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Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen song)

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"Hallelujah" is a song written by singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen originally released on the 1984 studio album Various Positions. A significantly changed live recording of the song from 1988 was released on the 1994 album, Cohen Live, but neither version achieved wide commercial success outside of Cohen's fans until December 2008 when Cohen's studio recording reached #36 on the UK's single chart. In April 2009, a new live recording of the song was released on a 2CD and DVD collection titled Leonard Cohen: Live In London.

First covered by John Cale in 1991, Hallelujah has since been recorded over 200 times by different artists,[1] been the subject of a BBC radio documentary and been featured in the soundtracks of numerous movies and television shows.[2] In the UK, the two most commercially successful cover singles have been by Alexandra Burke and Jeff Buckley, whose versions occupied the number one and two spots, respectively, of the UK pop charts in December 2008.

Writing and recordingEdit

"Hallelujah" was originally written and composed over the course of a year, and is said to have been a frustrating and difficult process for Cohen.[2] Cohen says he wrote at least eighty verses, filling two notebooks - discarding most of the verses in the process of crafting the song. [3]

Musical compositionEdit

"Hallelujah", in its original studio version, is a 4 minute 39 second song in C major.[4] The released live version, with its different lyrical content, clocks in at 6:54. On the song's melody, Rufus Wainwright has commented that "It's an easy song to sing. The music never pummels the words. The melody is almost liturgical and conjures up religious feelings. It's purifying."[3] In the section of the lyrics "the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift", the chords move as described in the lyrics as follows: F ("the fourth", in the tonality of C major), G ("the fifth"), Am ("the minor fall"), F ("the major lift").[4]

Lyrical interpretationEdit

The original recording contains multiple biblical references in the lyrics, alluding to David's harp-playing used to soothe King Saul (Template:Bibleverse), and his later affair with Bathsheba after watching her bathe from his roof (Template:Bibleverse). The line "she broke your throne and she cut your hair" is a reference to the source of Samson's strength from the Book of Judges Template:Bibleverse-nb. The third verse mentions "the name" (Tetragrammaton, a name used by the Hebrew Masoretic Text to refer to God.)

In 1994, Cohen released a substantially different version on the 1994 live album Cohen Live, retaining only the final verse from the original recording. In this version, the lyrics became more sexual, and the song's structure was slightly reworked. Jeff Buckley described his own rendition of the song as an homage to "the hallelujah of the orgasm". [5]

Since his original studio album version, live performances by Leonard Cohen almost invariably include the final song verses not performed by many others. Many cover artists mix lyrics from both versions, and occasionally make direct lyric changes such as Rufus Wainwright singing "holy dark" and Allison Crowe singing "Holy Ghost" rather than "holy dove". Although individual words do change among various versions, apart from such examples of clear revision by interpreters, any variation may be due to selection from Cohen's complete lyrics rather than alterations by the cover artist.

Cover versionsEdit

In recent years "Hallelujah" has been performed by a large number and broad range of artists, both on recordings and in concert. RIAA, CRIA, ARIA and IFPI statistics alone show that, prior to late 2008, more than five million copies of the song sold in CD format. Top-selling versions included those by Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley. As well, Buckley's 1994 studio version of Hallelujah was certified platinum, for sales over one million, as a single by the RIAA on April 22, 2008. k.d. lang recorded "Hallelujah" on her 2004 album "Hymns of the 49th Parallel".The song has enjoyed renewed commercial success as a digital download single in the UK in late 2008, when a version by X Factor winner Alexandra Burke and Jeff Buckley's best known version made the number 1 and 2 positions respectively in the UK Singles Chart. Burke's version sold 576,046 copies, and Buckley's sold 80,883.[citation needed]

Audio samples of versions that underscore some of the very different ways Hallelujah has been interpreted over the decades: Template:Sound sample box align right Template:Listen

John CaleEdit

Welsh singer-songwriter John Cale recorded a cover version of "Hallelujah", which appeared on the 1991 Leonard Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan and, again, on Cale's 1992 live album Fragments of a Rainy Season. Cale's version featured vocals, piano, and lyrics Cohen only had performed live. In a 2001 interview with The Observer, John Cale said,

After I saw [Cohen] perform at the Beacon I asked if I could have the lyrics to "Hallelujah". When I got home one night there were fax paper rolls everywhere because Leonard had insisted on supplying all 15 verses.

Cale says he "went through and just picked out the cheeky verses."[3] His version was featured in the 1996 film, Basquiat, as well as the 2001 animated film, Shrek.[6]

Jeff BuckleyEdit

The late American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, inspired by Cale's earlier cover version, recorded one of the best-known cover versions of "Hallelujah" for his 1994 studio album, Grace. Buckley, not wholly satisfied with any one take, recorded more than twenty takes, three of which producer Andy Wallace took and mixed to create a single track.

In 2004, Jeff Buckley's version was ranked #259 on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". In September 2007, a poll of fifty songwriters conducted by Q Magazine listed "Hallelujah" among the all-time "Top 10 Greatest Tracks" with John Legend calling Buckley's version "as near perfect as you can get". Buckley's first #1 came posthumously in March 2008 when "Hallelujah" topped Billboard's Hot Digital Songs following a performance of the song by Jason Castro on American Idol.

In 2008 Buckley's cover of the song peaked at number 2 in the Christmas edition of the UK Singles Chart, the first time the song had appeared in the UK top 40, following a campaign to raise it higher in the chart than Alexandra Burke's version (also released by Sony).

Rufus WainwrightEdit

Although John Cale's version was used in the film Shrek itself, his version did not feature in the movie soundtrack album, Shrek: Music from the Original Motion Picture. Canadian musician Rufus Wainwright recorded a version similar to Cale's, also using piano, and his version was used on the soundtrack album.[7] The Shrek soundtrack, containing Wainwright's cover, was certified in the United States as double platinum in 2003 by achieving sales of over two million copies.

K.D. LangEdit

K.D. Lang recorded a version of "Hallelujah" in 2004 on her album "Hymns of the 49th Parallel." She has several times been chosen to sing the song at major events, such as the Canadian 2005 Juno Awards, where her "stirring rendition... brought the audience to its feet for a two-minute ovation."[8] Lang also sang it at the 2006 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on the occasion of Cohen's induction into the Hall of Fame.[9] Of that rendition, Cohen's partner, singer Anjani Thomas, said: “After hearing k.d. lang perform that song at the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2006 we looked at each other and said, ‘well, I think we can lay that song to rest now! It’s really been done to its ultimate blissful state of perfection’."[10] Music critics have called Lang's version "mesmerizing" and "downright transcending."[8][11] Cohen himself said in an interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC, April 16 2009, "I was in the room when K.D. Lang sang it at the Canadian Songwriters' Hall of Fame. That really touched me."[12]

Guns N RosesEdit

Guns N Roses was asked by Emma Watson to cover this song for her film Time Stranger Kyoko. In the past Guns N Roses had been known for a few sexual songs, but by this time Guns N Roses had mellowed, so their cover resembled a hard rock version of Cohen's original 1984 recording, with an added guitar intro and guitar solo included. W. Axl Rose used a normal voice for each verse, which escalates to his trademark shriek by the time each chorus rolls along. This version of the song is in B major. It later appeared on the compilation album At the Movies.

Alexandra BurkeEdit

Alexandra Burke, the winner of the fifth series of British reality television show The X Factor, released a condensed cover version of the song as a prize for her victory. It reached the Christmas Number One spot on UK charts on 21 December 2008. The music video features footage from The X Factor, connecting the lyrics to the story of Burke's victory.[13]

The release of Burke's cover created interest in the previous versions of the song, including a Buckley fan campaign to take Buckley's cover to the top of the Christmas chart in order to deny Burke the top spot.[14][15] The campaign was fuelled by Jeff Buckley fans' dislike of The X Factor's commercialism[16] and the song's arrangement,[17] as well as a desire by this contingent to introduce younger music fans to Buckley's version.[18] Burke herself was not enamoured of the choice of song, remarking "It just didn’t do anything for me".[17]

Burke's version broke a European sales record after selling over 105,000 digital downloads in just one day, breaking the previous record set by Leona Lewis. It sold 576,000 copies in its first week, becoming the fastest selling single released by a woman in the UK, to become the Christmas number one, while Buckley's cover came second and Cohen's original version came thirty-sixth. On 28 December, 2008, the UK Singles Chart listed Burke's version as #1 biggest selling single of the year.[19][20], with NME announcing sales of over 1 million copies since its release.[21] Burke's version is now listed as the 75th biggest selling single of all time in the UK. The song has sold One Million and fifty thousand copies in the UK as stated by the Official UK Charts Company.

Alexandra Burke's version was nominated in the category Best British Single at the 2009 BRIT Awards, as voted for by the public. Burke's version eventually came 6th, after being eliminated in the fifth and final online voting round.

Chart (2008–2009) Peak
position
Irish Singles Chart 1
UK Singles Chart 1
World 4

Lisa HordijkEdit

Lisa Hordijk, the winner of the 2009 Dutch X-Factor series also chose to release 'Hallelujah' as her debut single. The song peaked in its first week on number one and still tops the Dutch charts for the 7th week as of June 27. The single has become one of the most sold singles within the last couple of years, it went double platinum within one month. Lisa is now currently working on her debut album and soon she will release an acoustic version of her well praised version of 'Hallelujah'.


Other cover versionsEdit

Bob Dylan was among the first to perform Cohen's song in concert with his earliest noted performance being in Montreal on July 8, 1988. Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe recorded a critically-praised version of "Hallelujah" in a single take for her 2003 album Tidings.[22] Crowe also performed the song for a national television special broadcast annually across Canada each year from 2003 through 2008. In 2006 a quartet of Askil Holm, Espen Lind, Alejandro Fuentes, and Kurt Nilsen, known as "The New Guitar Buddies", released a recording of the song which became a number one hit in their home country of Norway in January 2007. This version is also the single most viewed version of the song on YouTube with over 11 million views.Template:Cn. In 2007, rock band Bon Jovi produced a cover of the song on their in-studio DVD "Bon Jovi - Stripped." [23] In 2008 Kate Voegele recorded a cover version of the song for her album that reached the top 100 Billboard charts and top 100 Pop charts. It also reached top 50 in the UK shortly after airing of an episode of One Tree Hill on which the song was featured. Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins recorded a classical-crossover version, for her 2008 album Sacred Arias. On February 22, 2009, a choir sang the song at a memorial service held at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia for the 209 people who perished in the 2009 Victorian bushfires.[24] Swedish progressive metal band Pain of Salvation covers the song regularly in concerts, and it was featured on their live performance DVD, Ending Themes (On the Two Deaths of Pain of Salvation) released in March 2009.

Other musicians who have done covers include: Chris Botti, Jeff Anderson, Over the Rhine, Kathryn Williams, Brandi Carlile, Elisa, Willie Nelson, Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor, Alter Bridge frontman, Myles Kennedy, The Dresden Dolls and David Bazan, Absentee, Kate Voegele, Maciej Zembaty and Paramore.

Films featuring HallelujahEdit

Accolades and AchievementsEdit

  • In 2005, "Hallelujah" was named the tenth greatest Canadian song of all time in Chart magazine's annual readers' poll.
  • The BBC commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first recording with an hour-long radio documentary, "The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall", in which the song's history and numerous cover versions were presented and discussed.[25]
  • Jon Wilde of The Guardian has noted of the song, "it's rapidly on its way to becoming the most discussed and debated song of all time."[26]
  • On the 21st of December 2008, "Hallelujah" became the first song in 51 years[3] to occupy the first and second positions on the UK Singles Chart; The X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke's and American singer Jeff Buckley's covers were the two highest-selling songs in the week beginning 15 December 2008.[27]
  • In the February 2009 issue of Blender Magazine, "Hallelujah" was featured as that month's "Greatest Song Ever" (a monthly feature)*

Chart PositionsEdit

Artist Year Peak
UK Finland Sweden Ireland France Norway USA
Billboard Hot 100 Bubbling Under Pop 100 Hot Digital Songs
Lind, Nilsen, Fuentes and Holm 2007 1
Jeff Buckley 2008 2 [28]9 [29] 3 [30] 8 2 [31] 7 1 [32]
Leonard Cohen 2008 36 [28]
Kate Voegele 2008 53 [33] 68 [34] 43 [35]28 [36]
Alexandra Burke 2008 1 [28] 1 [37]
Jason Castro 2008 13 [38] 94 [39]

ReferencesEdit

  1. The Leonard Cohen Files: A Thousand Covers Deep
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hallelujah!, Bryan Appleyard, The Times, January 9, 2005
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah!, Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick, June 14, 2008
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen - guitar chords, guitar tabs and lyrics - chordie
  5. Hallelujah: Jeff Buckley: Rolling Stone, December 9, 2004
  6. Shrek (2001) - Soundtracks
  7. Amazon.com - "So you'd like to know more about Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah""
  8. 8.0 8.1 Nonesuch Journal (December 17, 2008). "Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah,' a Highlight of k.d. lang Performances, Hits the 'X Factor.' Retrieved on 2009-04-17.
  9. "2006 Events," Retrieved on: 2009-04-17.
  10. Wears the Trousers Magazine. (July 8, 2008). Anjani Thomas 'Sometimes you just get very lucky'." Retrieved on: 2009-04-17.
  11. Clark, B. (1 February 2008). "kd lang Hammersmith Apollo, London." The Guardian. Retrieved on: 2009-04-17.
  12. Heck of a Guy (April 16, 2009). "Leonard Cohen - Jian Ghomeshi Q TV Interview." Retrieved on: 2009-04-17.
  13. Alan Connor. Template:Citation/make link. BBC News Magazine. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7787355.stm. Retrieved 21 December 2008. 
  14. Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen fans unite on Facebook to keep reality show version of 'Hallelujah' off British chart
  15. Hallelujah! You Buck the trend
  16. The fight for a Hallelujah Christmas victory, The Times, December 18, 2008
  17. 17.0 17.1 Hallelujah hits number one and two slots in Christmas charts, The Times, December 22, 2008
  18. Mark Lawson: Warring Hallelujahs, The Guardian, Friday 19th December 2008
  19. Singh, Anita (2008-12-15). Template:Citation/make link. The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/celebritynews/3777432/X-Factor-winner-Alexandra-Burke-sets-new-chart-record-with-Hallelujah.html. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  20. "Duffy and Burke top 2008 charts". BBC. Retrieved on 29-12-2008.
  21. "Alexandra Burke's 'Hallelujah' joins 'million-selling' singles list". NME (09-01-2009). Retrieved on 10-01-2009.
  22. Template:Citation
  23. http://www.strippedmusic.com/arch_bonjovi.html
  24. Johnston, Chris (February 23, 2009). Template:Citation/make link. Adelaide Independent Weekly. http://www.independentweekly.com.au/news/local/news/general/national-tribute-to-victorias-bushfire-victims/1441012.aspx. Retrieved February 23, 2009. 
  25. Template:Citation
  26. Wilde, Jon (2008-03-12). Template:Citation/make link. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2008/mar/12/whichhallelujahisthehighes. Retrieved 2008-12-16. "Leonard Cohen's mournful classic has been covered by everyone from Bon Jovi to American Idol's Jason Castro. But whose version is the best?" 
  27. Template:Citation/make link. BBC News (BBC). December 16, 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7786171.stm. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 "Alexandra Burke, Jeff Buckley storm Christmas charts with 'Hallelujah'.". NME.
  29. "Finland Chart Listing, Nov 08 2008". Billboard.
  30. "Sweden Chart Listing, Jan 19 2008". Billboard.
  31. "France Chart Listing, Sept 6 2008". Billboard.
  32. "Hot Digital Songs, Apr 05 2008". Billboard.
  33. "UK official charts, Oct 12 2008". 88 FM Radio 1.
  34. "Billboard Hot 100, May 31 2008". Billboard.
  35. "Pop 100 Singles, May 31 2008". Billboard.
  36. "Hot Digital Songs, May 31 2008". Billboard.
  37. "Irish Chart Listing, Dec 27 2008". Billboard.
  38. "Hot 100 Singles, Jun 07 2008". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2008-12-29.
  39. "Pop 100 Singles, Jun 07 2008". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2008-12-28.

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