Leonard Cohen‘s most enduring track is one that never actually brought him much success. “Hallelujah,” the scriptural masterpiece from Cohen’s 1984 album, Various Positions, has long been revered as a cornerstone of contemporary songwriting, but its actual progenitor was never much celebrated for it. Despite Hot 100 appearances by several of the classic’s covers, it would ultimately take Cohen’s death on November 7 to vault his own name onto the list.
In the past week, as Pitchfork reports, Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been downloaded 33,000 times and streamed an incredible 3.8 million times—a 278% increase. The uptick gave Cohen the No. 12 spot on the Digital Song Sales chart and landed him at No. 59 on the Hot 100. Cohen’s song did spend a week on Billboard’s Hot Singles Chart in 2012, but it has never before placed in the exalted Hot 100 list. The song’s two most famous renditions, by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, have both spent time on the list, as have the versions by Justin Timberlake, the a cappella group Pentatonix, and contestants from both American Idol and The Voice. Given that context, it’s a travesty that it’s taken until now for Cohen’s version to crack the chart.
Cohen initially wrote more than 80 verses for “Hallelujah,” obsessing over each lyric. And even after he pared the song down to album-track length in 1984, he continued to fine tune the piece, never quite satisfied with a finished product. Others were more than happy with it, though. John Cale unearthed the track in 1991 and covered it out of arcane fascination. Buckley heard Cale’s version and then recorded his own in 1994. Today, “Hallelujah” has been covered by more than 300 artists, and that number is sure to increase in the coming months as we get used to a world without Leonard Cohen. No cover, though, will ever carry the same gravitas as the original, and hallelujah to that.
Image: Rama via Wikimedia Commons