…It’s not a cry you can hear at night

Written and first performed by Leonard Cohen on his 1984 album Various Positions it took a long time for today’s selection to become an instant hit.  First it took someone who liked Cohen’s lyricism enough to release a tribute album, and that was Welsh singer-songwriter John Cale, who performed a cover version of Hallelujah on his 1991 album, I’m Your Fan.

Cale had watched Cohen perform the song in his typical dispassionate manner and asked if he wouldn’t mind sending the lyrics. Cohen then faxed Cale fifteen pages of lyrics, many of them evoking stories from the Old Testament.  In the end Cale’s melodious version featured vocals, piano and lyrics that Cohen had only performed live, with just a few of the biblical references remaining, including Samson and Delilah (“she broke your throne and she cut your hair”) and King David and Bathsheba (“you saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you”)

Since Cale first covered the song it has been performed by approximately 200 artists in various languages. During a CBC Radio interview, Cohen said that he found this amusing given that when he wrote it his record company refused to release it as a single.   However he added, “I was just reading a review of a movie that uses it and the reviewer said – ‘Can we please have a moratorium on Hallelujah in movies and television shows?’ And I kind of feel the same way…I think it’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it.”

It’s Cale’s version that forms the basis of most of these subsequent performances, including Cohen’s during his 2008–2009 world tour, as well as the famous version used in the 2001 film Shrek (although Rufus Wainwright’s version appears on film’s soundtrack album. Cale’s version is also the source for today’s selection, the most critically celebrated rendition, by Jeff Buckley.

Included on Grace, Buckley’s only complete album, in 1994, years later a Q Magazine poll of 50 songwriters, listed it among the all-time “Top 10 Greatest Tracks”. Unfortunately Buckley drowned in 1997 while swimming in a slackwater channel in Memphis and didn’t live to hear the ultimate acclaim his version would receive. Like Cohen’s original, the Buckley version was never officially released as a single and took a looooooong time to garner appreciation.

It wasn’t until 2006 that his cover first hit the charts… in Norway. It was then a hit in Sweden in 2007, and then in March 2008 it was Number One in France before finally topping the U.S. Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs in April 2008, finally propelling it into Platinum status.

Time Magazine called Buckley’s version “exquisitely sung,” observing “Cohen murmured the original like a dirge, but … Buckley treated the … song like a tiny capsule of humanity, using his voice to careen between glory and sadness, beauty and pain… It’s one of the great songs.”

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Easter Sunday 8 April

Hallelujah

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 you?

It goes like this

The fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

She tied you to a kitchen chair

She broke your throne, and she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

 Baby I have been here before

I’ve seen this room, I’ve walked this floor

I used to live alone before I knew you

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch

Love is not a victory march

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know

What’s really going on below

But now you never show it to me, do you?

And remember when I moved in with you

The holy dove was moving too

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above

But all I’ve ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It’s not a cry you can hear at night

It’s not somebody who has seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah

OTHER VERSES INCLUDE:

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 you?

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

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand 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

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