Hallelujah, the song: six versions

by uninvitedwriter

Hallelujah is one of the most successful songs of recent time. It has been recorded by everyone from Justin Timberlake to Bob Dylan. Each artist brings something to the song.

Hallelujah. The song was written by Leonard Cohen in the 1980s. I have been a long time fan of Cohen, his songs and his poetry; I saw him in concert once and it was magic. Hallelujah is a song that has always touched me. I imagine like everyone else the first version I heard was Jeff Buckley's.

It is a song that has been hard to avoid in the past 30 or so years. Hallelujah has been recorded by over 300 artists in the past 30 years. It appeared in "Shrek", sung by Rufus Wainwright. The song has become a staple for reality shows such as American Idol and X-Factor. Recently, when I listened to Leonard Cohen singing it, it brought me to tears. No matter how many times I hear this song I am not sick of it and I don't believe I ever will get tired of it.

There is a new book out about the song, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" written by Alan Light which gives an in-depth history of the song. I recently listened to the author being interviewed on CBC Radio. It was an eye-opening interview. As Alan Light has said, there is no definitive interpretation of the song; everyone gets out of it what they need it seems. Originally, Cohen had written 80 verses of the song; he occasionally changes which verses he uses in concert. In part of the show they played Bono's version of the song which is widely considered to be the worst version... even by Bono himself. 

The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"

“A venerated creator. An adored, tragic interpreter. An uncomplicated, memorable melody. Ambiguous, evocative words. Faith and uncertainty. Pain and pleasure.” Today, “Halleluja...

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Essential Leonard Cohen

The best collection yet from one of pop music's most influential, enduring and fascinating artists! Includes Suzanne; Bird on a Wire; Sisters of Mercy; Famous Blue Raincoat; Fir...

View on Amazon

Highlighting versions of the song is nothing new online and it's been done for this song several times, but I have chosen some of my favorite... and not so favorite versions to share.

If you have your own favorite version not linked here, please add a link to it. I am always interested in hearing versions I haven't heard before.

Leonard Cohen

In my opinion, no one can do justice to this song more than the writer himself. This was recorded live in London

KD Lang

KD Lang performed this song at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic Games in 2010. Her version is one of Leonard Cohen's favorite versions.

Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley made the song more accessible to a more mainstream audience. For many, his is the definitive performance.

John Cale

After the song, and the album it was on, was rejected by Leonard Cohen's US record company, John Cale discovered it and reworked it a bit.


This version is very painful to listen to; what was he thinking? It is a very experimental version the bears little resemblance to Cohen's song. Bono has apologized for this version.

Bon Jovi

This song has been criticized by some Hallelujah purists, however Leonard Cohen says it's one of his favorites.

Updated: 01/01/2013, uninvitedwriter
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Mira on 01/01/2013

Great article, Susan! Never heard Bon Jovi play the song!

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