Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen may have been Canada’s answer to Bob Dylan, and he may have a devoted following.  But he is not a cult figure.  Here’s proof:


For some reason, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been playing in my head for the last few days.  So I’ll banish it from there to here.  To make sure it stays out, I’ll include five video performances from youtube.

Here’s the most popular youtube video of Cohen himself performing it:

Here’s a video of Jeff Buckley’s cover; Buckley had a big hit with the song.

Here’s Rufus Wainwright accompanying himself on piano:

Here’s Il Divo doing it in Spanish:

And naturally, a ukulele cover:


  1. cymast

     /  November 19, 2008

    Cult of Cohentology

    There Is No Church of Leonard Cohen

    OK I think I get it!

    Wainwright has the perfect voice for “Hallelujah,” but it’s the one song he does that I don’t appreciate.

  2. acilius

     /  November 19, 2008

    I’m surprised you think Wainwright has the perfect voice for the song- I think his version works despite his voice. Cohen’s deeper, smoother voice seems to me to be the better fit. He so much sounds like he’s in control that the ragged emotional state the words evoke comes as a shock, while Wainwright’s transparent sorrow and vulnerability make the words almost unnecessary. Almost unnecessary, but not completely.

    Buckley’s version I don’t like. He goes the same direction as Wainwright, but further, so that the song ends up in teenaged self-pity territory. I included it because it was the biggest hit record.

    There are several ukulele covers on youtube, I liked the sound quality on the one I included but the better performance (assuming anyone wants to hear yet another cover of this song) is probably here:

  3. cymast

     /  November 19, 2008

    I guess I just don’t *get* the song. I’ve read through the lyrics and I’m still clueless. So I match Wainwright’s voice to what I think might be kind of going on. Plus I love Wainwright anyway. The last video you posted in comments, I thought, was less flowing than Wainwright’s version.

    This is a religious song, right? (I told you I was clueless.) Maybe if I was religious or went to church or something I’d get it.

  4. acilius

     /  November 19, 2008

    Maybe it’s a religious song, maybe it’s an anti-religious song. All these terrible things happen and the speaker keeps crying “Hallelujah!” Is that a sign of some great spiritual triumph? If so, why is the music so downbeat? Why does the melody keep trailing off like a voice in despair? Or is “Hallelujah” an expression that has become meaningless, one that the speaker jabbers from force of habit?

  5. cymast

     /  November 19, 2008

    All of the above fit at the same time. Maybe that’s why it’s obtuse.

  6. acilius

     /  November 19, 2008

    Maybe so. It’s the thing I like about it, though.

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