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    Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

    by Douglas on 15th March, 2009 at 10:13 am    

    This is a guest post by Douglas Clark as part of Speaker’s Corner Sundays.

    This song matters to me and I don’t know why, exactly. So, I’d like your opinions. As it seems to matter to a lot of you too. Does it really start with:

    Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
    That David played, and it pleased the Lord,
    But you don’t really care for music, do you?
    It goes like this:
    The fourth, the fifth,
    The minor fall, the major lift,
    The baffled king composing
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.?

    Well, you’d think so, but this version by its author doesn’t start from there, does it?

    And he wrote the damn song. All sixty odd verses. I love that version, which is essentially a soul song, or even a song in a gospel tradition, is it not?

    From the quiet to the cadences, it is beautiful, I think. So, perhaps inevitably, the world and it’s mother recorded it. There are apparently circa 180 versions around, and the most stunningly popular is not the version by Leonard Cohen, but a jointly held first place for Jeff Buckley and Alexandra Burke. With the Rufus Wainright Shrek version coming in in third or so. Call me a fool, but what do any of these versions add to the song? Except perhaps putting the best verse first?

    Here is Jeff Buckley. And Alexandra Burke.

    I dunno. Frankly I’d like to see a cover version add something. Passion, maybe. So, just for fun, and it is a lousy recording, here is the version I prefer, Tim Minchin giving it laldy. Excuse the intro, and perhaps the quality of the soundtrack. His partner is wrong. The Shrek soundtrack was by Rufus Wainright. But this is at least sung with a renewed passion, is it not?

    I’d be keen to hear of a better version…..And Dylan certainly doesn’t count. Nor Sheryl Crow. Nor that Canadian woman that looks like a younger version of that comedienne on the telly, y’know K D Lang… There is an interesting, well I found it interesting, analysis of the lyrics here.

    Hallelujah is probably a broken promise. Whether by God or Man is debatable, I’d have thought. Well, we always talk about the same things, lets try something different.


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    17 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. David T — on 15th March, 2009 at 11:06 am  

      Buckley for me.

    2. Aedan — on 15th March, 2009 at 11:19 am  

      The version used in the film is John Cale’s version from “I’m Your Fan”, the version on the soundtrack is Rufus Wainright. See below for discussion of lyrics that makes reference to this:


      Incidentally, “I’m Your Fan” has some other pretty decent covers too (as well as some duff ones) and is worth a look if you get the chance.

    3. DrHGuy — on 15th March, 2009 at 12:21 pm  

      I certainly won’t guarantee this version will suit your needs (De gustibus non est disputandum and all that), but I’m pretty sure you won’t confuse it with any other rendition. And, after listening to the Simonized X-Factor Hallelujahs (I posted my take on Ms Burke’s performance at http://1heckofaguy.com/2008/12/15/leonard-cohens-hallelujah-x-factor-style/), which were carefully stripped of sexuality, I found this cover by Popa Chubby which emphasizes the visceral over the spiritual to be - well, redemptive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIXhS5KbP98

    4. Zak — on 15th March, 2009 at 12:51 pm  

      check out the opening credits for the watchmen..

    5. Leon — on 15th March, 2009 at 12:58 pm  

      That’s about the only good thing about that film….

    6. foxyullah — on 15th March, 2009 at 2:38 pm  

      Yep Jeff’s version is infinitely preferable, leonard makes me want to slit my wrists.

    7. dave bones — on 15th March, 2009 at 2:42 pm  

      Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
      That David played, and it pleased the Lord,
      But you don’t really care for music, do you?
      It goes like this:
      The fourth, the fifth,
      The minor fall, the major lift…

      This is all that secret chord/backmasking stuff they had Judas priest in court over in the seventies. All that stuff about trying to get kids to sell their souls to Satan or commit suicide or something.

    8. RedSeaPedestrian — on 15th March, 2009 at 2:46 pm  

      The Buckley version is my favourite. The KD Lang version is not bad.

    9. Don — on 15th March, 2009 at 6:47 pm  

      Buckley for me, every time. Incredible range and control for an untrained voice. Has anyone actually recorded the whole song? Sixty verses?

      Hey, Leon, I was looking forward to that movie.

      leonard makes me want to slit my wrists.

      But elegantly, while wearing a well-cut suit and a wry smile.

    10. douglas clark — on 15th March, 2009 at 9:24 pm  

      Hi folks,

      Good comments.

      I am especially obliged to Aedan for a link to a thoughtful and considered thread which I didn’t even know existed.

      And to DrHGuy. His Popa Chubby recommendation works for me. He is right, it is a far more earthy version. And I always was a sucker for a guitar solo…


    11. Zak — on 15th March, 2009 at 10:27 pm  

      Leon thats blasphemy..

    12. douglas clark — on 15th March, 2009 at 10:50 pm  


      I am a complete and utter failure when it comes to Mr Moore. I have been meaning to read the graphic novel (err, pretentious or what?) V for Vendetta for ages. When I go to get it, the bookstore is littered with tie-ins for Watchman. Not a copy of V to be seen.

      Considering I only got to know Alan Moore through comics like Promethea, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and such like, I am in complete and utter awe of the guy. So, not to have read either of the two books that made him famous is a bit of a fan boy failure. (In my defence, I do have From Hell which is brilliant).

      My question for you, should you decide to accept it, is:

      Do you think the movies fail to reflect the comics or do you just think the comics were crap?

    13. Steve M — on 16th March, 2009 at 1:12 am  

      “It’s, as I say, a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion…. It’s a rather joyous song.” ~ Leonard Cohen, creator of the song, Hallelujah. He says: “I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view… It’s the notion that there is no perfection ~ that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say hallelujah under those circumstances.”

      Yeah Lenny!

      As for which version, that’s just a matter of personal taste.

    14. Sid — on 16th March, 2009 at 1:27 am  

      I prefer Buckley’s to Cohen’s version.

    15. soru — on 16th March, 2009 at 11:02 am  

      This is the correct version: all others are wrong.


    16. Ravendome — on 16th March, 2009 at 1:18 pm  

      But surely the KD Lang version has been too easily dismissed here…

    17. Refresh — on 17th March, 2009 at 4:09 pm  

      Could this be a missing verse:

      But your smile is a prayer that prays for love
      and your heart is a kite that longs to fly
      Allelujah, here I am
      Let’s cut the strings tonight

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