In a melancholy mood today, I decided to use my new best friend iMeem to make myself up a play list of all of the covers of "Hallelujah" I could find. Because really, what better way to wallow in it, and also to follow up my Patti Smith-related covers theme from yesterday? And after finding them all, what better than to review them, right?
Bon Jovi: The full version of Bon Jovi's "Hallelujah" isn't available on iMeen, just a 30 second clip, but I've heard it before. It's not a bad version, and I salute them for picking this song to cover, but it's pretty standard and a bit too choir-y in the chorus for my taste. A solo version of just Jon and a guitar doing it would likely be better. I think they use all of the regular verses.
John Cale: John Cale is a Welsh musician who does a fairly standard take on the song, accompanied by a piano and with a slightly speedier tempo than many others. He includes all of the typical verses.
Leonard Cohen: Unlike Bob Dylan, I often really like Leonard Cohen's versions of his own songs. I think his "Chelsea Hotel" is fabulous. But honestly, I prefer other people doing this one. Cohen's version is so sedate compared to some others, I don't get as much pain from it. Clearly it's his song, and he can do it however he wants, but I think adding a singer with bigger vocal range improves the song. The great thing about the Cohen version, however, is the inclusion of the verses nobody else uses in place of the final two verses:
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Sheryl Crow: This song is out of Sheryl Crow's league, no doubt, but given that, she does an OK job with it. Her's is a spare, guitar-accompanied version, a bit too fast for my taste, but not terrible. And one thing I will say for Crowe is that she includes that fourth verse that most of the women who cover this song take out, and I appreciate that.
Allison Crowe: Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe brings a nice piano and fantastic pipes to the song, and this is a good, solid version, with enough loss of control in the later verses to make me believe it. She includes the all of the standard verses. Makes me want to give a listen to Crowe's original work.
Dresden Dolls: The Boston-based Dresden Dolls call themselves "brechtian punk cabaret," and that's as good a name for what they do as anything else. The wringing pain in the vocal on their piano-driven live version of "Hallelujah" is the most excruciating take on the song I've heard. Their version is slow and drawn out, clocking in at two minutes or so longer than most cuts of it, and it leaves my breath baited for the whole time. By the end, it sounds as if the band's singer is being ritually tortured while singing. Yeah, it's that good.
Gavin Degraw: Poppy Gavin Degraw's version of the song does almost nothing for me. It's a basic vocal+piano, with not much real emotion I can find in it. It sounds almost as if he's trying to make the song sexy, and it's so just not supposed to be that way. Making matters worse, he skips the final verse ("well, maybe there's a god above/but all I’ve ever learned from love/was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you/it's not a cry that you hear at night/it's not somebody who's seen the light/it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah") and does a weird high-note thing at the end. Bah.
Imogen Heap: I'm not generally a huge fan of English singer-songwriter Imogen Heap--I think she's melodramatic. But this is a melodramatic song, and her a capella version does not disappoint. She skips the first two verses and just sings the last three, giving a whole lot more romantic imagery and a whole lot less religious imagery, which is an unusual take.
Jeff Buckley: Jeff Buckley's version (from the album "Grace") tends to be the gold standard of "Hallelujah," and that's the case for a reason. He breaks my heart every time. His full version isn't available on iMeen either (stupid record companies!), but it's worth buying from iTunes if you've not heard it. He includes all of the regular verses and it's mostly a boy+guitar type of a take. It's not my favorite version ever, but it's probably the most accessible, while still sounding emotionally honest. Plus Buckley's story is such a sad one that it gives the song an extra poignant feel when you listen to him sing it.
Jake Falana Band: This is an alternative-indie band out of New Jersey, and their version is mellow and haunting, with soft vocals and slightly twangy guitar. Not my favorite version--the vocal is too low and the guitar to high for me, and the singer doesn't have the vocal range I'd really like to hear for this song, but it's not a bad try at it, either. All of the regular verses.
k.d. lang: It was k.d. lang who brought me the love for this song in the first place, on the day that I listened to her version, from "Hymns of the 49th Parallel," over and over again, bawling like a small child. I have since found covers of it I actually prefer, but this one is certainly easy on the ears, with lang giving it a sultry treatment that I never would have expected to suit it so well. I wish she didn't skip the fourth verse.
Espin Lind, Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes, and Askil Holm: This version of "Hallelujah," done with each man taking a verse and four-part harmony on the chorus, is probably the single best one of I've ever heard. The singers are (I think) all Norwegian, with solo careers, but seem to have made one album together, featuring this song. It's just beautiful, though not as emotionally gripping as some of the other versions. In order to have the right number of verses to go around, though, they skip the fourth one, which is just too bad.
Jack Lukeman: Irish singer-songwriter Jack Lukeman (also known as Jack L) has a much deeper voice than most of the people who take this song on, and it doesn't quite work for me. The lowest parts of the song seem almost farcical when he does them, with none of the voice shaking and tremble that makes the song seem prayerful when other people do it. Like so many others, Jack L skips the fourth verse.
Regina Spektor: Tori-esque singer/pianist Spektor's version of "Hallelujah" is only barely musical, with a soft drum and organ type background, mostly just vocal. It's very slow and very raw, with almost breaking vocals in a couple of places and a chorus that veers off the original melody. It's painful to listen to, and, I think, fabulous. Spektor skips the fourth verse ("well there was a time when you let me know/what's really going on below/but now you never show that to me do you/but remember when I moved in you/and the holy dove was moving too/and every breath we drew was hallelujah"), which is disappointing to me, but overall, she hits it out of the park.
Rufus Wainwright: I love me some Rufus Wainwright--I think he was fabulous on the soundtrack to "Brokeback Mountain," and I love his cover of Cohen's "Everybody Knows," but his "Hallelujah" doesn't give me the big love. The tempo is too fast, making it seem almost upbeat, and he doesn't use as much of his range as he could. He includes all of the typical verses.
Any versions I missed?
Editing later to add that if you want to check out the playlist and hear most of these versions (though not the entirety of the Bon Jovi or the Jeff Buckley), go here.