Justin Timberlake Video: Hallelujah

********
Listening to the words of “Hallelujah”, I realized that, although it contains biblical references, it’s not really a religious (i.e. Christian) song . . . but it IS spiritual.  It’s a secular song pointing out that not all things praiseworthy come from God.  There are many sources for Hallelujahs.  With a little research, I found this quote from Leonard Cohen (the songwriter):

“Hallelujah is a Hebrew word which means ‘Glory to the Lord.’ The song explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs do exist. I say: All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value. It’s a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion.”

Timberlake told MTV News that when he was asked to perform on the Hope for Haiti Now telethon, he knew exactly what song he was going to perform. “It’s always been one of my favorite songs,” Timberlake said. “And my artist Matt, we always kinda sing that song when we’re messing around in the studio with ideas. The way that it’s written can be interpreted many different ways,” he added. “But the emotion that comes through – the chords, the melody and also what’s being said in the song – it just kind of fit for the telethon.”

Timberlake’s version marked the first time this song entered the Top 40 of the US singles chart. The only previous time “Hallelujah” reached the Hot 100 was in May 2008 when Kate Voegele spent one week at #68 with her cover.

Below is some of the history associated with this great song and then, finally, the lyrics to the original version of Hallelujah.

From Wikipedia:

Hallelujah” is a song written by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, originally released on his studio album Various Positions (1984). Achieving little initial success, the song found greater popular acclaim through a cover by John Cale, which later formed the basis for a cover by Jeff Buckley. In recent years several cover versions have been performed by a large number and broad range of artists, both in recordings and in concert. The song has also seen significant use in film and television soundtracks, as well as televised talent contests such as The X Factor.

Musical composition and lyrical interpretation

Cohen’s original version contains several biblical references, most notably evoking the stories of Samson and traitorous Delilah from the Book of Judges as well as the adulterous King David and Bathsheba:[2] “she cut your hair” and “you saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you”.[1]“Hallelujah”, in its original version, is a song in “12/8 feel”, which evokes the styles of both waltz and gospel music. Written in the key of C major, the chord progression follows the lyric “it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift“: C, F, G, A minor, F.[1]

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 artists mix lyrics from both versions, and occasionally make direct lyric changes, such as Rufus Wainwright, a Canadian-American singer, substituting “holy dark” and Allison Crowe, a Canadian singer-songwriter, substituting “Holy Ghost” for “holy dove”.

Cohen’s lyrical poetry and his view that “many different hallelujahs exist” is reflected in wide-ranging covers with very different intents or tones of speech, allowing the song to be “melancholic, fragile, uplifting [or] joyous” depending on the performer:[1]The Welsh singer-songwriter John Cale, the first person to record a cover version of the song in 1991, promoted a message of “soberness and sincerity” in contrast to Cohen’s dispassionate tone;[1] The cover by Jeff Buckley, an American singer-songwriter, is more sorrowful and was described by Buckley as “a hallelujah to the orgasm”;[1][3] Crowe interpreted the song as a “very sexual” composition that discussed relationships;[1] Wainwright offered a “purifying and almost liturgical” interpretation to the song;[1] and Guy Garvey of the British band Elbow anthropomorphised the hallelujah as a “stately creature” and incorporated his religious interpretation of the song into his band’s recordings.[1]

 

The information below is excerpted from Songfacts.com.

The song is about love which has soured and gone stale. Cohen used a lot of religious imagery, including references to some of the more notorious women in the bible. Here’s some lyrical analysis:

“You saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you” – Bathsheba, who tempted the king to kill her husband so he could have her.

“She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair” – Delilah, who cut off Sampson’s locks that held his superhuman strength.

“But remember when I moved in you and the holy dove was moving too” – This could be a reference to the divine conception and Mary.  It’s turned sexual with “And every breath we drew was hallelujah.”

Regarding the line, “The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift,” to which the chords played are: F – G – Am – F:  It is clever the way that not only the chords line up in the lyrics and in the music, but also because the connotations themselves of “major” and “minor” add to the meaning of the song. The “fourth” is a major chord based on the fourth of the key Buckley is playing in. Likewise the fifth is the major chord based on the fifth tone of the key. The “Minor Fall” corresponds to Buckley playing a minor chord based on the sixth of the key. “Major Lift” corresponds to playing the major chord on the fourth again.

The Bible makes reference to King David communing with the Lord and learning that certain types of music were more pleasing. The chords mentioned in the lyrics (that “David played and it pleased the lord) are often used in hymns.

Leonard Cohen sang this to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, they sat down at a cafe and traded lyrics. Bob especially liked the last verse. Dylan himself has performed this live, and there are bootleg versions in circulation of his version of this song. (thanks, Daniel – Nova Scotia,Canada)

Cohen started work on this song five years prior to recording it on his 1984 Various Positions album, by which time he had 80 verses to choose from.

Buckley started covering this after he became inspired by John Cale’s version off his 1992 album Fragments Of A Rainy Season. Cale shaped his own interpretation after Cohen faxed him 15 pages of lyrics for this song. He claimed that he “went through and just picked out the cheeky verses.” Buckley referred to his sensuous rendition as a homage to “the hallelujah of the orgasm.” He explained in a Dutch magazine OOR: “Whoever listens carefully to ‘Hallelujah’ will discover that it is a song about sex, about love, about life on earth. The hallelujah is not a homage to a worshipped person, idol or god, but the hallelujah of the orgasm. It’s an ode to life and love.” Buckley also admitted to having misgivings about his sensual version and he hoped that Cohen wouldn’t get to hear his version.

 

“Hallelujah”

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

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

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, 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

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah


 

The following text was taken from leonardcohenforum.com. I was written by ‘Actaion’ and edited by me.

These are the original lyrics from the album, ‘Various Positions’ (1984):

O1
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

O2
Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

O3
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

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

O4
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

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Ten years later, Cohen published an almost completely changed version on his album, ‘Live Songs’ (1994)

N1
Baby I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

N2
There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

N3
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s no complaint you hear tonight
It’s not some pilgrim who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a lonely(/broken )Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

N4 (same as O4)
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

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

So only the last of the four verses stayed the same. The additional verses had already been published, the prior year, in the book, ‘Stranger Music’ (1993).

Strangely enough, a few years before Cohen published ‘Stranger Music’, John Cale presented a cover version on the tribute album, ‘I’m Your Fan’ (1991), which included some of the newer verses.

Cales version contained the following five verses: A1, A2, N1, N2, N3. He also changed the melody of the first two lines slightly.

Jeff Buckley adopted Cales version on his album, ‘Grace’ (1994). His version is one of the most famous and adored versions today.

The song reached a broader audience when featured on the soundtrack of the popular animation movie, ‘Shrek’. The song, sung by Cale, was played in the film for quite a long time, and in the foreground, featuring the verses O1, N1 and N3. Oddly enough, Cale’s version was used in the film but it was Rufus Wainwright’s version (using the same 5 verses Cale selected) recorded on the soundtrack album.

Thanks to Shrek, Hallelujah became more popular than ever. Today it seems to be an obligatory song for any contender to win American Idol.

Some facts strike me as noteworthy:

  • Nearly every cover version is based on the mixture of verses introduced by John Cale. Apart from those already mentioned, Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crowe and Allison Crowe stuck to those same 5 verses.
  • K.D. Lang’s version omitted N2 on her studio version and N3 on live version.
  • Hardly anybody uses any version recorded by Cohen himself (the German group, ‘Wir sind Helden’ is the only exception I can think of: and even then it ‘s only true for the lyrics – the melody is closer to Cale’s version). Bono uses Cohen’s original album lyrics but with N3 added.
  • Cohen himself made use of all seven verses during his 2008 tour but usually omitted 1 verse to even out each performance to 6 verses. His most used version was: O1, O2, N3/O3, N1, N2, O4/N4
  • Mainstream covers usually cut the verses N1 and N2 to give it a standard playing time, leaving only three verses (O1, O2, N3 – N2 is usually omitted because of its more explicit lyrics).
  • Verse O4/N4 are the only ones to appear in both of Leonard’s published versions – yet are also the only ones which never show up in cover version!

 

One thought on “Justin Timberlake Video: Hallelujah”

Leave a Reply