Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: Songs From A RoomReleased: 1969
Speaking of this song in a 1993 interview with Song Talk, Cohen explained: "It was begun in Greece because there were no wires on the island where I was living to a certain moment. There were no telephone wires. There were no telephones. There was no electricity. So at a certain point they put in these telephone poles, and you wouldn't notice them now, but when they first went up, it was about all I did – stare out the window at these telephone wires and think how civilization had caught up with me and I wasn't going to be able to escape after all. I wasn't going to be able to live this 11th-century life that I thought I had found for myself. So that was the beginning.
Then, of course, I noticed that birds came to the wires and that was how that song began. 'Like a drunk in a midnight choir,' that's also set on the island. Where drinkers, me included, would come up the stairs. There was great tolerance among the people for that because it could be in the middle of the night. You'd see three guys with their arms around each other, stumbling up the stairs and singing these impeccable thirds. So that image came from the island: 'Like a drunk in a midnight choir.'"
Ron Cornelius ran Cohen's band for four years. Here's what he told Songfacts about this song: "Bird On The Wire is a classic in my book. Leonard has a home on an island in Greece called Hydra, and from his living room, there's an electric wire you can see, and that's where he got the idea. He just happened to mention that one night because me and a friend that was a road manager for him all over the world, Bill Donovan, we went and stayed a couple of weeks there but Leonard just went there to open the house up and then he split for Montreal and we stayed there by ourselves, he said, 'see that wire, that's the wire right there.' When I was their there still was not a gasoline engine on the island anywhere."
In 1990, the title was used for a movie starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn - well, sort of; the song and movie were changed to "Bird On A Wire," which is how many people who cover the song do it, including The Neville Brothers, who sang the version used in the movie.
Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Joe Bonamassa, Tim Hardin and Johnny Cash have all recorded versions of this song.