Leonard Cohen died a year ago today. In 2016, he graciously declared that Bob Dylan’s receipt of the Nobel Prize for literature was like “pinning a medal on Mount Everest” but could just as easily have picked up the award for his own poetry. His most renowned work, ‘Hallelujah’, has been covered in the studio almost 80 times and each performance emphasises different strengths of Cohen’s writing. These five are almost guaranteed to bring you to tears.
1. Bob Dylan at the Montreal Forum (1988)
Dylan played this strutting, gravelly version of ‘Hallelujah’ in Cohen’s hometown in 1988. In 1985 Cohen recalled singing it to him after his most recent Paris concert: “The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyrics. Dylan especially liked this last verse: ‘And even though it all went wrong / I stand before the Lord of song / With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah‘.”
2. Rufus Wainwright with 1,500 singers in Toronto (2016)
Wainwright’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ was used on the Shrek soundtrack (John Cale’s was used in the film itself) but he originally recorded it for his 2001 album ‘Poses’. Here he sings it with the help of 1,500 singers in a group called Choir! Choir! Choir! in a massive Toronto warehouse – and the effect of the combined voices is pretty incredible.
3. KD Lang at the Juno Awards (2005)
In 2004 Lang recorded a ‘Hallelujah’ cover for her album ‘Hymns of the 49th Parallel’ but it’s far more powerful here, at the 2005 Juno Awards in her (and Cohen’s) home country of Canada.
4. Jeff Buckley live in Chicago (1995)
Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ is easily the best known cover of the song out there, but live – here at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro – it takes on a visceral intensity that keeps this whole audience spellbound.
5. Leonard Cohen at Glastonbury (2008)
Glastonbury’s a magical place anyway, but when it’s sunny, and you put a legend like Leonard Cohen on the Pyramid Stage on a Sunday evening, and everyone’s singing along to ‘Hallelujah’, it reaches a whole new level. Sublime.