"Hallelujah" 10 Ways

"Hallelujah" is a song written by Leonard Cohen in 1984, and never officially released as a single. It has become famous mainly through cover versions, and has been recorded by hundreds of artists. In 2008, American Idol contestent Jason Castro sang a version that caused Jeff Buckley's famous cover to rocket to the top of the Billboard Hot Digital Songs chart (you know, the kids these days with their iTunes and what-not). Buckley's rendition became a Platinum single on April 22, 2008, eleven years after his death and fourteen years after its original release -- despite never being officially released as a single.

"Hallelujah" has appeared in endless TV shows and movies. According to Wikipedia, it has appeared in: The West Wing, Crossing Jordan, Without a Trace, The O.C., Scrubs, House, Criminal Minds, ER, Third Watch, Ugly Betty, and LAX; and the films Feast of Love, The Edukators, Vinterkyss and Lord of War. I also happen to know it popped up in The Watchmen, The L Word, Shrek, and probably many more. This song is everywhere.

Here are ten of the best-known versions of the song. There are actually so many "well-known" covers of "Hallelujah" that I couldn't include them all in a top 10 -- go search YouTube for more. (One very notable version is the one by Espen Lind featuring Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes and Askil Holm, which cannot be embedded.)

1. Jeff Buckley (Live in Studio)

Although this version differs a little from his famous album version (it has a longer intro), Jeff Buckley's is the most famous cover of "Hallelujah." It was inspired by John Cale's version (#4 below) and was released on Buckley's album "Grace" in 1994.

2. Rufus Wainwright

Wainwright's version is nearly as famous as Buckley's, because it appeared on the Shrek soundtrack (despite John Cale's version actually being used in the film). Wainwright's album version is actually my favorite version of the song. Another notable Wainwright performance is from the Leonard Cohen documentary "I'm Your Man," and includes vocals from Joan Wasser (Buckley's girlfriend) and Martha Wainwright.

3. k.d lang

It's not news that k.d. lang can really, really sing. But still, her vocal control in this live version is stunning. The last note goes on forever, and the video includes nearly a full minute of standing ovation. If this doesn't make you cry, I don't know what will.

4. John Cale

John Cale is credited for popularizing Cohen's song with his early cover. This arrangement seemed really weird to me until I listened to it several times. Watch John Cale and a string quartet perform the classic song in 1992.

5. Sheryl Crow

Crow speeds it up a bit, and her guitar treatment is different than most -- she capos on the first fret. Wicked. (For guitar nerds, most versions are performed capo'd at the 5th fret and played in "G", thus sung in the key of C.)

6. Allison Crowe

Crowe's album "Tidings" featured songs recorded in a single take. Here's one of them.

7. Damien Rice

Performed in 2008, at Leonard Cohen's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also interesting to see that he's playing capo'd at the third fret. See a more emotional/quiet version from Rice here.

8. Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris

Part of the "Hope for Haiti Now" benefit in January, 2010. Sorry about the weird popup YouTube thingies embedded here -- don't click them -- but this version actually has the best sound of any on YouTube.

9. Regina Spektor

Live in 2005, with phrasing more like Cohen's than most covers. Audio only.

10. Leonard Cohen

Of course, Leonard Cohen actually wrote the song in the first place. Check out that last verse. Cohen reportedly said of the song: "I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view.... It's the notion that there is no perfection -- that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say 'hallelujah' under those circumstances."

A Note for Non-Musicians

The lyrics "it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift" refer to the chord progression of the song itself as those lyrics are sung. Although the verse is about King David, the lyrics now seem like Cohen is winking at the listener -- teaching future generations with his own lyrics in the first verse how to cover his song. The chords to this bit are: C, F (the fourth), G (the fifth), A minor (the minor fall), and F (the major lift).

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10. To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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