Tributes have been flowing in for Leonard Cohen following the hugely influential singer/songwriter/poet/author’s death last week. Unsurprisingly, Cohen’s timeless 1984 classic Hallelujah is the song that been the most common subject of elegiac translation. There are over 300 recorded versions of the song known – and that’s not counting the myriad you’ll find on YouTube – many of which we’ve seen pop up over the weekend.
While the original is untouchable, there have been some excellent renditions of the track, something we thought we’d celebrate in a list. So, here are our 5 favourite covers of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is one of the most covered tracks of all time. While amongst the 300 plus that have been recorded there are some stinking fish, a few are absolutely brilliant. Here are 5 of the best covers of Hallelujah ever recorded.
John Cale – 1991
The Velvet Underground‘s John Cale delivered what is perhaps the most influential cover of Hallelujah first on a Cohen tribute album called I’m Your Fan in 1991 (and later on his own album Fragments of a Rainy Season in 1992). His version features lyrics that Cohen only sang live, which were faxed to Cale by Cohen himself – all 15 pages of them. Cale claims that he then “went through and just picked out the cheeky verses.”
k.d lang – 2004
k.d lang’s version sits nicely amongst the crooners and growlers on this list. It plays with the song’s dynamic, swelling crescendos in a way that others failed to pay much attention to, and thus Lang’s version is often considered the most impassioned Hallelujah cover out there. She once sang the song with Cohen standing just a few feet in front of her and recalls that she was “excruciatingly nervous” in doing so – it’s not hard to understand why.
Bob Dylan – 1988
Bob Dylan was amongst the first to take on Hallelujah with his first performance dating back to 1988, four years after the song was released. Staggering through the song with unmistakable Dylan-ness, the cover is perhaps the most bluesey, upbeat out there, something that Cohen himself loved: “It’s a rather joyous song. I like very much the last verse. I remember singin’ it to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyric. Dylan especially liked this last verse…”
Willie Nelson – 2006
Country slide and Willie’s pot smoked growl make this the most unhinged cover on the list, but it’s also a refreshing change from the reverb-soaked renditions you usually hear. It was produced by Ryan Adams too, so there’s that.
Jeff Buckley – 1994
Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover has been solidified as the most lauded Hallelujah rendition of all time by countless accolades and citations in ‘greatest songs’ lists since its release. Inspired by Cale’s version, Buckley’s Hallelujah is penetratingly beautiful. Listen and weep below.