Which version of ‘Hallelujah’ is the best? Does it matter?

Five years ago I heard a group of college students perform an a cappella version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and was spellbound.

Newsweek recently ranked 60 versions of the song, from best to worst. I disagree with the magazine’s No. 1, John Cale (“Shrek,” the movie).  My vote goes to Jeff Buckley, with k.d. lang’s live versions (the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2005 Juno Awards) a close second and third.

I confess I haven’t heard many of the other versions of Cohen’s once-obscure 1984 song, so this is hardly scientific. But apparently I’m not alone favoring Buckley — the linked version above has more than 51 million hits on YouTube.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which is your favorite. The point is to appreciate Cohen’s composition, and the varied interpretations of it by so many talented artists — even a bunch of college kids giving it all they have.

I still marvel at that performance and the effect it had on me, so I guess that puts their version near the top of my list.

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About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in Irish Investigations, language, music, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Which version of ‘Hallelujah’ is the best? Does it matter?

  1. Win Thurlow says:

    Jim: for what it’s worth, I agree that Jeff Buckley and k.d. lang belong at the top of the list. If you want to waste a few hours on YouTube, and hear some really interesting stuff, search for covers of other Cohen songs. His music attracts an amazingly varied collection of singers. Make sure you catch the covers of “Bird on a Wire” – Johnny Cash, k.d. lang (again), Judy Collins and Aaron Neville sounding especially angelic. Enjoy.

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  2. Jim McKeever says:

    Thanks, Win … The musical horizons continue to broaden. I need more hours in the day, or a winning lottery ticket. The one I bought at Wegmans last night didn’t cut it. Jim

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  3. I’m actually partial to a cover of the song that was, incredibly, the first time I ever heard it. It was Justin Robinett and Michael Henry. I still love it.

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  4. Jim McKeever says:

    That is a nice version, Colleen. Just checked it out in YouTube. It’s amazing how the first time we hear a song, we remember where and when, and the circumstances. The Buckley version came to me by accident. I had read something about his version of the song, and of his tragic death a few years later, and months later I found an unopened CD in my basement. It was Buckley’s “Grace,” which apparently one of my sons had bought and never opened. Strange, but it worked for me!

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  5. Jim, I’d never heard the Buckley version, it is good! I have to say though, that Cohen’s version is still my fave and Lang’s is a close second! ❤
    Diana xo

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  6. markbialczak says:

    Leonard Cohen’s creative vision was stark — or maybe that’s his voice and delivery on all of his songs, Jim. In any case, I like his original version very much. Jeff Buckley (RIP) put so much emotion into it that I can’t argue with anybody ranking that one No. 1. k.d. does it incredible justice, too. The lasting power of “Hallelujah” is such that you can marvel at a college a cappella group perform it live, and America can watch any number of contestants on our multiple singing competitions turn to it as a go-to song, and it sounds fresh and memorable. That’s worthy of so many covers it gets a list in Newsweek and a blog post from McKeever. 🙂

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  7. Pingback: Awesome Advice Central breaks into song - After the Kids Leave

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