A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
Actaion
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A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby Actaion » Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:10 am

Hello friends.
I tried to bring somes systematic order in the Hallelujah lyrics in the different versions.

These are the original lyrics from the Album Various Positions (1984):

O1
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

O2
Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

O3
You say I took the Name in vain
I don't even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

O4
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah



10 years later Cohen published an almost completely changed version on Live Songs (1994)

N1
baby I've been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
love is not a victory march
it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

N2
There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
but now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

N3

Maybe there's a God above
but all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It's no complaint you hear tonight
It's not some pilgrim who's seen the light
it's a cold and it's a lonely(/broken )Hallelujah
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

N4=O4
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah



So only the last verse of four stayed the same. One year before the additional verses had also been published in the book Stranger music (1993).

Strangely enough, already a few years before Cohen published the altered version, John Cale presented a cover version of the song on the tribute album I'm your fan (1991), which included some of the newer verses.
Cales version contained the following five verses: A1, A2, N1, N2, N3
Cale also changed the melody of the first two lines of the verse slightly.

Jeff Buckley adopted exactly Cales constellation on his Album Grace (1994), his Hallelujah is one of the most famous and adored versions today.

The song reached an broader audience when featured on the soundtrack of the popular animation movie Shrek. The song, sung by Cale, was played in the film for quite a long time, and in the foreground (i.e. no speaking or other noises hearable while most of the time), featuring the verses O1, N1 and N3 in full length. Very odd: While you could listen to Cale's version during the film, it was Rufus Wainwright's version, was was printed on the soundtrack disks. Wainwright also adopted the Cale mix of five verses.

With the help of Shrek Hallelujah entered the mainstream and became more and more popular.
Today it is an obligatory performance for every singer to win a talent show on TV anywhere in the world.

Some facts strike me as remarking:

- Nearly every cover version is based on the mixture of verses introduced by John Cale. Apart from those already mentioned, there are for example Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crowe and Allison Crowe sticking to those five verses. Also K.D. Lang (omitting N2 on studio version, N3 on live version).
The same goes with the slight change ofthe melody.
Hardly anybody uses one of Cohens versions (The German Group Wir sind Helden is the only exception which comes to my mind right now. And even here it 's only true for the lyrics, music is closer to Cale here, too.). Bono uses the full original album lyrics with added N3.

- Cohen itself made use of all seven verses during his 2008 tour, playing usually six of them on each performance. Most used version was: O1, O2, N3 (or O3), N1, N2, O/N 4

- Mainstream covers (Show-winners Kurt Nilsen and Alexandra Burke e.g.) usually cut the verses N1 and N2 to give it a standard playing time, leaving only three verses (O1, O2, N3). (Left out is always the the verse N2, which contains the most explicit lyrics.)

- Verse O4/N4 is the only one, which appeared in both of Leonard's published versions - yet also the only one, which never shows up in any cover version!

Question: Does anyone know, why the hell they printed Wainwright's cover on the o.s.t, though in the film it was Cale's version? (Rufus' version is nice, too, and both version are quite similar, but still, it seems very odd to me.)

Best regards,
Actaion

P.S.: corrections welcome
paddieu
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby paddieu » Wed Dec 24, 2008 4:30 am

brilliant work thanks ! :D
aaronblack
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby aaronblack » Wed Mar 11, 2009 12:51 am

Hi

That's a great summary about quite a confusing situation with the lyrics to this song - thanks!

One thing, though...

Every printed version of the lyrics I've ever seen says - "baffled" king, which is what everyone sings in the million covers, but what I hear on the original is "Battle" king.

That's what I sing when I cover it, because that's what I think I hear on Various Positions, and because it makes sense; it's the juxtapostion of David the Warrior vs David the Composer...

Baffled king doesn't fit at all.


FWIW, I also think that the covers all sound too much the same, and they all seem to be based on another cover rather than the original - maybe the Rufus Wainwright version?

The melody is slightly flattened out compared to the original, less dynamic and less interesting, and the sightly increased tempo vs the original, I also think, doesn't fit as well with the emotion of the song.

Thanks,
Aaron
Steven
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby Steven » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:15 am

As many know, the Psalms are said to be the poetry (lyrics) of King David. I wonder
how David's "secret chord" would stack up to our Leonard's "Hallelujah," given Leonard's
verse and inspired music. At this moment, I'd not bet against Leonard's rendition as most
pleasing to the Lord. Got to wonder, though, about the sounds of those original
Hallelujah's set to music: the Psalms.
Steven
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby Steven » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:35 am

Hi Aaronblack,

"Baffled" makes sense to me as a response David may have had to his concurrently
being lustful and inspired. The lust drove him to send Bathsheba's husband off to
die in battle (as I recall the story), so he could "know" his wife. This, in contrast
to a moving in His heavenly spirit, also taking place.
aaronblack
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby aaronblack » Wed Mar 11, 2009 11:42 pm

Hi Steven,

It's a good attempt, but I don't buy it - there's nothing in the David story that indicates he was ever a "baffled" king - but he certainly was a battle king, and that image seems to fit the tension of the song - I interpret the "you" as talking directly to Yahweh "You don't really care for music, do ya?"- it's kind of the same tension you see in Blake's "Tyger" - "did He who made the lamb make thee?" - about the mysterious contradictions one must wrestle with if they want to believe in a monotheistic god.

I think there was a typo somewhere early along the line, and this became one of the most recorded Mondegreens in history...baffled instead of battle...

:?

The lyrics in the second version seem to have been brought around to refer back to something more personal with Cohen's life, but his resolution (very Cohenesque) is the same in both - be it love, art, or spirituality - he sees the dark side, but in the end his answer is to embrace - "Even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah."

Beause that is the resolution, I find it very ironic that no cover version uses that verse.

Thanks, Actaion - reading back I saw you identified where the melody change and most commonly followed verse selection came from - the John Cale version.

I think it's a little sad, actually - the song is still beautiful that way, but I really think the original version is far, far superior to any of the subsequent ones, including Cohen's...

Only the first one is actually a coherent and unified whole, and I think the flattening out of the melody as commonly heard really detracts from the way the beginning of the verse goes into the composition clinic section (it goes like this, the 4th, the 5th...).

But, y'know, I could be wrong...
I just don't think I am...
:D


-Aaron
Steven
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby Steven » Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:52 am

Hi Aaron,

He was certainly battled, but it wouldn't be ureasonable to surmise that he may also
have been baffled. But, when doing performance art with substantive material such as this,
the main thing is to convey it congruent and authentic to the performer. And
you've no doubt made the effort to do that with the word change. :) (My
experience with "Hallelujah," as performance material, is that of having given
about 5 readings of it at poetry gatherings.)

The "you" you spoke of, I've never taken to be referring to God. I've always
taken it to be towards a hypocritical finger pointer, or, perhaps,to some other less than
truly interested person. Good analogy, Aaron, to Blake's "Tyger." Blake attempts
to find a unity of perfection that an omnipotent being would seem to confer on
even inversely presented creature creations -- there the tiger and the lamb.*
The ultimate resolution between them, as biblical metaphor, will come at
the age when predatory cats (the lion) will lie down peacefully with the
lamb -- the Messianic age. Until then, seems we're apt to be baffled
at apparent inconsistencies, while we battle on, doing the best we can,
and, at times, the best we can utter is that cold and broken Hallelujah.
I enjoyed your comments. Take care.
* P.S. The "L" of lamb, in his poem, is capitalized, a way for Blake to draw attention
to "Lamb of God" implications. On that level, some of the above comment is not
applicable and there is no disrespect for anyone's faith or biblical understandings
intended or present. "Creature" wasn't referring to anyone's figure of divinity.
aaronblack
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby aaronblack » Thu Mar 12, 2009 7:57 pm

Hey Steven,

Fascinating stuff...

I guess that's one beauty of ambiguity in art; nobody but the creator can tell you if your interpretation is "right" - and sometimes not even the creator can.

More than once, I've known people to see things in my songs that I never intentionally put in them, but which I couldn't deny as valid interpretations, nor could I absolutely deny that the themes weren't somehow active in my composition at some subconsious level...

Of course, I've also occasionally known people to totally misconstrue my meaning based on some preconception of their own.

:)

I very much doubt that Cohen's approach to spirituality, or his attitudes toward the Bible, are (or ever have been) as...well...Christian...as yours seem to be.

But if you find a resonance there that works for you in a positive way, I think that's cool too.

Fun chatting with you about it, anyway.

Thanks,
Aaron
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hydriot
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby hydriot » Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:26 pm

aaronblack wrote:Every printed version of the lyrics I've ever seen says - "baffled" king, which is what everyone sings in the million covers, but what I hear on the original is "Battle" king.

That's what I sing when I cover it, because that's what I think I hear on Various Positions, and because it makes sense; it's the juxtapostion of David the Warrior vs David the Composer...

Baffled king doesn't fit at all.
That's interesting, because I made the very same mistake when I was reliant solely on Various Positions (in the years before YouTube etc). I think the problem was just poor recording or poor pronunciation back in those pre-digital days.

'Battle-king' doesn't make sense because any poet wanting to express that idea would write 'warrior-king' which scans just as well. I always thought that David was baffled by the business of composing Hallelujah (as I am sometimes baffled writing a sonnet!) but others are welcome to their own interpretations.

Somewhere, there is a whole thread of mis-heard lyrics. It happens to all of us.

Anyway, here is Leonard himself clearly singing 'baffled' on 17 July 2008:

http://www.garagetv.be/video-galerij/po ... lujah.aspx

And, Aaron, if you cover Hallelujah, could I please beg you to sing the correct words: "was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you". All recent covers drop the crucial 'at', so much so that the covers (including the latest Alexandra Burke) are becoming the canon, in spite of the fact that Leonard has always sung 'at', and the songbook prints it so too.

Leonard never ever suggested that you can shoot someone who outdraws you. The idea is ridiculous. What he sings of is the forlorn determination to get off a shot even though you know it's pointless. Heroic failure has always been a major theme in Leonard's writing.
“If you do have love it's a kind of wound, and if you don't have it it's worse.” - Leonard, July 1988
aaronblack
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby aaronblack » Thu Mar 12, 2009 9:27 pm

Well Hydriot - you got me - I can't deny that he is singing baffled right there...

But - I don't agree that "warrior" scans as well, and I still think battle fits the rest of the song better than baffled.
Much, much better...

So maybe that will have to be my own little twist on the cover - if Cale can change the melody and swap out verses and leave off the resolving verse, I think I can get away with altering a couple of consonants...besides, everyone will hear baffled anyway.

:neutral:

No worries on the other issue, when I do cover it (rarely and only by request, as I find it a bit over-exposed these days) I always do the original 4 verses only.

Thanks for providing a definitive resolution to my question - even if I do refuse to adapt the true lyric, at least know I know it...
Such a rebel...

8)


Thanks,
Aaron
Steven
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby Steven » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:22 pm

Hi Aaron,

"I guess that's one beauty of ambiguity in art; nobody but the creator can tell you if your interpretation is "right" - and sometimes not even the creator can."
-- Absolutely. :D I think it may have been the late Andrew Wyeth who was reluctant to reveal much about his paintings, out of concern that doing so would kill the beauty of the
ambiguity, robbing people of their own possible experiences of them.

"I very much doubt that Cohen's approach to spirituality, or his attitudes toward the Bible, are (or ever have been) as...well...Christian...as yours seem to be."
-- You could be surprised at what my beliefs may be, but Leonard does use biblical
metaphors and archetypes from the "Old" and New Testaments and I wasn't suggesting
any personal assumption, on his part, of a buying into any particular approaches or
attitudes. But, yes, I can understand where you'd get the impression you did. :D
Hallelujah's can be an expression of faith in something, and not only a literal expression
of faith in God. And, on that level, Leonard's "Hallelujah" has a more universal
message, applicable to even lots of atheists and agnostics.

This is fun, Aaron, thanks.
aaronblack
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby aaronblack » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:47 pm

Hey Steven -

Agreed and agreed - I think one of the coolest things about Cohen's lyrics is how they have a "spiritual" relevance, even for those (like me) who don't believe in "spirits" per se...

I also think he's almost unique among songwriters for his ability to see - and share - the sacredness of aspects of life often considered mundane or even profane...

"There is a crack in everything...that's how the light gets in."

Yep.

-Aaron
merton
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby merton » Tue Mar 17, 2009 2:29 pm

I stumbled across this article during the week. A thought provoking angle on Hallelujah and If It Be Your Will. I hope you enjoy. Roll on the summer.

http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/research/the ... veling.htm

Merton
Steven
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby Steven » Thu Mar 19, 2009 5:08 am

Hi Merton (whose name reminds me of Thomas Merton),

Thanks for the interesting link.
alb123
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Re: A short history of "Hallelujah" - lyrics, versions, oddities

Postby alb123 » Sat Mar 21, 2009 7:46 pm

From a wikipedia entry:

"Hallelujah" was originally written and composed over the course of a year, and is said to have been a frustrating and difficult process for Cohen.[2] Cohen says he wrote at least eighty verses, filling two notebooks - discarding most of the verses in the process of crafting the song. [3]

How wonderful would it be to read the ~80 verses originally written?
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