DUTC#14 April 11, 2023

Just about everyone has been asked the following question at some point in their lives: “What’s your favorite song?” Or “what’s your favorite band”? Or etcetera, etcetera. Of course, being asked that question when you’re fourteen makes it somewhat easier to answer compared to when you’re 72! This question is the unfortunate byproduct of being really into music, and letting everyone know about it…You know, like having a blog about music! But I digress.

So, having said all that, “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen is definitely one of my favorite songs (yes, I know, a very cheesy way to circumvent having to pick one) that I have listened to many times over the years since its release. I was ridiculously easy to find covers of this song, the hard part was narrowing down the field so that this post wouldn’t be five miles long! It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. I do realize that six covers may seem a bit excessive. To be perfectly honest, I had it down to five, and then my wife emailed me with another one, which I had to include for a number of reasons, and you will soon find out why!  

The first two, by John Cale and Jeff Buckley, are here not only because they are amazing to listen to, but because they played a major role in popularizing the song and getting it the attention, it justly deserved. k.d. Lang and Rufus Wainwright (my wife’s selection) are here as well because of their beautiful renditions of the song, but also as Canadians they deserve to be representing one of Canada’s favorite sons. There are also two bonus reasons for Mr. Wainwright that I honestly didn’t know about until I started my research. The first is that he has one child whose mother just happens to be Leonard Cohen’s daughter. If that isn’t symmetry, I don’t know what is! The second is that Wainwright was asked to cover the song for the movie Shrek (2001) (he was 22 at the time), but the powers that be decided that he sounded too young and chose to use John Cale’s version for the movie. However, the soundtrack album from the movie, which by 2014 had sold over 2 million copies, has Rufus Wainwright’s version. Not a bad consolation prize! The guitar duo of Stephanie Jones and Jakob Schmidt I will admit to being my “dark horse” entry here, as it is an instrumental cover of a song that has some of the best lyrics I have heard. However, I felt that the haunting beauty of how they play this song and the back and forth between them was just too good to pass. The last cover by Lucy Thomas is here because at 16 years-old…I’m just going to leave it at that! First up, the original.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Norman Cohen (1934-2016) was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. He is known for exploring themes such as faith and mortality, isolation, and depression, betrayal and redemption, social and political conflict; as well as sexual and romantic love, desire, regret, and loss throughout his work. He first pursued a career as a poet and novelist during the 1950s and early 60s but was unhappy with what he perceived to be his lack of success/recognition in that endeavor, which led to him embarking on his music career around 1967. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967); was followed by three folk albums: Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971), and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977) saw Cohen moving away from his previous “minimalist” sound and was co-produced with Phil Spector. In 1979, he returned with a more traditional focus on the album Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz, East Asian, and Mediterranean influences. There are enough great songs in the above-mentioned albums to keep one happy, but his most famous song, the one feature here, came in 1984 on the album, Various Positions.

There is a very long and interesting history to this song as well as many accolades. I have even seen it referred to as “one of the most popular songs in the world,” the writer also choosing to use my sneaky circumvention approach! It has been noted that Cohen may have written between 80 and 180 drafts of the song, with Cohen himself saying that he had written 150 draft verses. In the 2022 documentary film Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (one of the best music documentaries I have seen since The Last Waltz) by Dan Geller, and Dayana Goldfine, it is reported that it took Cohen the better part of five years to write the song, also reconfiguring it numerous times for live performances. This can be confusing to listeners, as some covers feature combinations of different verses that not only Cohen used over the years for different performances, but also artists doing covers that feature Cohen’s as well as other artist’s verses penned for their own cover versions.

 Although the song is now considered an “anthem,” it did not start out that way. The album it appeared on was initially rejected by Columbia Records and was largely ignored after an independent label released it. It wasn’t until John Cale’s cover in 1991 that the song began to be recorded by other artists, and it didn’t reach the Billboard charts until 2016, the year of his death! The song has been a staple of reality talent shows like “America’s Got Talent,” “Britain’s Got Talent,” “The X Factor,” and I could go on for twenty pages listing all of these shows, but I will spare you! However, it was the fifth series of “The X Factor,” Britain (2008), that featured the eventual winner, Alexandra Burke, singing a version of “Hallelujah,” which she recorded that same year and it shot to the #1 spot on the UK’s Christmas top 40. The number 2 spot was Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover, and Leonard Cohen’s version was number 36. It was the first time in over 40 years that one title had secured the top two spots, and before 2008, the song had never charted in the Top 40!

The song’s lyrics tell the tragic love story between King David (of David and Goliath fame) and Bathsheba, who at the time was married to the soldier, Uriah. King David sees Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop and makes a request to see her, knowing that her husband Uriah is away at war. For more on the meaning behind the song, check out “The Meaning of David Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’” on musicianwave.com. Cohen has been inducted to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2011.

Leonard Cohen “Hallelujah” Original release 1984, Album Various Positions

John Cale

John Cale (1942) is a Welsh musician, composer, and record producer who was a founding member of the American rock band, The Velvet Underground. Over his six- decade career, he has worked in various styles across rock, drone, classical, avantgarde, and electronic music. He relocated to New York in 1963 and involved himself in the city’s downtown music scene, performing as part of the “Theatre of Eternal Music,” before forming The Velvet Underground with Lou Reed and others in 1964. Cale left the band in 1968, and since then has released sixteen solo albums, including the widely acclaimed Paris 1919 (1973), and Music for a New Society (1982). Cale also has a reputation as an adventurous producer, working on the debut albums of several innovative artists, including The Stooges and Patti Smith. He contributed a cover of Cohen’s “Hallelujah for the tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1991. His mid-tempo piano arrangement formed the basis of most subsequent cover versions of this song, which has since become, what is considered, a “standard.”

John Cale “Hallelujah” 1991 – Live performance in Brussels 1992

Jeff Buckley

Jeffrey Scott Buckley (1966-1997) was an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He spent a decade in Los Angeles as a session guitarist, after which he amassed a following in the early 90s by performing cover songs at venues in East Village, Manhattan, while gradually focusing on his own material. He eventually signed with Columbia Records and released what was to be his only studio album, Grace, in 1994. He and his band toured extensively over the following three years to promote the album. And in 1997, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee to resume work a second album to be called: My Sweetheart The Drunk.  While waiting for his band to arrive from New York to continue work on the album, he accidently drowned while on an impromptu evening swim, getting caught up in a boat’s wake, on May 29, 1997. His body was not found until June 4. There have been many posthumous releases since his death, including his cover of “Hallelujah.”

Jeff Buckley “Hallelujah” 1994, Album Grace – Original studio version

k.d. Lang

Katheryn Dawn Lang (1961), known as k.d. Lang, is a Canadian pop and country singer-songwriter. She has won both Juno awards and Grammys for her musical performances and has had many hit songs including “Constant Craving,” and “Miss Chatelaine.”  She is a mezzo-soprano and has contributed songs to movie soundtracks as well as collaborating with artists such as Roy Orbison, Tony Bennet, Elton John, The Killers, Anne Murray, Ann Wilson, and Jane Siberry.

k.d. Lang “Hallelujah” Live performance 2017 Leonard Cohen Tribute

Bonus Video! Since the one above is voice only, I thought I would include an earlier live performance from the 2005 Juno awards from Winnipeg!

Rufus Wainwright

Rufus McGarrigle Wainwright (1973) is a Canadian American singer, songwriter, and composer. He has recorded 10 studio albums and numerous tracks on compilations and film soundtracks. He has also written two classical operas and has set Shakespearean sonnets to music for a theater piece by Robert Wilson. His latest album, Folkocracy, is scheduled for release sometime this year, although one track is available now from iTunes.

Rufus Wainwright “Hallelujah” Live at the Filmore Oct.2009

Stephanie Jones

Stephanie Jones is a young and promising Australian guitarist who won many awards as a child prodigy. She has performed extensively around the world, including two Australian tours, a New Zealand tour, and a Germany tour with the Weimar Quartet, which features her accompanist on this cover of “Hallelujah.”

Jakob Schmidt

There is very little information on Mr. Schmidt other than the fact that he is from Germany, and is part of the Weimar Quartet mentioned above, along with Stephanie Jones, Hanna Link, and Karmen Stendler.

Stephanie Jones & Jakob Schmidt “Hallelujah” Guitar version Dec. 2017

Lucy Thomas

Lucy Thomas is a 19 year-old singer from Wigan, Lancashire in England and became known after her stunning performances on The Voice Kids in 2018 when she was just 14. She has since released four albums. The third release, Timeless (2021), includes her stunning cover of “Hallelujah,” which has received over 10 million views on YouTube. Some of those views may be mine!

Lucy Thomas “Hallelujah” Dec. 2020


Los Angeles 2023

14 thoughts on “DUTC#14 April 11, 2023

  1. Who the hell are the “Stogies”? Perhaps you mean John Cale’s first clients The Stooges, the Iggy Pop fronted proto-punks who came screaming out of Detroit. And btw, none of them, to the best of my knowledge, smoked cigars.

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  2. Great post and a couple covers I haven’t heard before. The instrumental was very fine. The last one, very lovely. KD Lang, well what can you say, stunning!! If we’re trying to pick favourites it’s her version or Cale. Even though it’s edited to make it PG i still think it was creepy they used such a sexuality charged song for Shrek. I find it unsettling that you have young kids singing it, albeit a very sanitized version. I once heard a young singer interviewed she might have been all of 14 years old and she her favourite song was Hallelujah. I’m thinking no, that just shouldn’t be. Sorry for going off topic on the context of your post. I know this isn’t your intent, the cats out of the bag on this but..Hey I love the song and Cohen but it’s not for kids.

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    1. Thanks! Glad there were a few new ones. k.d. is simply amazing. I knew Ben Mink back in my Vancouver days. He worked with her on a few albums, producing and playing fiddle, if my memory serves me correct. I really like the Cale version as well, although I must admit to being a sucker for Rufus. I’m actually going to see him in June when he’s in LA, in support of his new album “Folkocracy.”

      Although I never saw Shrek, I totally agree with you on your point that 14 year-olds should not be humming that song, even with “sanitized” lyrics. No apology necessary, I enjoy the discussion. I’m just looking over a book I found on covers and will reach out shortly with some ideas. Stay tuned!

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      1. That’s what I’ve read too. I got introduced to him by a mutual friend. I agree that he worked well with her, co-writing some of her hit songs. I remember hearing that the royalties he received from just Miss Charelaine enabled him to buy a house in West Vancouver! Ah, the good old days.

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  3. I’ve probably heard various performances of this song 9-10 times over the years, but am embarrassed to say I’ve never really paid close attention to the lyrics (in many cases, a song’s melody, arrangement and instrumentation are more important for me than lyrics – notwithstanding songs like Carole King’s “It’s Too Late”, with its spare instrumentation and incredibly powerful lyrics, but I digress…). It’s funny how a song based on David’s infatuation with Bathsheba would evolve into a religious anthem, and my guess is, had Cohen used a different word than the title “Hallelujah”, it might not be quite as revered.

    I think k.d. lang’s version is the most beautiful (she has one of the most perfect voices I’ve ever heard), but Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright’s versions come pretty close. God, what a terrible loss that Buckley tragically died so young, and I adore Wainwright’s singing voice! The instrumental version by Stephanie Jones & Jakob Schmidt is really lovely, and wow, Lucy Thomas’ version is spectacular! Great post as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m with you on the instrumentation, arrangement, and melody being often more important for me as to whether I “like” a song or not, but when you have all of these combining with great lyrics, it is usually pretty special. Your example of the Carole King’s song is bang-on. You may also be right about the title. Hadn’t thought about that! k.d. Lang is simply amazing. Since I am Canadian, I remember her when she was just starting to make a name for herself. Here range and power are, as far as I’m concerned second to none. I am actually going to see Wainwright in LA when he is here in June! Glad you liked the other covers as well. I appreciate the feedback. Thanks again!

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