Leonard Cohen wrote and released "Hallelujah" in 1984 and, though the song did not become popular under his name, it soon gained fame after being covered by John Cale and Jeff Buckley.
Cohen wrote around eighty separate verses for this song, recording the original for his 1984 album, Various Positions, and performing the other verses during live performances, alternating between the album version and his written versions.
Since its inception, the song has become a crowd favorite for covers, partly because everyone knows it and loves to sing along, but mostly because the song itself was created to be adored.
Written using a compound duple meter in the C major chord, the song itself is created from a simple beat and a basic chord, with lyrics that sound just as lackadaisical upon first listen (with the constant repetition of "hallelujah"). While the basics of the track remain simple, the song grows upon itself with simple chord progressions building to a fuller sound, following the classic style of waltz and gospel music, invoking feelings of strong emotion (each person finds their own way to let this song inspire/move them). With uplifting chords, a steady dance-able beat, and lyric lines that delve deeper into our emotions with each new verse, the song was made to withstand the passage of time. Pair that with the fact that a C is basic enough for any singer to feel confident in their abilities to hit it and it is no wonder that this song has gained the majority of its success from the covers done by various artists, each taking it on as their own but maintaining those same bits that will keep this song a timeless favorite.
Like most people, I grew up listening to Buckley's popular cover of the song but, being an instant addict of Scrubs, when they dropped John Cale's cover of "Hallelujah" into one of their first few episodes, I fell in love with that version over all others I had previously heard; it's simply gorgeous. Solid male vocals and an acoustic piano? Yes, please.
Bon Jovi can make anything sound amazing and their cover of "Hallelujah" is no exception. Jon Bon Jovi's vocals (drenched in that solid rock vibrato [with that rough scratchy sound I can't get enough of]), supported by the constantly playing piano and guitar, with a violin and the rest of the bands' vocals joining in at just the right moments, all come together to make this version just as great as I would expect from Bon Jovi.
Though they have now disbanded, Say Chance's cover of "Hallelujah" was great. It relies only on the acoustic guitar (which is played amazingly and is really the only thing which drew me to this version, at first), leaving the listener to respect how great those clear, full vocals really are.
While I have always been a fan of Kate Voegele's voice, her version of "Hallelujah" makes me appreciate her vocals that much more; hearing her reach each note, easily, with only the soft chords of that guitar to back her up make it nearly impossible to not respect her talent.
If you've read this blog before, you know that I'm always looking for a chance to preach the greatness of Walk off the Earth (and their covers), and Sarah Blackwood's cover with her brother, Ian Blackwood, is as beautiful as the rest of their music. As far as female vocalists go, Blackwood's voice can't be beat, and I'm always a sucker for any song that relies solely on an acoustic instrument.
As the piano was the first instrument I ever learned (and my constant love) I always have to find a good piano based cover, and Michael Henry and Justin Robinett's version is just completely gorgeous. It's simple, slow, balanced, and a little incredibly close to perfection (especially when that violin [courtesy of the keyboard] comes into play about three and a half minutes in); I just keep hitting repeat.
Of course, my favorite cover is SafetySuit's (they made "Annie" and "Let Go" [and twenty other amazing songs...]; nothing they do will ever be anything less than stark perfection). Other covers are gorgeous and all, but they all seem to stick to that main concept: keep it simple and keep the emotion in the vocals. With musicology and composition being so important to me, I just can't get enough of a band who knows the value of putting their emotions into their instrumentation, versus their lyrics or vocal inflection. That solid drum beat next to that slowly picked guitar, building up to that frenzied guitar solo in the middle of the song speaks volumes over any lyric line; and Brown's rock screams of "hallelujah" align more closely with my feelings when it comes to this song than those slow, soft, held out "hallelujah's" from other artists. SafetySuit takes a different approach to the basic cover format and forces me to, once again, play their music on repeat; I truly love them.