My friend Paul writes about the winner of The X-Factor‘s shot at the Christmas number one with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Since the original is one of my favourite songs of all time, I have opinions on the matter.
Not least about the assertion that Paul quotes (without holding that opinion himself) that Jeff Buckley’s version is “often described as definitive”.
I don’t think I had heard Buckley’s version before today, but definitive? Definitive? How could anyone say that? The definitive version is, by definition, Cohen’s. And the only cover that matters is John Cale’s.
I had heard Rufus Wainright’s version. In my opinion it is too respectful. And too slow. I like a cover version that does something new with a song, that grabs it by the throat and make’s it the coverer’s own. Think of Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, or the Clash’s of ‘Police and Thieves’ Or ‘I Fought the Law’, for that matter; there are those who don’t realise that’s a cover. You could say that the Clashified version is - I don’t know: definitive, maybe.
I maybe be in danger of self-contradiction here, but I don’t think so: I fully accept that it’s possible for someone to improve on the original version of a song. I just don’t think that anyone I’ve heard has done that for ‘Hallelujah’. Except maybe John Cale.
Having done some research into the matter (Last FM and YouTube are really astonishingly cool things) Buckley’s currently stands at second-best cover version/third-best version I’ve heard.
I haven’t heard Alexandra Burke’s version, except for a fragment in a BBC quiz (7 out of 8, by the way), but I fully expect to cringe when I do.
Furthermore, when looking for Buckley’s version on Last FM, I saw a comment to the effect that the version in Shrek is Wainright. Well, (I thought) either Rufus has become Welsh; or they redubbed the film for the UK market; or some people can’t tell the difference between two very different singers. But it turns out (at least according to that same BBC quiz) that while the version in the film of Shrek is Cale’s as anyone with an ear can hear, the version on the soundtrack album is Wainwright. Strange, but doubtless to do with licensing issues.
I wonder if they replaced that terrible version of ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With)?’ from the film with the proper version for the soundtrack album?