The curious cultural journey of “Hallelujah”

Cohen-mediumLeonard Cohen wants fellow musicians to stop doing covers of Hallelujah.

“I was just reading a review of a movie called Watchmen that uses it, and the reviewer said ‘Can we please have a moratorium on Hallelujah in movies and television shows?’ he told CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi in a live interview on Q last Thursday. “And I kind of feel the same way. I think it’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it.”

The following day, the Guardian newspaper in the UK published a partial transcript of the interview, and suddenly, Cohen’s comment about Hallelujah became a news story.

This is as good a time as any to link to one of contrarian‘s all-time favorite blog post, The Curious Cultural Journaey of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, on Michael Barthel’s clapclap.org.

Using copious clips, Barthel traces Hallelujah‘s evolution from an upbeat, ironic, throwaway tune on Cohen’s all but forgotten 1984 album Various Positions, through a John Cale’s 1991 remake, the posthumous, dirge-like version by Jeff Buckley that most people are familiar with, and its perennial use on TV and movie soundtracks as an auditory cue that something sad is happening. Two years ago, Barthel tallied an incredible 24 soundtrack uses of this kind, and the number can only have grown since then.

Along the way, he argues persuasively, performers and listeners have missed the complexity and irony of this changeable song.


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