A guided tour of 10 ‘Hallelujah’ Leonard Cohen covers
NEW YORK — A happy Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen.
The Canadian chanteur’s most famous song bubbled into the collective conscious after he died Nov. 7 at 82. Soon after the sad news, Kate McKinnon as her Hillary Clinton character sat in her white suit at a piano for a serious turn at the song on “Saturday Night Live.”
Of course, Cohen did it best, having spent five years on multiple drafts before its debut in 1984, but which artist among more than 300 covers deserves props?
Our Top 10:
Buckley’s death by drowning at 27 lends a mournful legacy to his trance-like “Hallelujah” as he delicately plays electric guitar. He didn’t copy Cohen’s original dirge.
In haunting falsetto, Buckley drew out the H word comprising the chorus longer than most could even attempt, and he shouts it angrily at the end of a video version that casts him in shadowy close-ups.
Like Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on his album “Various Positions,” Buckley’s cover was not an instant hit. Buckley put it on his one and only full album, “Grace,” in 1994. He released it as a single in 1997. Since, this “Hallelujah” has made it onto several lists of all-time great songs.
He did it at the piano — for the first time in 1991 on a Cohen tribute album. It took on a life of its own as the one to cover. Buckley was inspired by Cale, who reportedly asked Cohen to provide him with the lyrics after hearing Cohen sing it live using words Cohen had never put on a record. For his trouble, Cale received 15 pages by fax.
Cohen himself was moved to vibe on Cale’s slant when he toured in 2008-09. Full throated, sticking to a simple, consistent chord structure, Cale sings and plays as accessible balladeer, neither scary nor chanty. Where did hope go? Right here.
She belted it as a goddess in a sparkly gold dress during her winning season on the U.K. version of “The X Factor” in 2008.
Some Buckley fans criticized the show’s version as too commercial. Say what? She nailed it. Yes, it’s mainstream and she took it to church, but she had the chops and used them. Perhaps the chorus of backup singers in white, palms turned up to the heavens, was a bit much.
It was 2011. It was the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg. There was a mic echo that could have been made to order for Sheeran’s slow, slightly sad “Hallelujah.” His little natural rasp helped, too.
He kept it simple, save one attempt at the end to go full Buckley with a dramatically drawn-out note. Sheeran didn’t quite make it, his voice breaking, but it’s part of the charm because, well, it’s Ed Sheeran.
AND MATT MORRIS
You had me at Justin at the piano, in hipster hat.
The fact is, dude can sing. As can his duet partner and fellow Mickey Mouse alum Morris at the 2010 “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon for survivors of that year’s earthquake there.
Charlie Sexton and Dave Preston were on guitars and Jon Powers was on drums.
They take it slow, sweet and sometimes somber. Timberlake deftly changes registers as he extends a hallelujah to close
She sounds like the ultimate anguished angel in a 2005 version. Her voice swoops from whispers to laments as she duets with a weeping cello and violin.
Spektor, eyes closed, performed the song again backed by the same instruments in 2010, at Irving Plaza in New York as part of a benefit concert for the Haiti Relief Fund by Doctors Without Borders..
Sometimes, “Hallelujah” owns the performer. No way for k.d. lang, Cohen’s fellow Canadian.
She earned a standing O at the 2005 Juno Awards in Winnipeg for the song. Starting next to a piano, accompanied by a string orchestra, she paced the stage barefoot. Midway, her hallelujahs were fit and strong, then she’d pull back, almost speaking the word. At other times, she bent into the chorus, opening up her voice to its deepest depths.
Defiantly, lang forms a “hand gun” with two fingers and a thumb as she sang one verse: “All I ever learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.”
The song became a lang crowd pleaser at special events.
JON BON JOVI
The band finished up the North American leg of their Lost Highway Tour at Madison Square Garden. Jon plays rock god on “Hallelujah,” bearing his chest in short rolled shirt sleeves, reaching for the crowd as he emotes with his hands.
He looks skyward, tightly grasping the mic accompanied by a violin. At another point he extends his arms into a cross. And he, too, reaches for his finger gun at “outdrew ya.”
In the annals of bizarro “Hallelujah” renditions, Wainwright led a chorus of 1,500 singers invited in June to a huge old generating station in Toronto as part of the Luminato Festival.
It was a Choir! Choir! Choir! session. What, you ask, is that? It’s an open-participation choir in Toronto.
Anyhoo, there was Wainwright, who had done “Hallelujah” before. This time, he was accompanied by an acoustic guitar, standing on a stage in front of the mass of choir people. Some wore little paper birthday hats, holding paper sheets of lyrics handed out.
The crowd swayed. They oohed at the right times, led by a choir director. It was strangely but compellingly epic.
He sang it in classic Dylan fashion in 1988 in Cohen’s hometown of Montreal. He spit out “What’s it to ya” and got in some nice prolonged hallelujahs, with tight electric guitar and a grateful crowd at the Montreal Forum.
Cohen said in a 1985 interview that he sang bits of “Hallelujah” to Dylan after a Paris concert and he especially liked this verse:
“And even though it all went wrong
I stand before the Lord of song
With nothing on my lips but hallelujah.”