"Bird on the Wire" is one of Leonard Cohen's signature songs. It was recorded 26 September 1968 in Nashville and included on his 1969 album Songs from a Room. A May 1968 recording produced by David Crosby, entitled "Like a Bird", was added to the 2007 remastered CD. Judy Collins was the first to release the song on her 1968 album Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
In the 1960s, Cohen lived on the Greek island Hydra with his girlfriend Marianne (the woman depicted on Songs from a Room's back cover). She has related how she helped him out of a depression by handing him his guitar, whereupon he began composing "Bird on the Wire" – inspired by a bird sitting on one of Hydra's recently installed phone wires, followed by memories of wet island nights. He finished it in a Hollywood motel.
Cohen has described "Bird on the Wire" as a simple country song, and the first recording, by Judy Collins, was indeed done in a country setting. He later made various minor changes, such as the modifications present on Cohen Live. Different renditions are included on all of his live albums. On occasion he also performed Serge Lama's French version, "Vivre tout seul", in concert.