I have three versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in my iTunes library. The first is, of course, the original by Leonard Cohen. The version I have is off of one of his greatest hits albums, The Essential Leonard Cohen, and includes a chorus, his usual lugubrious delivery, and a somewhat seventies-ish electric banjo sound. Now, I have to say, I think leonard Cohen is a fantastic songwriter. I love his voice, too, but some of his best songs are completely screwed up by ridiculous arrangements. This is one of them. When I first heard this song, brilliant as it is, I probably skipped to the next track. I doubt I listened to it all the way through even once before discovering it as sung by someone else.
The second, and probably best known version, is by Rufus Wainwright, and appears on the soundtrack to the movie Shrek. This is a good cover of the song, certainly it treats the piece like poetry (unlike Cohen’s carnival/church rendition), and the piano is well played. But even Wainwright cites Jeff Buckley as an influence on his musical career.
While watching an episode of Without a Trace on CBS, they played Jeff Buckley’s haunting version from his album Grace, and I didn’t recognize the song at all. I actually had to go do a search on the Internet to discover what the song was, and that I already had a copy. Do yourself a favor: go buy, download, or steal this song and have a listen, stereo cranked up, lights down, curtains drawn, loved one snuggled next to you. Buckley, who died in an accident/suicide in 1997, pours so much emotion into this song that you can’t pull yourself away. Listening to this, you can’t escape the unmistakable power of Leonard Cohen’s writing. The poet just needed a different mouthpiece.
Tiffany and I will stop whatever we’re doing when this song scrolls around on the iPod. We only do that for a few songs, and while those few tend to change month to month, Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah always makes us pause to listen.
I keep looking for that second strike of lightning, but have yet to find another Jeff Buckley song that I even like a little bit. I do want someone to put together a disc of Leonard Cohen covers, though.