One Song/Three Versions – Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen

Canadian singer/songwriter/troubadour Leonard Cohen died today at the age of 82. I’ve been working on this One Song/Three Versions post about him anyway so I see no reason not to go ahead and do that as a tribute to him. (Despite being in poor health, he had recently released a well-received album.)

Cohen first released his most enduring song, “Hallelujah,” on his  1984 album, Various Positions. I don’t know that it was hailed at that time as being one of his great songs, but it has grown in stature over the years. Some may even say that it’s been overdone with so many versions done on TV shows and Idol singers. But the hell with that. A great song is a great song.

Here’s Cohen’s version:

The version that really popularized this song is undoubtedly Jeff Buckley’s from his only studio album, 1994’s Grace. It was his only studio album as he drowned accidentally a few years later. According to Wikipedia he went swimming “while wearing boots and all of his clothing and singing the chorus of the song “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. Well, I guess if you gotta go:

There are many versions of this song but the only other one that reaches this level of greatness, for me, is that of another Canadian artist, k.d. lang. (Rufus Wainwright did a terrific job, too.) It’s always interesting to see how women handle songs differently than men. Where Buckley’s is spiritual, hers feels – with the welcoming piano intro – more romantic:

Baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked the floor
You used to live alone before I knew ya

But I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Our love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

hallelujah
hallelujah
hallelujah
hallelujah

12 thoughts on “One Song/Three Versions – Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen

  1. Very surprising news but then 82, as we say here, isn’t that bad an innings at all.
    For my money it’s the Jeff Buckley version – while it’s probably second to Rufus Wainwright’s in terms of most/over-played – it still manages to take your breath away if you haven’t heard it for a while. As with most of his own, he over-egged it live but the version caught on Grace is stunning.
    Oddly enough, while it’s easily the most covered song in his catalogue to the point where he started to get a bit… tired of it – I’ve heard that he told Jon Bon Jovi that his version was his favourite cover. While I don’t know if it’s true I think all that shows is he had a very dry, sarcastic sense of humour

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  2. I was shocked, as they say, but not surprised. I had just been reading about him and the making of what is now his final album. Apparently his health and mobility had declined. And then in short order I stumbled on a site that ranked various versions of the song. And so depending on your interpretation of Cohen’s words, he would be either gladdened or horrified to know that Bon Jovi did not get a slot in any of the 60 versions. But he might well be pleased to know that Adam Sandler has a version wherein he rhymes ‘hallelujah’ with 32 ounce Mountain Dew-ya. 😂

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  3. Thanks. I ‘liked’ yours too. I figured everybody and his brother was going to (rightfully) do a Cohen tribute so I figured I would just focus on The Song? Do you have a favorite version, whether in my brief list or otherwise?

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      1. They did an interesting thing on our Saturday Night Live show the other night. The woman who has been doing an imitation of Hillary Clinton sat at the piano and sang Hallelujah as Hillary. She was an HC supporter and so, ended it with tears in her eyes.

        So, simultaneously a tribute to Cohen and an elegy for Clinton’s campaign. Very clever. I think, though, based on tweeted responses, not a lot of people made the Leonard Cohen connection. Everybody knows the song, Just not necessarily who wrote it. A shame.

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  4. IMHO the Buckley and Lang versions are the ultimate; Lang’s live version at the 2010 Winter Olympic closing ceremonies was stunning. You never know, maybe Cohen really liked Bon Jovi’s version; I couldn’t fathom how Etta James’ family thought Christina Aguilera’s version of “At Last” was the best one; I still wonder if they’ve heard Cyndi Lauper’s, which to me blows Aguilera’s out of the water. But Leonard is past all this now; he’s with Marianne again.

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  5. I’ll definitely check out the Winter Olympic version. Interesting about Etta James. Recall that when Beyonce sang ‘At Last’ at Obama’s inauguration she was really pissed off. She threatened to ‘whip her ass.’ Odd. As to Bon Jovi, regardless of Cohen’s feelings about him, I can tell you I’m personally not a fan and he’ll never get a post on this blog.

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