I'm not the first to call for a moratorium on the use of the song Hallelujah. And, probably, I won't be the last. Leonard Cohen's song has been covered by 200 artists now. You could blame Jeff Buckley for starting something of a trend. So many people who fell in love with Buckley, his sound and his version of Cohen's song have gone on to (whether they know it or not) encourage use of the tune in TV and movies, spawning further covers. I've heard Rufus Wainwright singing it live - and though Wainwright's beautiful voice should have sent shivers down my spine, I recoiled somewhat just at hearing the song title in the introductory banter. I braced myself for yet another cover version. I knew then that I'd also be hearing Cohen singing it live the following night. And having seen Cohen deliver almost the exact same concert a year earlier I didn't even need that.
When someone tells you "oh you should hear this really great song from the movie Shrek" you know it's time for the song to stop being covered.
In the absence of truly great standards across the past 30 years, Hallelujah has been appropriated by all and sundry. It's a triumph for the fight of sentiment over meaning. Your kids who loved Shrek now have a song they can sing along to about the Holy Spirit moving inside someone, about finding the secret chord to play; the one that pleases.
Your kids might as well be singing Mazzy Star songs about holding the hand inside you.
Hallelujah's biggest burden is its title. That has guaranteed its misuse and its overuse.
John Cale did a version of it that I liked. I'm most happy with Leonard Cohen's version. And though I liked the Jeff Buckley version, I don't actually think it's all that special. I don't think it's really the right thing for Buckley to be remembered by or for. I don't believe that he went on to own the song in any way as a result of his version. I don't even think it's the best cover that Jeff Buckley performed.
But I finally snapped on Saturday night. I decided that I'm done with the song. It's lost any/all meaning for me. It's become the new Stairway to Heaven. It's lost. Dead. Done. Gone. Pointless.
You see, Ben Harper played a version of it that was so sanctimoniously cloying as to feel like a final nail in the song's coffin. (I didn't enjoy the Ben Harper concert all that much.) Harper set up his version by claiming that he was paying tribute to Buckley. It arrived on the back of a nice enough story about meeting Buckley (he considered him a hero) and showing him some slide guitar. The song ended, standing ovation by many in the audience, with Harper having done exactly what he said he could never do - he'd all but wrestled it away from the source. He was so hopeful to own it in some sense - he'd manipulated the audience with false modesty: I'm not worthy, oh no I couldn't possibly...
It was yet another version of the song that just missed the point.
If Harper really wanted to pay any sort of tribute to Buckley he would have chosen a Jeff Buckley song. That way anyone not familiar with Buckley would have been off in search of all the new worlds after hearing one of his songs - if it had made the right impression. But Hallelujah is just a thumbnail now. It's been rendered useless by too many covers and by a lot of dud covers. It's also been used in some odd contexts. It's been killed by the ones who love it. Or claim to.
And Ben Harper's version was the one that did it for me - made me want to renew calls for a moratorium on the song.
What do you think? Can you still stand Hallelujah? And do you love all - or almost all - of the versions of it? And if so a) you need help and b) what song has been ruined for you by the way it has been interpreted?
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