"First We Take Manhattan" is a song written by Leonard Cohen. It was originally recorded by Jennifer Warnes on her 1987 album Famous Blue Raincoat, which consisted entirely of songs written or co-written by Cohen.


 [hide*1 Jennifer Warnes version

Jennifer Warnes version[edit]Edit

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 issues, the finished recording was achieved after 2 or 3 takes.[1] According to Jennifer Warnes' official site, Vaughan finished recording his takes at 4 AM.[2]

Music video[edit]Edit

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[edit]Edit

"First We Take Manhattan"
Single by Leonard Cohen
from the album I'm Your Man
Released February 1988
Recorded 1987
Genre Progressive rock
Length 5:56
Label Columbia Records
Writer(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 Isserman, 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 both his and Warnes' studio versions, 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[edit]Edit

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 tracklist. In the USrelease 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.

Warren Zevon, citing Cohen as one of his favorite songwriters, performed the song on tour in support of the Mr. Bad Example album accompanied by Odds.

The German martial group Von Thronstahl samples the song in their song "Babylon the Great has Fallen" off of their Return Your Revort Into Style album.

Other artists to cover the song include Cookies 'N' Beans, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling,[3] Boris GrebenshchikovYasmineSireniaMaxx KlaxonTyskarna från Lund, and Enrique Morente.


Jennifer Warnes version[edit]Edit

Chart (1987) Peak


Canadian Hot 100 43
Canadian Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 6
U.S. BillboardHot Adult Contemporary Tracks 29
UK Singles Chart 74

R.E.M. version[edit]Edit

Chart (1992) Peak


U.S. BillboardAlternative Songs[4] 11
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