Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The winner of the British TV show X-Factor, Alexandra Burke (video above), won with a cover of an old song that is suddenly very popular again, Leonard Cohen's 1984 piece called "Hallelujah."

I've embedded the above performance of Miss Burke, and though I think she does a fantastic job, I prefer the more gritty version of Jeff Buckley, that seems to have become the standard. But Mrs. Hollywood likes the Burke version best of all, so it gets top billing here. Interestingly, the song is currently both #1 and #2 on the British charts at the same time, with Miss Burke's getting top honors and Mr. Buckley's just behind - a remarkable achievement for Cohen and his song.

I first heard the song (the Buckley version) at the end of a House episode a couple years ago (it is also in the movie Shrek). It is a catchy tune that gets in the head, combined with a poetic use of language and biblical allusion that is cryptic if not nonsensical. And yet, the piece has a simple melancholic riff about it that is attractive and haunting.

The author, 74-year old Jewish Canadian poet Leonard Cohen is as enigmatic as the tune. Being a "Cohen," he claims descent from the Aaronic priests, and describes his sense of Jewishness growing up as "Messianic." For a while, he became a Zen monk, while still claiming to be Jewish.

Nearly all of his life savings, including his legacy from his father (who was a well-to-do merchant in Montreal) was stolen by one of his managers. Although Cohen won his lawsuit, he will likely never collect anything. He has had to go out on the road out of financial necessity. Fortunately, his song "Hallelujah" is enjoying a rediscovery in England. So hopefully, he will recover some of his devastating financial losses. If you're reading, Mr. Cohen, Fr. Hollywood is pulling for you!

Cohen is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters' Hall of Fame, and holds the honor of the Order of Canada.

Hallelujah is one of those songs that just about everyone has covered, in numerous styles: among them: Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Rufus Wainwright, Allison Crowe, K.D. Lang, Cheryl Crow, Amanda Jenssen (runner-up of of Swedish Idol), Jason Castro (American Idol contestant), Kate Voegele, John Cale, a Norwegian band called Lind, Nilsen Fuentes and Holm; and Linda and the Outriders (British country singer), and one that you simply have to see, an impromptu rendition by the MSU Accafellas in a college hall.

It's also on YouTube in Danish, Swedish, German, and Italian.

And here is Hallelujah as sung by the author. I think he's a better poet than singer.

Great tune. But you know what is going to happen. Some dying-to-be-seen-as-hip "emergent" type - probably a Missouri Synod Lutheran, aided and abetted by his district office - will try to turn it into a sermon series and have the "worship team" sing it right into the toilet. Hopefully, the song is too "viral" to be ruined by the "usual suspects."

I'd like to hear the song covered by the following: Mark Knopfler, Roger Daltrey, Meat Loaf, Bruce Springsteen, and the Fort Wayne Seminary Kantorei.


Peter said...

I love the song, and love Cohen's songwriting as well, though I have to disagree with you about his singing. It's magnificent. Listening to his albums is almost hypnotizing. (As he himself sings in "The Tower of Song", he had no choice, he was born with the gift of a golden voice!)

And, as far as Hallelujah versions, fellow Canadian KD Lang does a pretty stunning version as well. (Her whole album of Canadian songs is worthwhile)

Bryce P Wandrey said...

Yes indeed to KD Lang. Her album, "The 49th Parallel", is excellent and I prefer her rendition of "Hallelujah". And I have now been inspired to listen it.

Bryce P Wandrey said...

Sorry to Miss lang, that was improper of me to capitalize her name. k.d. lang (there we go)

Pr. H. R. said...

And don't forget Madeliene Peyroux' cover of Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love."



Peter said...

Thanks H.R. Very Billie Holidayish.
And, it might be added that Lang does a nice version of "Bird on a Wire," as does Johnny Cash.

Peter said...

But, then I just heard Cohen's own version of "Dance" and like him better. I still think he's a great singer. But he's got a nice way with duets. And the arrangements are mesmorizing.