A lesser-known Hallelujah

Both NPR and The Atlantic have done stories on the recent release of Alan Light’s book, The Holy or the Broken, about Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” As NPR notes, there are songs, and then there are anthems. “Hallelujah” is definitely an anthem.

But it didn’t start out that way. The story of how it got there is quite interesting, and I’d recommend that you go to either of the links above to read a bit more. I had no idea that a green ogre was instrumental in the song’s rise…and also realized that I’d never heard Cohen’s original version. Now I never need to hear it again. Ugh.

The Atlantic’s article has numerous videos embedded, including an absolutely excruciating Bono version that is so bad it’s actually good. You know how some dogs are so ugly that they’re cute? Yeah, it’s like that.

It also includes a “Whitney-fied” version sung by Alexandra Burke on Britain’s X-Factor, which is fun just for the opportunity to hear “Hallelujah” as a soul song, with a gospel backup. And of course, there is THE iconic version, sung by kd lang and hailed by Leonard Cohen and his collaborator Anjani Thomas as “perfection.”

But there’s another, lesser-known version that both the NPR and Atlantic articles missed, which is tied with the kd lang version as my personal favorite. It’s sung by Renée Fleming, America’s best-known operatic soprano. Nobody ever knew that she also had a voice for popular music, a full octave (or more) lower than where she normally sings—at least, not until she released Dark Hope, an album of cover songs. It shocked her fans, who quickly divided themselves into “love it, who knew she could do that?” and “oh god I hate it, why did she do that?” camps.

The cover of “Hallelujah” on Dark Hope is gorgeous. Its stripped down arrangement focuses attention on her rich, velvety voice (which is not a description I associate with opera sopranos), and she leans her interpretation more towards darkly sexy than loving.

I searched all over the web before finally locating the album version of this song on, of all things, a club music web site. It’s filed under “chillout music,” which cracks me up. I can’t embed it, but you can listen to it here and, you know, chill.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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14 Responses to A lesser-known Hallelujah

  1. Jason Cleaver says:

    Wow, that kd lang version is.. wow.

    FYI, Alexandra Burke’s version was that year’s X-Factor winner’s single. It has sold over a million copies thus far, the first woman to sell that amount. There was a proper video as well, not just the one you linked.

    • oregon expat says:

      Ah — I didn’t look for a proper video. Besides, it’s kind of fun to see the audience getting into her Whitney-fying.

      Total agreement on the kd lang version. Her interpretation is a soaring ode to love, while Renée Fleming’s is more of an earthy ode to sex. That’s why I have room to love them both, for very different reasons.

      • Jason Cleaver says:

        Sometimes you get decent singers on X-Factor. This year we had 16 year old Ella Henderson who was just amazing. But she got booted out a couple of weeks ago in a severe voting scandal that saw her and one of the other best singers (there are three this year) in the bottom two. Check her out on You Tube, especially her cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’ that made the lyrics mean something completely different and reduced Nicole Shertzinger to tears.

        • oregon expat says:

          You aren’t kidding about that cover of “Believe”! I totally agree with Simon in hating that song, but geez, she transformed it. And her vocal reinterpretation of the synthesized warbles of Cher was highly cool.

          • Jason Cleaver says:

            That one is my favourite of all her songs. Adele actually tweeted that she loves her singing as well. 🙂

            Also.. that’s not Simon. That was Gary Barlow of Take That. 🙂 She covered Rule The World, which he conceded was better than the original. I am seriously hoping someone cuts her a record deal. One Direction and several others have proved that its better not to win X-Factor as the winner seems to have a very short career. Unless your name is Leona Lewis..

          • oregon expat says:

            That’s not Simon?! I must need new glasses.

  2. Kylie says:

    I never knew that was Leonard Cohen’s song. I always thought it was originally by Jeff Buckley! Brandi Carlile has a great version too. Thanks for sharing this–I’m listening to the Renee Fleming version right now. I love this song 🙂

  3. Bono was under the influence of critical drugs when he sang that. Seriously, it’s the only song by him that I utterly hate. Ugh.
    Ah, but KD Lang and Renée Fleming… wonderful indeed. Love both.

    • Paulo says:

      I’m fighting time constraints that have prevented me from commenting on my fave blog, but as you may know by now, I always find time to brag:
      – saw kd lang perform this song and many others last year in one of our summer concerts at the Oregon Zoo. Oh, yeah: And rumor has it that she is now living in Portland. 🙂

      (actually my main purpose is to agree 100% with you on the Bono thing. He should serve time for having attempted to assassinate that song. A bono…bo would have done it better.)

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