Current Weather
The Spy FM

Dozens Of Covers Later, ‘Hallelujah’ Endures

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
December 2, 2012

There are songs, and then there are anthems.

One of those anthems is the subject of music journalist Alan Light’s new book, The Holy Or The Broken.

The anthem itself, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” is one you’ve probably heard before, but most likely one of the many covers sung by the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, K.D. Lang and even Michael Bolton. You may have also heard one its many appearances in film and television.

As Alan Light tells Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin, the “bassy and kind of droning” song almost didn’t see the light of day.

“Columbia Records, which was Leonard’s label then and remains so today, listened to the record and rejected it,” Light says.

The label thought the song was “out of step” with where music was at the time, but they eventually released the song in 1984 to little fanfare.

“Not only was this under the radar, it was completely absent from the radar,” Light says. “It was as if this song had never happened.”

In 1994, a cover by the late Jeff Buckley helped save “Hallelujah” from musical obscurity. Buckley’s version turned one man’s lament into another artist’s ode to love. Light says the ambiguity of the song’s lyrics makes it easy for musicians to make the tune their own.

“There are lyrics that are talking about sex. There are these allusions to stories from the Bible; the King David story and the Samson story,” he says. “There’s lots and lots of layers.”

The song really hit the mainstream when a version by John Cale was in a scene from the hit animated film Shrek. Even since, Light says “Hallelujah” is a go-to emotional trigger in TV shows and movies.

“You know what you’re supposed to feel when you hear that song,” he says. “You can’t even hear it anymore. You just know that’s the song that’s supposed to make me feel sad now.”

Still, Light says at a time when the way we encounter music has become so fragmented, the endurance of this song and its dozens of covers — nearly 30 years after it was first released — is remarkable.

“This is a song that people [now] use at weddings, at funerals and at very deeply personal things … it’s really kind of humbling,” he says. “A song like this, you witness just how important it can still be for huge swaths of people.” [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

Listen Live Now!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

11AM to 12PM The Story

The Story

The Story with Dick Gordon brings the news home through first-person accounts. The live weekday program is passionate, personal, immediate and relevant to listeners, focusing on the news where it changes our lives, causes us to stop and rethink, inspires us.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center