Hallelujah? Are we sure that's what Mr Cohen meant?

Yes, I know this is from Messiah..
..don't write in. *shakes fist at music nerds*

Hallelujah, Hallelujah... Halle-freaking-luuuuujah.

I hate when the modern world ruins a classic.

Indiana Jones comes to mind.

But the main frustration of an old classic comes in the form of the sombre lament of Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah.

“Leonard Cohen? You mean that Shrek song?”

Technically, yes. Personally, shut up and learn a little.

For those of you that don’t know, Leonard Cohen is a singer-songwriter, and a very good one at that.

He wrote Hallelujah as a dispassionate ode to “conflict and the lack reconciliation” in the world. The song spans thirty verses and took him two years to finish, if not more. He says of the song; “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all - Hallelujah!' That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

Remember this the next time you hear the song played as an uplifting or cheeky ballad at your local open mic night or covers gig.

It’s not a John Cale song, it’s not a Jeff Buckley song, it’s not a Rufus Wainwright song, and it is not, lest my sanity jump from my skin and retch on the floor, an Alexandra Burke song. Even the smarm-bucket Justin Trousersnake has covered the song…

After its initial release, the song was brought to the masses by John Cale in ‘91, when he recorded a sincere version, more joyful than Cohen’s dispassionate original. Next, Buckley performed the song on his album Grace in 1996, and his version remains one of the best performances of any song. Rufus Wainwright then brought his version of the song to a younger audience via the Shrek franchise.

Shrek is another rant for another day, but allow this much; the song is exploited to its fullest to evoke emotions that would not be present otherwise. Without the confidence that the writing and direction is powerful enough to warrant a tear, and so the passionate song is drafted in. For more, see my previous rant on lazy and exploitative soundtracks.

I have a certain amount of time for these cover versions. They both evolve the emotion seen in the original and give their own take on it, Buckley’s being “a hallelujah to the orgasm”, while Wainwright’s version is “purifying and almost liturgical”.

Jeff Buckley is affected by the song and wants to cover it. Fine, I love Buckley. Rufus Wainwright wants a go. Fair enough, he’s quite good. But every struggling wannabe musician who plays the song either murders the classic, or plays it as an elevating power ballad. That’s far from ideal, but they’re only idiot Damien Rice fans, and I feel enriched by having another reason to detest them.

Cohen himself hates the number of films the song features in, and the amount of people who cover it. (But surely he gets a say in the matter…?)

But to my main problem with the state of the song -- The acoustic nobodies who cover it are one thing, but the big-shots who exploit it are something completely separate. My blood boils.

The hoards of money-grabbing moguls and artistes who wish to reap the benefit of someone else’s masterpiece by parading it around like a pedigree animal dressed up as a human. No, that elegant Labrador Retriever is not a ballerina, Andrew Niccol. The strong Giant Schnauzer is not a Christmas elf, Zach Snyder. The beautiful Cocker Spaniel is not fucking Yoda, Mister Simon Cowell.

Armed with the song, these weasels spread it as thin as possible over way too much bread, and we end up gagging on the dry, course results.

The worst thing about it is that it’s a fantastic song. It’s a potent tale of loss and despair, and its sprawling verses are among the best writing of story within song.

Who cares! Kill your morals!
Pillage the art! Plunder the wonder!

Conor O’Hagan is an Irish Freelance Writer. He enjoys getting lost in a good book, film or whiskey. Find him at

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