PJ Harvey – “Who By Fire” (Leonard Cohen Cover)


PJ Harvey – “Who By Fire” (Leonard Cohen Cover)

People are never, ever going to stop covering Leonard Cohen songs. There’s yet another Cohen tribute album on the way, and we’ve recently posted Cohen covers by artists as disparate as James Taylor, Willie Nelson, and the post-punk band Fotocrime. Now PJ Harvey, an artist who’s been repping for Leonard Cohen and who’s been compared to Cohen for her entire career, has taken on “Who By Fire.”

Cohen first recorded “Who By Fire” for his 1974 album New Skin For The Old Ceremony, and it’s take on a Hebrew prayer traditionally associated with Yom Kippur. Harvey has covered the song for the soundtrack of Bad Sisters, a new dark comedy/thriller series for Apple TV+. Sharon Horgan, the show’s star and executive producer, personally asked Harvey to do it, and she recorded her stormy take on the track with the show’s composer Tim Phillips. Here’s what Harvey says in a press release:

It was a very enjoyable day spent recording the version of Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” for Bad Sisters. I had spoken to Sharon Horgan in advance of the recording session, so I understood why she felt the song’s lyric was so perfect for the series, but also understood what nuances of Leonard’s performance she most loved, and therefore what to try and recapture but in my own way. Tim Phillips and I worked together on my performance for the song. I found Tim to be an inspiring and exciting work partner which made the whole experience flow.

Meanwhile, Sharon Horgan said this:

I thought of the words of “Who By Fire” soon after the series was picked up and thought how perfect it would be. Pretty soon after that, I thought of Polly’s voice singing those words and asked Apple if we could make that happen. I had been a fan of Polly for years and was nervous when we zoomed with her. I don’t have a musical vocabulary, but I know what I wanted. But we told her our ideas and about the series — it was quite fledgling at that stage, just photos and words, nothing filmed to show her, but she got it and loved it. We paired her up with Tim Phillips, who had scored Shining Vale, so we knew he was genius at what he does. The tone of the whole series is affected by the music and Polly’s voice. I still can’t quite believe we pulled it off.

Below, listen to Harvey’s cover of “Who By Fire” and the Leonard Cohen original.

This isn’t really all that surprising, but Harvey’s version of “Who By Fire” isn’t the only big Leonard Cohen cover to come out today. That tribute compilation Here It Is: A Tribute To Leonard Cohen is coming out in a couple of months, and Nathaniel Rateliff has just shared a video for his version of “Famous Blue Raincoat,” the 1971 Cohen classic. Here’s the video.

The first two episodes of Bad Sisters are out now on Apple TV+. Here It Is: A Tribute To Leonard Cohen is out 10/14 on Blue Note.

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