Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hallelujah Chorus

Yes, Clueless Stan did a huge piece on cover versions last week and totally neglected to mention the towering classic that is "Hallelujah", which is in the news again at the moment because some giddy girl from off the telly is doing it.

I liked this comment from YouTube "Cohen wrote it, Cale improved it then Buckley completed it." which is glib, rather simplistic but broadly accurate.

Leonard Cohen : "I filled two notebooks and I remember being in the Royalton Hotel [in New York], on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, 'I can't finish this song."

Cohen's superlative feat of songwriting is undeniable but unfashionably I don't rate any of his performances. Sounds too much like the record-player needs winding up to me.

He ended up writing 80 verses of the song and when John Cale asked for the lyrics, he chose 15 of those verses as being fit to fax.

John Cale : Best known for his work with Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. If you heard the song on "Shrek" that was John Cale's version. He saw the potential in the song and fashioned a masterpiece from the sloppy clay of Cohen's original idea. Notably his selection of lyrics are a lot more sexual and a lot less biblical than Cohen's. A lot more bondage, a lot less David's horn.

Jeff Buckley : If you heard the song in "The West Wing" then that was Jeff Buckley's version. A bit like James Dean's acting, it isn't what he does, it's the way that he does it.

His approach to the song is broadly similar to Cale's, but in the last minute or so he lays down an extraordinary coda that lays waste to any stiff-under-lip you might possess. He reminds you that "it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah".

It's even more heartbreaking when you know that Jeff Buckley drowned at the age of 30 after completing only one album.

It's odd that it's men that have had all the success with the song up until now. There is no reason why it would work any less well from a woman's point of view.

But forget about Alexandra Burke's version and listen to what Allison Crowe does with the song. Her voice couldn't be more different from the stereotypical "X Factor" empty plastic R&B diva voice. Here is someone who feels the music and communicates. Simply stunning - full of real power and enormous feeling. Big, big ploppy tears on Stan's keyboard.

Musical Trivia - it's in C Major. And it's the saddest song in the world. Go figure.

1 comment:

Erich said...

Re Allison Crowe, yes, she's the most authentic voice I've heard in many years. There's no "machine" behind her. Still she's sure to become widely recognized for her amazing ability to communicate through music, as heard in her Hallelujah performance.