The most beautiful word: Hallelujah.
The most beautiful song, originally written and sung by none other than Buddhist, and Ladies’ Man, Leonard Cohen.
“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but ‘Hallelujah’.”
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. 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.
~ Leonard Cohen
Then, most memorably, sung by a young man who would, tragically, stay young forever, who would breathe out at the beginning of the song, and finally, never breathe in again. This was the version I first go to know, when, 12 years ago, my designer Pam Uhlenkamp and I played it again and again in her second floor flat just off downtown Boulder, as we worked endless days and nights putting together an issue of Elephant (then Magazine).
And, then, most famously, by Rufus Wainwright, a version that made it into Shrek, the blockbuster children’s fave movie.
“Leonard Cohen originally wrote 80 draft verses for his song “Hallelujah.” He chose several of the most relevant and interchanged some of them depending on where he was playing.”
I heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
Well it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who out drew ya
It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not someone whos seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Here are the top ten most popular versions, as picked by We the People across the World, on youtube. The only editorial privilege I’ve exercised is selecting the top 10 that have kept some of the original heartache and space within each word…there are many pop, casual, speedy, shmaltzy versions that exhibit breathtaking vocal range and a decided lack of heart. Fuck ’em.
The OG, the writer of the song in the first place, the Leonard Cohen, the voice:
I don’t love this, but 400 million people do:
A few surprisingly chill-inducing covers, given the schmaltzy saccharine set-up context.
There’s a thousand from these contest shows, and 1,000 international covers. Here’s one of my favorites.
The most popular version, surprisingly. The blonde man (?) has an amazing voice:
Buckley: perhaps the first great cover of the original, Pam and I listened to this 1,000 times while editing/designing various issues of Elephant magazine, back in the day. That first breath:
Love this gent. Rufus, Shrek. He gives it enough space between words and pauses between lines…and he gives it guts, and real emotion.
The power of the song, like the power of love, is not to be found in cliche or sentiment, but in authenticity. For me, this one misses, and jumps hips’ deep into saccharine schmaltz.
The man himself. Those lyrics, from that voice. The original:
Bonus: Walk the talk show gets classical.
Double bonus: Waylon talks with Ram Dass.