1988 as the first track on his album I'm Your Man. Cohen's then-girlfriend, Dominique Issermann, shot a black and white promotional video for Cohen's version of the track.

On his 1988 tour, instead of the original, Euro-disco-influenced arrangement of his studio version, Cohen introduced the new, funk-influenced arrangement, suggested by his backing singers Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen. He continued to perform the song this way in 1993, 2008 and 2009 tours.

Cohen's studio recording plays over the closing credits of the 2009 film Watchmen.


Other cover versions

The song has been covered dozens of times. Most notably, R.E.M. contributed a cover for the Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan. Their presence on the compilation led to a re-arranging of the I'm Your Fan track list. In the US release of the tribute, R.E.M.'s cover appeared as the first track, rather than House of Love's "Who by Fire" which was the starting track in all other countries. The song also appeared as a B-side on some versions of the single "Drive".

Joe Cocker covered "First We Take Manhattan" on his 1999 album No Ordinary World.

Other artists to cover the song include Show of Hands, Cookies 'N' Beans, Boris Grebenshchikov, Yasmine, Sirenia, Maxx Klaxon, Tyskarna från Lund, Enrique Morente, and Widespread Panic.


Jennifer Warnes version

Chart (1987) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[7] 32
Canadian Hot 100 43
Canadian Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 6
UK Singles Chart[8] 74
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 29

R.E.M. version

Chart (1992) Peak
US Billboard Alternative Songs[9] 11


  1. ^ "Leonard Cohen: 10 of his best songs". The Guardian. 6 May 2015.
  2. ^ "Leonard Cohen: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Poet of Brokenness". Rolling Stone. 30 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Twelve towering Cohen songs". The Daily Telegraph. 23 October 2004.
  4. ^ "Diamonds In The Lines". Archived from the original on 2010-02-27. Retrieved 2016-12-05.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  5. ^ "2007 XM Interview with Jennifer Warnes, Leonard Cohen and Roscoe Beck". Retrieved 2009-02-15.
  6. ^ "Photo of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jennifer Warnes". Retrieved 2009-02-15.
  7. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 333. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  8. ^ "Official Charts > Jennifer Warnes". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  9. ^ "R.E.M. - Charts & Awards – Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2011-05-06.

External links

Drive (R.E.M. song)

"Drive" is a song by American alternative rock band R.E.M. It was the first track on and the lead single from their eighth studio album Automatic for the People in 1992, and it was the first song lead singer Michael Stipe wrote on a computer. Although not as commercially successful as previous lead singles "Losing My Religion," "Stand," or "The One I Love" in the United States, it managed to peak at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100, number one on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, and number two on the Album Rock Tracks chart. Internationally, "Drive" became R.E.M.'s then second-biggest hit on the UK Singles Charts, peaking at number 11, and their biggest hit in Norway until "Supernatural Superserious" in 2008, reaching number three. Elsewhere, the song reached the top 10 in Austria, Canada, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

Despite the success and popularity of the song, it was left out of the band's Warner Bros. Records "best of" compilation In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003. However, a live version of the song was included in the special edition two-disc set of In Time that included rarities, live versions, and B-sides. The version featured was the "funk" version, which has never been studio-recorded. The song is also included on the 2003 live DVD Perfect Square, the 2007 live CD/DVD R.E.M. Live, and the 2009 live CD Live at The Olympia (and its accompanying DVD This Is Not a Show). This song was also sampled in the song "Space Bound" by Eminem on his 2010 album Recovery.

B-side "Winged Mammal Theme" is a re-working of the "Batman Theme" originally intended to appear in Batman Returns; the song went unused in the film's final version.

Famous Blue Raincoat (album)

Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen is the sixth studio album recorded by the American singer Jennifer Warnes. It debuted on the Billboard 200 on February 14, 1987 and peaked at No. 72 in the US Billboard chart and No.33 in the UK albums chart. Originally released by Cypress Records (RCA Records in the UK), it was reissued by Private Music after Cypress went out of business. It is the only Jennifer Warnes album to make the UK albums chart (up to September 2014).

Gold (Joe Cocker album)

Gold is a greatest hits album by Joe Cocker, released in 2006 (see 2006 in music) as part of Gold album series.

I'm Your Fan

I'm Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen is a tribute album to Leonard Cohen, released in 1991, produced by the French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles. The album features Cohen's songs interpreted by some of the most respected rock acts of the time. Its name is a play on the title of Cohen's album I'm Your Man.

For the album's American release on Atlantic Records, R.E.M.'s rendition of "First We Take Manhattan" and House of Love's "Who by Fire" (the lead tracks on each side of the vinyl and cassette versions) were swapped so that R.E.M., one of the most popular American rock bands of the era, led the album. In all other countries where the album was released, however, the R.E.M. track appears on Side Two. In the United Kingdom, the album was distributed by record label EastWest Records, in France by Sony Music.

The album includes two different covers of "Tower of Song", one by Robert Forster and another by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The latter version is a radical deconstruction of the song, edited from an hour-long jam session held by the band.

I'm Your Man (Leonard Cohen album)

I'm Your Man is the eighth studio album by Leonard Cohen, released in 1988. The album marked Cohen's further move to a more modern sound, with many songs having a synth-oriented production.

I'm Your Man Tour

The I'm Your Man Tour was a concert tour by Leonard Cohen, in support of his album I'm Your Man, released in 1988.

I've Been Everywhere

"I've Been Everywhere" is a song which was written by Australian country singer Geoff Mack in 1959, and made popular by Lucky Starr in 1962.

The song as originally written listed Australian towns. It was later adapted by Australian singer Rolf Harris with English and Scottish toponyms (1963), and by John Hore (later known as John Grenell) with New Zealand toponyms (1966). In 1962, the song was a number-one US country hit for Hank Snow. The song was also recorded by Lynn Anderson (US 1970), Asleep at the Wheel (US 1973), Johnny Cash (US 1996), Ted Egan, the "Farrelly Brothers" from the television series The Aunty Jack Show (Australia 1974, a parody version, on the album Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong), John Grenell (NZ 1966), Mike Ford (Canada, 2005), The Sunny Cowgirls and the Statler Brothers. Harvey Reid also included the song in his Dreamer or Believer album. Also recorded by Kacey Musgraves on her album Movin' On(2003).

Original singer Lucky Starr released an EP called "Lucky's Been Everywhere", which contained four different versions: United Kingdom, United States, New Zealand, and Australia.


"Ignoreland" is the eighth track from R.E.M.'s studio album Automatic for the People. The song was not released as a single, but had chart positions on the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts. "Ignoreland" is the sixth song by R.E.M. not to be released as a single while having a chart position. The previous song unreleased with a chart position by the band was a cover of Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan", which was released as a B-side to "Drive".

The song's lyrical content is political, referring to the conditions of the United States during the Presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Mike Mills said: "Michael's rolling against Republican politics. The opening line is, 'These bastards stole all the power from the victims of the us v. them years / Wrecking all things virtuous and true'. And the last verse is really great – 'I know that this is vitriol, no solution, spleen-venting / But I feel better having screamed. Don't you?' It's really great.""You need headphones to get all the words, but they're understandable," said Peter Buck. "Michael's singing through an amp on that. He wanted to get that cold anger in his voice that you get with natural distortion. And the song is written in Neil Young's tuning. Not that he owns it. But the Es are tuned down to D, like in 'Cinnamon Girl'. I admit it, he's the one I learned that tuning from."The band members have been quoted as saying that they were not entirely happy with the production of the song on the album, and the song was not played live during subsequent tours. The song made its live debut almost 16 years after its album release at the opening show for the band's final tour Accelerate in Vancouver, BC on May 23, 2008.

Jennifer Warnes

Jennifer Jean Warnes (born March 3, 1947) is an American singer, songwriter, arranger and record producer. Famous for her compositions, interpretations, and her extensive repertoire as a vocalist on movie soundtracks, she was also a close friend and collaborator of Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen.

Maxx Klaxon

Maxx Klaxon (a.k.a. Max Clarke) is an electropop artist from New York City. He has recorded cover versions of Iron Maiden's "Die With Your Boots On," Leonard Cohen's First We Take Manhattan, and "The Internationale." His 2005 debut EP Paranoid Style also features his original track "Italian Ice" and "Here For One Reason," a remix of a Club Telex Noise Ensemble track.

No Ordinary World

No Ordinary World is the seventeenth studio album by Joe Cocker, released on 9 September 1999 in Europe and on 22 August 2000 in USA. The US edition of the album features two bonus tracks and has different cover artwork. Notable songs on the album include a cover of Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan" and "She Believes in Me" co-written by Bryan Adams, who had also provided backing vocals for the song.

Sirenian Shores

Sirenian Shores is an EP by the Norwegian gothic metal band Sirenia. It includes a remix of "Save Me from Myself" (from the second album An Elixir for Existence), an acoustic version of "Meridian" (from the first album At Sixes and Sevens), and three new songs: "Sirenian Shores", "Obire Mortem" and a cover of Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan". The EP was released on 11 October 2004 by Napalm Records.

Stevie Ray Vaughan discography

Stevie Ray Vaughan was an American guitarist and the frontman for Double Trouble. It starts with his studio album discography with Double Trouble from 1983 through 1989, followed by live albums, compilations, singles, videos, and contributions.

The Automatic Box

The Automatic Box is a four-disc box set by R.E.M., released in Germany in December 1993. It was primarily a collection of B-sides from Automatic for the People, though disc four contains B-sides from Green-era singles (then collected on the 7" vinyl box set Singleactiongreen). "It's a Free World Baby", "Fretless", "Mandolin Strum", and "Organ Song" were outtakes recorded during Out of Time recording sessions. This is part of a Warner Bros. Records series, also with the Red Hot Chili Peppers Live Rare Remix Box.

The Best of Leonard Cohen

The Best of Leonard Cohen is a greatest hits album by Leonard Cohen, released in 1975. In some European countries, it was released under the title Greatest Hits. This alternative title was used for the original vinyl release and for CD reissues from the 1980s onwards.

The Future World Tour

The Future World Tour was a concert tour by Leonard Cohen, in support of his album The Future, released in 1992.

Ultimate Collection (Joe Cocker album)

Ultimate Collection is a compilation album by Joe Cocker, released in 2004 (see 2004 in music).

Warren Zevon

Warren William Zevon (; January 24, 1947 – September 7, 2003) was an American rock singer-songwriter and musician.

Zevon's most famous compositions include "Werewolves of London", "Lawyers, Guns and Money", "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" and "Johnny Strikes Up the Band", all of which are featured on his third album, Excitable Boy (1978), whose title track is also well-known. He also wrote major hits that were recorded by other artists, including "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", "Accidentally Like a Martyr", "Mohammed's Radio", "Carmelita", and "Hasten Down the Wind". Along with his own work, he recorded or performed occasional covers, including Allen Toussaint's "A Certain Girl", Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan", Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life Again", and Prince's "Raspberry Beret".

Initially successful as a band leader, Zevon struggled to have a solo career until his music was performed by Linda Ronstadt. This launched a cult following that lasted for 25 years with Zevon making occasional returns to album and single charts until his death from cancer in 2003. He briefly found a new audience in the 1980s by teaming up with members of R.E.M. in the blues rock outfit Hindu Love Gods.

Known for his dry wit and acerbic lyrics, he was a guest several times on Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show with David Letterman.

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