I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

My friend Paul writes about “the winner of _The X-Factor_’s shot at the Christmas number one”:http://paulfcockburn.blogspot.com/2008/12/hallelujah.html 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”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7783704.stm (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 soundrack album?


  1. Fiona

    7/8 for me too. I slightly prefer Cale’s version to Cohen’s, I really like Cohen but I adore Cale’s voice. I don’t much care about the X Factor version as long as it makes Leonard Cohen lots of much needed money.

    Did you see the Guardian article on this today? There were some interesting comments, including suggestions for next year’s inappropriate X Factor final cover version. I reckon they should go for Cohen again and do Avalanche next time. πŸ˜‰

  2. For it to often be described as definitive only requires that people who talk about it often think of Buckley’s version first, which I’m sure is the case for at least two reasons: firstly, because it’s had more exposure over the last decade than any other version (to the extent that I have at least one friend who is sick of Hallelujah in any version), and secondly, that it’s actually a very good version which probably appeals to the mass market more than either Cale’s or than Cohen’s own – Buckley was technically a better singer than either of them by a fair way and he had a delightfully light touch when it came to timing.

    And yes, Cale’s version was replaced on the soundtrack album by Wainwright’s because Cale wasn’t on the issuing label (Sony?) and would therefore have cost more.

  3. @Graham: You won’t, I’m sure, be surprised to hear that technical singing ability is rarely high on the list of things that draws me to a song, or singer (I’m listening to Lou Reed as I type).

    But yes, Buckley’s version is pretty good. And as Fiona says, it’s all good for Lenny.

  4. You said “You could say that the Clashified version is – I don’t know: definitive, maybe.” …

    … and that’s entirely my reason for accepting people’s comments that Buckley’s version is definitive … it’s not necessarily “the best” or “my favourite” but it’s the version people know and compare other versions to … I suppose a bit like Whitney Houston’s version of the Dolly Parton song, or Natalie Imbruglia’s version of Torn, or any other song where the populare/well-known version isn’t by the original composer.

    I’d heard other versions of Hallelujah I’m sure, but the one that first grabbed me was actually the ones they played on Scrubs and The West Wing (Cale for the first, and Buckley (I believe) in the second)

    And I pretty much shouted “NOOOOOO!!!!” when I heard it was to be “the winner’s song” for x-factor this year.

    It’s a song of passion, and emotion, and for them to pick it as the winner’s song not knowing if it was going to be a boyband, a 16-year old or a Beyonce-wannabee, well, it was a “brave choice” (i.e. totally idiotic!)

    She does an ok job, but the arrangement is poor, and the Buckley version is much better than that, and more accessible to a wider audience than Mr.Cohen’s … at least in my opinion … but then I’m a person who likes Bob Dylan songs when sung by someone else πŸ™‚

    And speaking of which, I hadn’t realised that Bob Dylan had recorded Hallelujah, now *that* I’ve got to hear!

  5. @The Magician: _Everyone_ likes Dylan songs when sung by someone else πŸ˜‰ They’re often better than the originals, much though I love the guy.

    Or rather, maybe, they’re more accessible than the originals. Dylan can require some effort.

    As far as I know he hasn’t recorded it, but I found a live version on YouTube.

    As to the Buckley version, I had never heard it until yesterday – or not knowingly: I don’t remember any version being on ??The West Wing??, but if it was there, I must have heard it. Do you recall which episode it was?

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