Leonard Cohen's Famed Song Was Initially a Dud

'Hallelujah' for cover versions
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2016 10:59 AM CST

(Newser) – Don't be surprised if you hear Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah dominating airwaves today as a tribute to the man described by some as the best songwriter who ever lived. But there's quite the story behind the song covered by more than 300 artists, including Rufus Wainwright, Willie Nelson, Justin Timberlake, Neil Diamond, and Bob Dylan. Part of an album released in the US by an independent label in 1986—Sony "didn't think it was good enough," Cohen later said—it took more than a decade before it became famous, USA Today reports. Jeff Buckley, who first heard John Cale's cover on a 1991 Cohen tribute album, recorded his own version in 1994. It was that version that finally became popular when Buckley died in 1997.

The creation of the song is also fascinating. Cohen reportedly wrote some 80 verses for Hallelujah—which took five years to complete—though the finished version contained only five, reports the Washington Post. He later recalled sitting in a New York hotel room in his underwear while "banging my head on the floor and saying, 'I can't finish this song."" Today, it's considered "pop music's closest thing to a sacred text," according to Maclean's magazine. In his 2012 book on the song, Alan Light called it "an open-ended meditation on love and faith" that's both "joyous and despondent, a celebration and a lament." Of course, it's not the only Cohen song worth listening to. Time points out five others, including one released this year. (Read more Leonard Cohen stories.)

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