Thirty years ago this weekend, Leonard Cohen first performed a song called “Hallelujah.”*He didn’t then know the song would wind its way into the deepest reaches of popular culture, spirituality and, uh, Shrek. He didn’t know the song would make much of an impact at all.The album on which it appeared, the murky, mid-career Various Positions, had been rejected wholesale by Columbia Records in the U.S., and when it finally was released, “the song was still generally ignored,” as Alan Light notes in his 2012 book The Holy or The Broken.Frankly, it’s no wonder: “Hallelujah,” as it sounds on that record, is a barely recognizable blur of ’80s keyboards and overwrought backing vocals that Cohen further confused by changing up the lyrics when he began singing it in concert. (He has said he wrote as many as 80 verses, then whittled it down to four for the album version.)It was a spate of cover interpretations—first by John Cale and Jeff Buckley, then by dozens and hundreds of others—that lifted the song out of obscurity, though it was something more mysterious that cemented its status as a modern standard, appearing on American Idol and in synagogue services in equal measure. It… Read full this story
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