Note: Most of this material was originally posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric. Some updated material (mostly videos) has been added.
Well, “The Incomparable Sharon Robinson” Scans Better Than “The Way Cool, Multi-talented, Smart, & Charming Sharon Robinson With A Voice Like Liquid Mahogany”1
Welcome to the first of a two part appreciation of Sharon Robinson.
Today’s post offers exemplars of her music, including songs she has written for others, those resulting from her collaboration with Leonard Cohen, and her solo efforts. Part 2 (Update: Part 2 now available at Sharon Robinson On Leonard Cohen, Ann-Margaret, Songwriting, Tour Surprises, … And My Dance Moves) will feature an exclusive Cohencentric Q&A with Sharon Robinson and a new photo or two she contributed. (OK, make that “The Way Cool, Multi-talented, Smart, Charming, & incredibly gracious Sharon Robinson With A Voice Like Liquid Mahogany.”)
To evoke the proper mood, I’ve spotlighted a 2013 iteration of Leonard Cohen’s World Tour introduction of Sharon Robinson. In this case, it’s “My collaborator, the spectacular, incomparable Sharon Robinson.”2
Sharon Robinson Introduced by Leonard Cohen
Bercy: June 18, 2013
Video by a music lover in Paris
Learning To Appreciate The Incomparable Sharon Robinson
Until recently, my characterization of Sharon Robinson was something on the lines of “that good looking backup singer with the great voice.”
That inadequate assessment did not survive contact with Ms Robinson herself.
I’ll explain. I first met Sharon Robinson backstage before the October 29, 2009 Chicago Rosemont Theatre concert. This excerpt from Meeting Leonard Cohen And Falling In Love With Sharon Robinson describes the epiphany that occurred at that event:
As best I can reconstruct it, this is what happened next [after meeting Leonard Cohen]: while I was recovering from my close encounter of the Cohen kind, Sharon Robinson affectionately ambushed me. … Sharon spontaneously approached me, explaining that Leonard had told her who I was and that she had, of course, wanted to meet me. That was certainly nice enough, but the coup de grâce was to follow. While she continued to talk about being happy to see me, she fixed her eyes on mine and then put her hand over my hand, triggering – and I cannot express how embarrassing it is to write this – a warm, lovely, comforting rush that flowed from the point on my hand she touched through my arm and throughout my body.
There is, no doubt, a logical explanation involving autonomic system reactions to certain pathological situations, barometric pressure shifts, and abnormally elevated affect in chronically sardonic bloggers. … Or perhaps it was a variation on the Vulcan Mind Meld. … Or an empathic moment. For now, however, I can only confess that Sharon Robinson required less than 30 seconds to convert me from a member of Leonard Cohen’s audience who thought her a better than competent backup singer to a passionate Sharon Robinson fan.
I’m not alone in possessing special feelings for Sharon Robinson. Consider this excerpt from Leonard Cohen TPAC 2009:
The music was warm and inviting and precise. The ruby cup of darkness blues song was still and dark and dangerous. I wanted to get up and dance, because lately I dance, when mid- to late-era songs came on, or “Boogie Street” (which is a particular favorite of ours), but I couldn’t because I wasn’t in my own kitchen, so I lived vicariously through Sharon Robinson. I love her and I trust her better than Leonard Cohen. I do wish I knew her, or was myself trusting enough to be friends with someone like her. The lights were important. They were so deep and colorful, except when he sang “Suzanne,” at which point they darkened to mostly black and a small whitely illuminated Leonard, as if it is a song whose feelings are felt in the dark. It wasn’t private, but it was shared. If I were a vocal type of audience member, I would have shouted, as the angels do in “Because of,” Look at me, Leonard!, but instead I just thought it to myself. Those are the kind of dialectics best kept silent. [Emphasis mine]
Boogie Street – Written By Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, Performed By Sharon Robinson
Sharon Robinson’s performance at the July 30, 2009 Lisbon Concert led me to note
OK, I know “Boogie Street,” a Sharon Robinson – Leonard Cohen collaboration, is often listed by Cohen fans in the – well, let’s call it “less beloved” category. I urge you, however, to watch this albertnoonan video of Sharon Robinson performing a luscious arrangement of “Boogie Street” at the Lisbon concert. If you don’t enjoy this, you can rest assured that you just don’t like the song and can time your trip to the concession stand or the rest room to coincide with it during the next concert you attend. But I warn you, you may find yourself getting off on “Boogie Street.”
Leonard Cohen, featuring Sharon Robinson – Boogie Street
Lisbon: July 30, 2009
Video by albertnoonan
Sharon Robinson Performs Lucky – Cowritten With Leonard Cohen
“It’s one of the happiest songs I’ve ever written” Sharon Robinson
Lucky was co-written by Sharon Robinson and Leonard Cohen in the 1980s but never released. It is a track on Sharon Robinson’s new album, Caffeine. The quote is from a review of the Glasgow show that is well worth reading, Sharon Robinson review – confessional cocktails from Cohen collaborator by Graeme Virtue (The Guardian: April 9, 2015). I’ve excerpted the opening paragraph below:
Everybody knows Sharon Robinson, even if they don’t realise it – she co-wrote Everybody Knows, the mournful yet moreish 1988 earworm that reaffirmed Leonard Cohen as a regal, glass-half-empty rogue for a generation that might have missed him first time around. Robinson’s own version shakes the song loose from Cohen’s doomy lockstep, finding some finger-snapping swing in its familiar checklist of downers. It’s a seductive, conspiratorial highlight of this intimate gig, part of the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s first solo tour of Europe.
Sharon Robinson – Lucky
Bush Hall, London: April 6, 2015
Video by Christine Bowles
Summertime – Written By Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, Performed By Sharon Robinson
“Summertime,” the product of the first collaboration between Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, was written in 1980 during the Field Commander Cohen Tour. Originally recorded by Diana Ross on her 1987 album, Red Hot Rhythm And Blues, this song is also on Sharon’s solo album, Everybody Knows, and was performed in 2008 by Robinson with accompaniment by Javier Mas as part of an interview on Helsinki TV.3
Sharon Robinson – Summertime – with Javier Mas
Video from a1000kissesdeep
New Attitude – Written By Sharon Robinson, Performed By Patti Labelle
Perhaps Robinson’s best known hit written for another singer, “New Attitude” was recorded by Patti Labelle in 1984 for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. The song helped launch LaBelle’s solo career and became a million-selling single, climbing to number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, as a remix, reached number 1 on the Hot Dance Music chart.
New Attitude Written By Sharon Robinson, Performed By Patti Labelle
Invisible Tattoo – Written By Sharon Robinson, Performed By Sharon Robinson
Sharon Robinson – Invisible Tattoo
Video from InvisibleTattoo
More Sharon Robinson Songs Performed By Others
Because the majority of Cohencentric readers are likely to have already heard Sharon Robinson perform at Leonard Cohen concerts or on Leonard Cohen albums, I’ve included a few more of her songs sung by other stars.
Cross My Heart – Written by Sharon Robinson, performed by Diana Ross
“Every Day Of My Life” written by Sharon Robinson, performed by Aaron Neville
Very Special Memories With Leonard Cohen, Jennifer Warnes, And Sharon Robinson
We’ll end today’s post where we started – with an appearance by Sharon Robinson as a backup singer for Leonard Cohen. This specific appearance brings a smile to my face every time I watch it, in large part because of Sharon’s obvious delight (an affect mirrored by Jennifer Warnes) in the performance. This is also a suitable segue into Part 2 of this appreciation of Sharon Robinson in that this video is part of the Q&A with Sharon.
Leonard Cohen – Memories (German TV, 1979)
Credit Due Department: The photo of Sharon Robinson and Leonard Cohen atop this post was taken by Nathan Wind as Cochese. The second photo was taken by Marc Roed at the Aug 26, 20012 Leonard Cohen Aalborg concert.
- The judges would also accept “A Voice Like Brandy Laced With Ginger.” [↩]
- Cohen occasionally uses the same adjective-as-title format in other contexts, such as when he leads into the song, “That Don’t Make It Junk,” by elaborating, “The incomparable Sharon Robinson one day said to me ‘Leonard, you’ve got to sort that drinking problem out … or at least set it to music.’” [↩]
- The interview itself can be viewed at Sharon Robinson – Helsinki TV Interview. [↩]