Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen

You have probably heard many versions of Leonard Cohen's classic song, Hallelujah. If not, do yourself a favor and have a listen right now: 



This hauntingly simple melody and powerful, dramatic lyric have captivated me. Hallelujah draws on Biblical, sexual, and emotional themes to tell the story of life as an often bumpy but ultimately rewarding journey. 

Cohen wrote the original song and lyrics in 1984, but then added some new verses in 1988. He subsequently performed  several different arrangements of four or five verses from the set of seven that I know of. Then various artists began covering the song with their own arrangements. Consequently, there are many versions of the song floating around. 

What I have done is to listen to 20 different versions, and captured the lyrics. Many artists have subtly modified the lyrics as well as the musical accompaniment to personalize the story. 

I have arranged the verses below as I would like to hear them performed--as if I were going to perform this piece if I had the ability. I would love to hear someone record this complete version with the verses in this order, and with sparse accompaniment. I would like to hear the lyric performed by voice-as-human-instrument. These words deserve a singer who can sing with all the soulful expression of one who has fully and unashamedly lived the pain and the passion of this human life.
 

1          Holy mystery         


Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

2          Lustful passion


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
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

3          Sacred or profane?


You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to ya?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

4          Cold and broken


Baby, I've been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew ya.
Yeah I've seen your flag
On the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
No it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

5          Sad and wistful


There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me, do ya?
I remember
When I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
Yes every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

6          Lost and lonely


Maybe there's a God above
As for me, all I've ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.
Yeah but it's not a cry
That you hear at night
It's not some pilgrim who has seen the light
No it's a lost and it's a very lonely Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

7          Defiant: Down, but not out


I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I learned to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come all this way to fool ya.
Yeah even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand right here before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Versions I’ve heard, in order of preference

1.       Leonard Cohen:  deep, soulful, powerful, the pinnacle, no one will ever top it
2.       Rufus Wainwright: nasally, whiny, wimpy, but somehow very touching and moving
3.       Damien Rice: Clearly a Buckley knock-off, but he out-Buckleys Buckley, in my opinion
4.       Jeff Buckley: creepy caterwauls in the candlelight are like a stab in the heart
5.       Kurt Nilson: amazing voice, especially if you like the country twang, but I want to hear the whole song, where’s the rest?
6.       John Cale: a bit too mechanical and technical, good, but lacking soul
7.       Imogen Heap: hauntingly beautiful, just her voice and only 2 verses, I want more
8.       Renee Fleming http://bit.ly/Jk02XJ Even the opera great cannot improve the stubbornly cultish standard. Her album version on Dark Hope is a respectable attempt, but live versions on BBC and A Prairie Home Companion grate on my ears.  Her over-pronunciation of words sucks the soul out of the original.
9.       k d lang: many versions, all similar, with piano accompaniment and soulful vocals, but I don’t care for her use of “our love” instead of Cohen’s broader comment on love itself.
10.   Sheryl Crow: good, solid acoustic version
11.   Alexandra Burke: incredible voice, reverent, soulful, just feel the Whitney Houston orchestration is overboard, this song needs simple instruments
12.   Allison Crowe: piano, a little fast, good volume moderation but vibrato sounds like wavering, pronounce halleeluyah properly, lose the smirk, what’s with Holy Ghost?  Holy Dove is a Pentecost reference; don’t change it until you don’t know what you’re talking about!
13.   Damien Leith: slow the hell down and let that nice voice wrap around the words
14.   Willie Nelson: sings the older version, might as well be singing Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain
15.   Jason Castro: nice try, son
16.   Bon Jovi:  I expected much, much better. This song deserves serious treatment
17.   Bob Dylan: incoherent, just completely destroys the power of the lyrics
18.   You-Tube reeks of countless amateurish basement home video covers which deserve no mention here.


I welcome comments.