As The Music Plays #3

The next song on my writing play list is Hallelujah written by Leonard Cohen and seemingly covered by almost everyone.  It’s never been a raging commercial success, but it is a moving, poetic and interesting song.  The lyrics start out religious with lines talking about king David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah.  Then it moves into a section about failed romance.  All throughout the constant refrain of Hallelujah is more of a lament than a celebration. The word hallelujah is transformed from a statement of joy to more of a symbol of our failings as Cohen uses the phrased, “… a broken Hallelujah,” to indicate times when things haven’t gone as expected.

If you’re into poetry, likely you’ve heard of Leonard Cohen.  He’s a poet, writer and singer-songwriter.  Hallelujah, is his most famous song, but he struggled with it for a long time. While the central themes seem solid, in fact Cohen struggled with this song and wrote hundreds of different lines and many different versions of the song have been recorded. The song first released on the 1984 album Various Positions.  It didn’t do well.  It wasn’t until 1991 when John Cale released a version of the song the song that it started to get some recognition.

Cohen performed the song on tour, often as the last song of the show.  Hallelujah got a big boost when it was featured in the movie Shrek in 2001 where it was used as a lament when Shrek’s love interest is taking off to marry the king.  Toward the end of Cohen’s life the song was being covered more and heard by more people.

I didn’t encounter the song until 2016 when the a cappella group Pentatonix released their cover of the song.  It’s amazing and just best if you listen to it since it’s so hard to describe:

I don’t exactly recall how I found it, but I think a friend posted it on FaceBook and later I found it on YouTube.  I’ve listened to a number of different covers of the song, including a few by Cohen himself, but it’s always been the Pentatonix version I like the best and what I put on my writing play list.

Like all the songs on my play list, Hallelujah, transports my mind to deeper thought and reflection.  The lyrics are moving and enigmatic.  Cohen reduces the story of David and Bathsheba to a few lines saying, “You saw her bathing on the roof / Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya.”  I’ve heard sermons going on for 20, 30 minutes on this story, but Cohen is able to reduce the whole event to just a couple of lines of poetry.  The density of his poetry gets me thinking every time I listen to this one.

Then there is Pentatonix’s musicianship and extraordinary vocal skills.  They mix their parts so you have not only good harmony, but also the underlying bass lines and percussion.  By the time you’ve finished listening to their cover, you’ve forgotten that the whole production was just vocal.  Also the music video they have on YouTube just adds to the overall feeling and emotion that Hallelujah generates.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
This entry was posted in As the music plays and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to As The Music Plays #3

  1. I love this song and Pentatonix. This is one song that gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I hear it. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mitchteemley says:

    Nice exposition on this powerful, complicated song, Andrew.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the Pentatonix! I didn’t realize they’d covered Hallelujah, though. Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dave says:

    It’s hard to beat a Pentatonix version of any song. I hadn’t seen this video and it only adds to the vocals. Their Christmas season music is wonderful too. Carrie Underwood and John Legend did a nice spin on “Hallelujah” for her Christmas album a few years back. I’ll be curious to see if commenters suggest any other versions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are a lot of covers for this one. I thought of listing them, but wow, it’s a long list. I haven’t heard the Underwood/Legend version. Now I’ll have to go find it.


  5. That song always makes me want to cry and Pentatonix’s version is the best. But I love any song by Pentatonix since I first saw them on some a cappella singing show years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t listen to this song without getting chills. What a wonderful treat to have this in my email box this morning. Five minutes of bliss. This isn’t my favorite rendition but it is absolutely gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I also think that rendition is probably my favorite. Just beautiful. Nice way to start the week. Thankk you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’d never listened to the words before. Thank you! (We enjoyed attending a Pentatonix concert here in Des Moines many moons ago.)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. jfwknifton says:

    Leonard Cohen was an extremely talented man, who would have been perhaps just as famous a songwriter, if he had only written “A Perfect Day”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. SusanR says:

    I didn’t know who Cohen was back when my daughter-in-law was excited about his concert here at Red Rocks. So she mentioned the song and I made the connection. Love the song. Cry whenever I hear it. Love Pentatonix. So I’m a bit of a mess at the moment.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. lifelessons says:

    But, that said, his is still my favorite rendition. And, one of my favorite songs.

    Liked by 1 person

I'd love to hear from you about this post,

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.