Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)

Written and first recorded by Leonard Cohen (1984).
Hit versions by k.d. lang (US #61/CAN #2 2004), Epsen Lind (NOR #1 2006), Rufus Wainwright (ROCK #34/UK #97 2007), Jeff Buckley (recorded 1994, released UK #65 2007 |US #102/UK #2 2008), Alexandra Burke (UK #1/IRE #1/EUR #1 2008), Justin Timberlake & Matt Morris (US #13/UK #91 2010), Pentatonix (US #23/GER #1/SWZ #7 2016).
Also recorded by John Cale (1991), Allison Crowe (2003).

From the wiki: “‘Hallelujah’ was written by Canadian poet-singer Leonard Cohen, and was originally released on his album Various Positions (1984). Achieving little initial success, the song found greater popular acclaim through a recording by John Cale, which inspired a recording by Jeff Buckley. It is considered as the ‘baseline’ of secular hymns. Cohen wrote around 80 draft verses for “Hallelujah”, with one writing session at the Royalton Hotel in New York where he was reduced to sitting on the floor in his underwear, banging his head on the floor.

“His original version, as recorded on his Various Positions album, contains several biblical references, most notably evoking the stories of Samson and treacherous Delilah from the Book of Judges. Following his original 1984 studio-album version, Cohen performed the original song on his world tour in 1985, but live performances during his 1988 and 1993 tours almost invariably contained a quite different set of lyrics, with only the last verse being common to the two versions. Numerous singers mix lyrics from both versions, and occasionally make direct lyric changes; for example, in place of Cohen’s ‘holy dove’, Canadian-American singer Rufus Wainwright substituted ‘holy dark’, while Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe sang ‘Holy ghost’.

“The Welsh singer-songwriter John Cale, the first person to record a cover version of the song (in 1991 for the Leonard Cohen tribute album, I’m Your Fan), promoted a message of ‘soberness and sincerity’ in contrast to Cohen’s dispassionate tone. Cale remembers watching Cohen perform the song and then asking Cohen to send him the lyrics. Cohen then faxed Cale fifteen pages of lyrics. Cale claims that he ‘went through and just picked out the cheeky verses.’

“The cover by Jeff Buckley, one of the most acclaimed versions of ‘Hallelujah’, is more sorrowful and was described by Buckley as ‘a hallelujah to the orgasm.’ Buckley recorded the song for his only complete album, Grace, in 1994. It was posthumously released as a single in 2007, ten years after Buckley’s death. His recording was ranked #259 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In July 2009, the Buckley track was ranked number three on the 2009 Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time, a listener poll held every decade by the Australian radio station Triple J; In 2017, The International Observer named Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ the greatest song of all time. In 2014, 2014, it was announced that Buckley’s version of the song will be inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

“In 2006, the Norwegian quartet of Espen Lind, Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes and Askil Holm released a cover of the song. Their cover reached #1 in January 2007, and remained listed on the Norwegian Top-20 for 37 (non-consecutive) weeks between 2006 and 2007.

“On 22 January 2010, American musicians Justin Timberlake, Matt Morris, and Charlie Sexton performed a live cover version of ‘Hallelujah’ during the Hope for Haiti Now telethon in support of those affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A recorded version was released the following day on the Hope for Haiti Now soundtrack album and reached a peak of #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“Bob Dylan was among the first to perform Cohen’s song in concert with his earliest noted performance being in Montreal on 8 July 1988. Other notable singers who have covered ‘Hallelujah’ include Brandi Carlile, Regina Spektor, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, Tim Minchin, Alter Bridge, (Myles Kennedy), and Bono. Bono’s version, which is mostly spoken, was included in Tower of Song, an all-star tribute to Cohen in 1995.

“Statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Canadian Recording Industry Association, the Australian Recording Industry Association, and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, show that, by late 2008, more than five million copies of the song sold in CD format. ‘Hallelujah’ has been the subject of a BBC Radio documentary and been in the soundtracks of numerous films and television programs. Different interpretations of the song may include different verses, out of the over 80 verses Cohen originally wrote.”

John Cale, “Hallelujah” (1991):

Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah” (1994):

Allison Crowe, “Hallelujah” (2003):

k.d. lang, “Hallelujah” live performance @ 2005 Juno Awards (2004):

Epsen Lind, “Hallelujah” (2006):

Rufus Wainwright, “Hallelujah” (2007):

Alexandra Burke, “Hallelujah” (2008):

Justin Timberlake & Matt Morris, “Hallelujah” live TV performance (2010):

Pentatonix, “Hallelujah” (2016):

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