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Thursday, December 18, 2008

But You Don't Really Care for Music, Do You?

In a development that is equal parts mind boggling and seasonally heartening; Leonard Cohen’s anthemic song “Hallelujah” is set to become a Christmas Number 1 and Number 2 on British song charts. The Cohen song could become the first to occupy the top two slots in the prestigious UK charts. Thanks to the iTunes buying public and a clever Facebook group strategy the poet, novelist, songwriter, ladies man, fedora wearing, golden voiced, 74 year old Canadian legend may finally get his long deserved due (chart wise).

The 1984 anthem "Hallelujah" is set to make music chart history by becoming the first song to hit the top two slots at the same time. But alas, it’s not the Cohen version that is enchanting the masses. This time, it’s Alexandra Burke, who won ITV's X Factor final last week and whose cover of "Hallelujah" has already been downloaded more than 150,000 times since Saturday evening.

And second place is almost within the posthumous grasp of Jeff Buckley. The American singer-songwriter, who drowned in 1997, recorded what some believe to be the definitive version of Cohen's Old Testament-informed love song for his 1994 album Grace.

Such is the awe in which Buckley's cover is held that horrified fans from all over the world embarked on a Facebook campaign to get it to No. 1 as soon as it emerged that "Hallelujah" would be released as a single by the X Factor winner.

Last week their pleas had propelled the Buckley version to No. 30 on the strength of downloads alone, and yesterday an unofficial provisional "mid-week" chart suggested it had shot up to No 3. According to the figures, it was trailing Leona Lewis's cover of Run by Snow Patrol - last week's No. 1 single - by just under 10,000 sales.

The double honour, albeit one shared by Buckley and Burke, would crown a triumphant year for Cohen, which saw him forced into his first tour in 15 years after his former business manager allegedly misappropriated millions of dollars that he had put aside as his retirement fund. In March "the sexy septuagenarian" was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and ushered, officially, into "the highest and most influential echelon of songwriters". The cover bonanza should ease his financial pain a little, bringing in some huge royalties.

"Hallelujah" has already been reinterpreted by everyone from John Cale - whose take many purists judge to be the finest - to Rufus Wainwright, whose version graced the Shrek I Soundtrack.

Buckley’s cover of the song has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim since its release 14 years ago; Leonard Cohen, who originally wrote "Hallelujah", preferred it to his own version, Q Magazine voted it one of their ‘Top 10 Greatest Tracks’, branding it “as near perfect as you can get”, and Rolling Stone included it in a list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.

Hallelujah indeed, thank God for small mercies. Don’t forget it was only a couple years ago that Crazy Frog - "Axel F" (a freaking ringtone) held the British holiday charts captive for what seemed an eternity.

Ding, ding... Here's to the arbiters of taste across the pond!


katrocket said...

I also love k.d. lang's cover of Hallelujah, released a few years ago on her album that featured great covers of great Canadian songs. It's gorgeous!

Great news about Leonard, too.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

In my humble opinion, nobody sings Cohen like Rufus, not even the ladies' man himself.

But I am so glad that Leonard Cohen is not only getting the recognition he so richly deserves, but also the financial reward which he so desperately needs.

Sean Wraight said...

KATROCKET - So true, that version is an inspired one. That entire record of covers is one that kind of slipped under the radar. There is no denying though, a song like that was tailor (written?) for her powerful pipes.


BARBARA - Yet another inspired choice. The lineage on Rufus' version is an odd one, appearing on the Shrek soundtrack but not actually in the movie. Rather John Cale's version which in my opinion is the penultimate version replaces it in the movie.

Curious but over 100 recorded versions of the song are floating around out there and each one seems to garner a legion of fans. Testimony I suppose to the songs enduring nature and unforgettable structure. One of the many songs Cohen will no doubt be remembered for, for generations to come.


Dale said...

I've not heard a version I don't like although the X Factor guy's version might be the one to break the streak, if I ever do give it a go. Good for Leonard. I was thrilled to see him come onstage for a bow after Philip Glass' tribute to him at the Luminato festival a couple of years ago. Love the kd version too!

Dale said...

Oops, I meant X Factor laydee's version there...