Bird on the Wire

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"Bird on the Wire"
Song by Leonard Cohen
from the album Songs from a Room
ReleasedApril 1969
Recorded26 September 1968, Nashville
GenreContemporary folk
Songwriter(s)Leonard Cohen
Producer(s)Bob Johnston

"Bird on the Wire" is one of Leonard Cohen's signature songs. It was recorded 26 September 1968 in Nashville and included on his 1969 album Songs from a Room. A May 1968 recording produced by David Crosby, titled "Like a Bird", was added to the 2007 remastered CD. Judy Collins was the first to release the song on her 1968 album Who Knows Where the Time Goes. Joe Cocker also covered the song on his second studio album the following year.

In the 1960s, Cohen lived on the Greek island Hydra with his girlfriend Marianne Ihlen, the woman depicted on the back cover of Songs from a Room. She has related how she helped him out of a depression by handing him his guitar, whereupon he began composing "Bird on the Wire", inspired by a bird sitting on one of Hydra's recently installed phone wires, followed by memories of wet island nights. He finished it in a Hollywood motel.

Cohen has described "Bird on the Wire" as a simple country song, and the first recording, by Judy Collins, was indeed done in a country setting. He later made various minor changes, such as the modifications present on Cohen Live. Different renditions are included on all of his live albums. On occasion he also performed Serge Lama's French version, "Vivre tout seul", in concert.

In the sleevenotes to a 2007 rerelease of Songs From A Room the song was described as "simultaneously a prayer and an anthem, a kind of Bohemian 'My Way'."[1]


In the liner notes to the 1975 compilation The Best of Leonard Cohen, Cohen wrote about the song:

I always begin my concert with this song. It seems to return me to my duties. It was begun in Greece and finished in a motel in Hollywood around 1969 along with everything else. Some lines were changed in Oregon. I can't seem to get it perfect. Kris Kristofferson informed me that I had stolen part of the melody from another Nashville writer. He also said that he's putting the first couple of lines on his tombstone, and I'll be hurt if he doesn't.

It has been suggested that the song to which Kristofferson was referring is "Turn Me On", written by Nashville songwriter John D. Loudermilk, which was originally recorded by Mark Dinning in 1961 and later covered by many other artists, including Nina Simone, and which shares a similar melody and some lyrical patterns with Cohen's song.[2]

Cover versions[edit]

Many artists have covered the song, often as "Bird on a Wire" (indeed, this variation appears in the compilation The Essential Leonard Cohen), including:

Further utilization[edit]

  • A cover is featured in the concluding scenes of director Robert Altman's 1978 film A Wedding.
  • It was also featured in the film Bird on a Wire.


Chart (2016) Peak
France (SNEP)[5] 137


  1. ^ Sleevenotes, Songs From A Room, 2007 SONY
  2. ^ Hickerson, Joe (22 March 2007). "The Songfinder: A Reader-Assisted Song Search Service". Sing Out!: The Folk Song Magazine. Archived from the original on 11 June 2014. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  3. ^ "Esther Ofarim - Esther and Abi Ofarim - Esther & Abi Ofarim - Ofraim אסתר עופרים". Retrieved Aug 6, 2019.
  4. ^ "Watch Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen on Wednesday, January 3 on CBC". CBC Arts, December 29, 2017.
  5. ^ "Le Top de la semaine : Top Singles Téléchargés – SNEP (Week 46, 2016)" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique. Retrieved 19 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

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