hallelujah- your faith was strong but you needed 2 proof

Hallelujah” is a song written by Canadian singer Leonard Cohen, originally released on his album Various Positions (1984). Achieving little initial success, the song found greater popular acclaim through a recording by John Cale, which inspired a recording by Jeff Buckley. It has been viewed as a “baseline” for secular hymns. 

hallelujah- your faith was strong but you needed 2 proof
hallelujah- your faith was strong but you needed 2 proof

Following its increased popularity after being featured in the film Shrek (2001), many other arrangements have been performed in recordings and in concert, with over 300 versions known. The song has been used in film and television soundtracks and televised talent contests. “Hallelujah” experienced renewed interest following Cohen’s death in November 2016 and appeared on many international singles charts, including entering the American Billboard Hot 100 for the first time.

Hallelujah Lyrics

I’d heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well, it goes like this
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
(Repeat Hallelujah 4 times)
Well, your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to the kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips, she drew the Hallelujah
(Repeat Hallelujah 4 times)
Well baby, I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
(Repeat Hallelujah 4 times)
Well, maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
(Repeat Hallelujah 4 times and another 8 times)

Musical composition and lyrical interpretation

“Hallelujah”, in its original version, is in 12
8
 time, which evokes both early rock and roll and gospel music. Written in the key of C major, the chord progression matches lyrics from the song: “goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift”: C, F, G, A minor, F.

Cohen wrote around 80 draft verses for “Hallelujah”, with one writing session at the Royalton Hotel in New York where he was reduced to sitting on the floor in his underwear, banging his head on the floor. His original version, as recorded on his album Various Positions, contains several biblical references, most notably evoking the stories of Samson and Delilah from the Book of Judges (“she cut your hair”) as well as King David and Bathsheba (“you saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you”).

Following his original 1984 studio-album version, Cohen performed the original song on his world tour in 1985, but live performances during his 1988 and 1993 tours almost invariably contained a quite different set of lyrics. Numerous singers mix lyrics from both versions, and occasionally make direct lyric changes; for example, in place of Cohen’s “holy dove”, Canadian-American singer Rufus Wainwright substituted “holy dark”, while Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe sang “holy ghost”.

Cohen’s lyrical poetry and his view that “many different hallelujahs exist” is reflected in wide-ranging covers with very different intents or tones, allowing the song to be “melancholic, fragile, uplifting [or] joyous” depending on the performer: The Welsh singer-songwriter John Cale, the first person to record a cover version of the song (in 1991), promoted a message of “soberness and sincerity” in contrast to Cohen’s dispassionate tone.

The cover by Jeff Buckley, an American singer-songwriter, is more sorrowful and was described by Buckley as “a hallelujah to the orgasm”; Crowe interpreted the song as a “very sexual” composition that discussed relationships; Wainwright offered a “purifying and almost liturgical” interpretation; and Guy Garvey of the British band Elbow made the hallelujah a “stately creature” and incorporated his religious interpretation of the song into his band’s recordings.

Canadian singer k.d. lang said in an interview shortly after Cohen’s death that she considered the song to be about “the struggle between having human desire and searching for spiritual wisdom. It’s being caught between those two places.” Former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page, who sang the song at Canadian politician Jack Layton’s funeral, described the song as being “about disappointing [other] people”.

Hallelujah Cover versions

Since 1991, “Hallelujah” has been performed by a wide variety of singers: over 300, and in various languages. Statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Canadian Recording Industry Association, the Australian Recording Industry Association, and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, show that, by late 2008, more than five million copies of the song sold in CD format. It has been the subject of a BBC Radio documentary, a book, and been in the soundtracks of numerous films and television programs. Different interpretations of the song may include different verses, out of the over 80 verses Cohen originally wrote.

Hallelujah by John Cale

John Cale’s cover first appeared on I’m Your Fan (1991), a Leonard Cohen tribute album, and later on his live album Fragments of a Rainy Season (1992). Cale’s version has vocals, piano, and different lyrics that Cohen had only performed live such as “I used to live alone before I knew you” and “All I ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you”. Cale had watched Cohen perform the song and asked Cohen to send him the lyrics. Cohen then faxed Cale 15 pages of lyrics. Cale claims that he “went through and just picked out the cheeky verses.”

Cale’s version forms the basis of most subsequent performances, including Cohen’s performances during his 2008–09 world tour. Cale’s version is used in the film Shrek (2001), but Rufus Wainwright’s version appears on the soundtrack album. Cale’s also appears on the first soundtrack album for the TV series Scrubs  and as the ending song of the Cold Case episode “Death Penalty, Final Appeal”.

Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley, inspired by Cale’s earlier cover, recorded one of the most acclaimed versions of “Hallelujah” for his only complete album, Grace, in 1994. It was posthumously released as a single in 2007, ten years after Buckley’s death.

Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright by Oliver Mark, Berlin 2010

Wainwright in 2010

Canadian-American musician and singer Rufus Wainwright had briefly met Jeff Buckley and recorded a tribute to him after his 1997 death. That song, “Memphis Skyline”, referenced Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah”, which Wainwright would later record, though using piano and a similar arrangement to Cale’s. Wainwright’s version is included on the album Shrek: Music from the Original Motion Picture, although it was Cale’s version that was used in the film itself. The Shrek soundtrack, containing Wainwright’s cover, was certified 2× Platinum in the United States in 2003 as selling over two million copies.

Rufus Wainwright, his sister Martha Wainwright, and Joan Wasser performed the song in the film Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.

k.d. lang

In 2004, k.d. lang recorded a version of “Hallelujah” on her album Hymns of the 49th Parallel. She has since sung it at several major events, such as at the Canadian Juno Awards of 2005, where it “brought the audience to its feet for a two-minute ovation.” Lang also sang it at the 2006 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame when Cohen was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Cohen’s partner, singer Anjani Thomas, said: “After hearing k.d. lang perform that song at the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2006 we looked at each other and said, ‘well, I think we can lay that song to rest now! It’s really been done to its ultimate blissful state of perfection’.” Lang sang it at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, before a claimed TV audience of three billion.

Pentatonix

The a cappella group Pentatonix covered the song in the quintet’s 2016 album, A Pentatonix Christmas. On 21 October 2016, Pentatonix also released a music video for its cover.

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