This grimly funny study of exploitation introduced Sharon Robinson, who become a frequent writing collaborator of Leonard Cohen. She recalled to Uncut: "Leonard had most of the lyric done when he handed it to me. There's a profound honesty in it. He's exposing something we all know and talk about with those close to us, but not publicly. It says we're not really in control of our destiny, there are others running things, and we go about our daily lives with that in the background."
"It's a protest song, so Leonard wanted something tough. I'd bring home verses, and go to the grand piano in my living room, as his lyrics require that purity of melody."
"There are synths on the record as he likes the contrast with that very organic-sounding deep human voice of his. I tried to match the tone of the lyric with music I knew Leonard could sing, and want to. Leonard always says he has a three-note range, and those limitations on the melody and the importance of words, make you look for music that's going to propel a lyric forward and give the listener time to digest all its layers. That simplicity leads to something wonderful."
The song has been frequently covered. Artists that have recorded the tune include Concrete Blonde for the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume, Don Henley, on his 1995 set Actual Miles: Henley's Greatest Hits and Rufus Wainwright (Cohen's son in law) in Lian Lunson's 2005 documentary film Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man.
This has been widely used in television and film. Allan Moyle's 1990 film Pump Up the Volume and Atom Egoyan's 1994 movie Exotica, both featured the song prominently.
Don Henley's version was heard in episode 219 of the television series Judging Amy, which aired in 2001.
This was used in a June 2008 anti-smoking advertisement commissioned by the New South Wales government in Australia with the theme "everybody knows smoking causes these diseases... yet you still do it."
Norwegian pop star Sigrid covered this for the 2017 Justice League superhero movie. She told NME:
"I didn't grow up listening to him – my parents listened more to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell – but I lived in a flatshare for two years and my flatmate loved Leonard Cohen. He would always play him when he got home from the studio or something. He's one of the great songwriters of all time, so it's a huge honor to be able to cover him. You're always nervous of what people will think when you release something new, but mostly I'm happy that I'm now in the Justice League!"