Make us your home page

An '80s tune about terrorism? Listen to 'First We Take Manhattan'



Unfortunately, terrorism is in the headlines pretty much every week these days. Even though we pine for simpler and less threatening days, that doesn't mean terrorism wasn't a topic back in the '80s. In fact, it was even songs like Leonard Cohen's First We Take Manhattan performed by Jennifer Warnes.

Jennifer Warnes only hit the Top 40 twice in the '80s, with the anomaly being that both hit No. 1. In between the 1982 duet with Joe Cocker - Up Where We Belong - from An Officer and A Gentlemen and the 198 duet with Bill Medley - The Time Of My Life - from Dirty Dancing, Warnes worked on a project she had been championing to recording executives for years - a tribute album to Leonard Cohen.

Before Warnes scored her first Top 40 hit in 1977 with The Right Time Of The Night, she was a singer for Leonard Cohen. In 1986, she showed her appreciation of Cohen's work by recording her one and only album in the '80s - an entire album of Leonard Cohen penned songs called Famous Blue Raincoat. While the span of the songs on the album ranged from the '60s to the '80s, one of the tunes was a song that Cohen had never recorded before entitled First We Take Manhattan.

In 1988, Cohen would record his own version of First We Take Manhattan and even made a stylish video for it, but rather than feature Cohen's version that has over 10 million Youtube views, I decided to go with Warnes' version for several good reasons. First, it has Cohen in the video and secondly, because the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan not only plays on the record, but is in the video.

While the song is about taking Manhattan, Stevie Ray's appearances take place on the Brooklyn Bridge and his presence gives a more blues/pop feel than Cohen's synth-heavy version. While the song is cryptic in nature with illusions to the apocalypse, the song about 'taking Manhattan and then Berlin" is on the record by Cohen as being a song about the psyche of terrorism.

While it's not a song that ever charted or got much airplay, First We Take Manhattan has been covered by R.E.M. and Joe Cocker and also was the closeout song to the Watchmen movie in 2009.

It's been over 16 years since Californian Warnes issued an album, but in January of 2018, a new untitled release is scheduled.  

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 3:38pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours