Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” has become a modern classic. But what is the meaning behind the song? Some believe it is about biblical stories, while others believe it is about more personal stories. No one really knows for sure, but that doesn’t stop people from guessing. Explore the possible meanings behind this hauntingly beautiful song.
The composition “Hallelujah” from the famous cartoon “Shrek” is known to many. But this single is not limited to a sad musical arrangement of a tragic moment. This composition is considered genuinely iconic in many countries, so many people know it by heart.
It often happens in the music world that a cover version gets more exposure than the original. It doesn’t always sound better; it just happened that way. These words are fully applicable to Leonard Cohen’s single “Hallelujah.” There are many versions of the song, but the most popular of them is the one performed by Jeff Buckley.
The song was first released on Cohen’s album Various Positions in 1984. A little later (in Holland and Spain), an audio track was released, but it did not immediately reach America and therefore did not become popular. Perhaps, for this reason, Jeff Buckley first heard this composition only in the early 90s. He included it in his own live performances and once decided to have it in the tracklist of his debut album Grace, released in 1994.
But even then, this composition did not arouse particular interest among the listeners. Jeff Buckley had to die for the design to be loved by the public. Of course, there is no direct relationship here. However, an indirect one can still be traced because after Jeff’s tragic death; his music attracted the attention of ordinary fans and musicians who decided to rehash this immortal piece.
History of writing the song “Hallelujah song.”
It is known that Leonard Cohen composed “Hallelujah” for several years and wrote about eighty verses, of which he later chose four.
The work on the song was a lot of work. As he later recalled, it got to the point that he literally hit his head on the floor, sitting in his shorts on the carpet in the hotel room.
Meaning of the song “Hallelujah song.”
The author was often asked what “Hallelujah” was about. Cohen briefly explained the main idea of the Hallelujah song in an interview:
“Hallelujah” is a Hebrew word that means “glory to the Lord.” The song explains that there are actually many types of Hallelujah. I say: “All the perfect and defiled hallelujahs are equal. It is a desire to affirm faith in life, not in some formal, religious way, but with enthusiasm and emotions.”
Guitar and Keyboards, 1985
He also explained his understanding of the word “Hallelujah” as follows:
This world is full of conflicts and things that cannot be reconciled. But there are times when we can. Agree and accept this whole mess. That’s what I mean by Hallelujah.
The text of Hallelujah in the original version, published in 1984, is full of references to biblical stories: Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, and others. However, Cohen emphasized that this is not a song about faith in God and religion:
I deliberately said hallelujah. There are religious hallelujahs, but there are many others. When you look at the world and your personal life, all you can say is “Hallelujah”… The literal translation is “glory to the Lord,” but this is not exactly gratitude, but a statement that there is a will that we cannot resist. What can we do in front of her?
Subsequently, Cohen gradually tried to move even further away from the biblical interpretation of the Hallelujah text, for which he significantly changed the text. Here is what he said in 1988, speaking in Antwerp:
I wrote this song… five or six years ago, and it had a hallelujah in it. And in this song, there were references to the Bible, although they became more and more distant. Finally, I realized that referring to the Bible was no longer necessary. And I rewrote this song. This is the worldly Hallelujah.
That same year, Leonard similarly commented on Hallelujah at a concert in Reykjavik:
I wanted to move Hallelujah far into the secular and ordinary worlds. Hallelujah – David’s Hallelujah – was also a religious song. And I wanted to point out that “Hallelujah” can manifest itself in things that have nothing to do with religion.
However, many interpreted the meaning of the song Hallelujah in their own way. For example, it is widely believed that it deals with the relationship of a man and a woman, from which love has long gone. And Jeff Buckley, one of the performers of the composition, once stated:
Anyone who listens carefully to Hallelujah will understand that this song is about sex, love, and life on earth. “Hallelujah” is not a bow to a revered person, Idol, or God, but the Hallelujah of orgasm. This is an ode to life and love.
It will be interesting to know your opinion about the main idea of the Hallelujah song.
Hallelujah cover versions
Hallelujah’s colossal success story began with a John Cale cover that he recorded for the Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. They say he asked Leonard to send him the lyrics, and he faxed fifteen pages. As Cale later recalled, all he had to do was choose the most shameless of all the verses. John’s version is based on the style Cohen sang Hallelujah in concert.
Cale’s cover inspired many musicians to follow his lead and perform the song as well. One of the more famous versions of Hallelujah is by Jeff Buckley. She first rose to the top of the charts and was awarded a place in the list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, according to Rolling Stone.
In addition, Hallelujah has been performed by Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, kd lang, and many, many others. In total, over three hundred cover versions were recorded for the song. It is very often heard in films and on television. In addition, in many countries, the composition is performed at almost all weddings and funerals.
Such several song performers are no longer to the liking of even Leonard Cohen, who once said:
I just read a review of a movie called “Watchmen” that uses it <song>, and the author said, “Can you please put a moratorium on Hallelujah in film and TV shock?” And I feel about the same. It’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it.
True, a few years later, he changed his mind a little:
Several times, other people asked if there could be a moratorium on Hallelujah. Should we listen to it at the end of every melodrama or every Idol? Once or twice I wanted to lend my voice to drown it out, but after thinking carefully, I realized that I was happy it was being sung.
John Cale’s Hallelujah is featured in the Shrek cartoon, but Rufus Wainwright’s version was included in Shrek: Music from the Original Motion Picture.