In researching the history of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for this week's Gimme Noise column, I came across quite a few interesting articles and videos. Some of the videos were quite terrible, and I will spare you those, but if you are ever looking for a way to waste an entire day of work on the internet, simply go to YouTube and search "Hallelujah." You will be amazed at the results.
First and foremost, the money shot. Here's a video shot by Tony Nelson at the Molotov Lounge in Austin, Tex., featuring Romantica's "Hallelujah" cover. The intro is cut off and the camerawork is a bit shaky, but it gives you an idea of the power of Romantica's rendition. I still get chills every time I hear it:
When I went to research the song, the first article that I read was one I had stumbled on a while ago, written by Syracuse University media studies grad student Michael Barthel, about the history of "Hallelujah" in a pop culture context. Barthel specifically studies the increasing number of well-known "Hallelujah" covers and the number of times the song has been used in movies and television shows.
As part of his research, Barthel constructed this graph of the frequency of "Hallelujah" covers per year:
And then overlaid that graph with one depicting use of the song in popular television shows:
The majority of the versions used in movies and television cited in Barthel's study were by Jeff Buckley, which isn't surprising given the ultra-emotive nature of his cover and the effect that the song has on creating a mood on screen.
What these graphs don't take into account is the use of "Hallelujah" on this season's American Idol, which has once again thrust Buckley's rendition of the song into the public eye and created astronomical digital sales for the dead troubadour.
For those unfamiliar, here is a video montage from the Season 3 finale of the West Wing which employs Buckley's "Hallelujah" cover -- in my opinion, this was one of the most tasteful uses of the song on television (warning: contains graphic violence and plot spoilers):
And here's Jason Castro performing the song during the American Idol finale last week. As I mentioned in my column, it's a pretty decent cover -- nothing special, but certainly not offensive. This video is the number one search result for "Hallelujah" on YouTube:
Another favorite of mine was this cover by kd lang. I think I really just like the serious look on her face, it's very convincing. Plus, her version manages to be pretty but not sappy, which is a daunting task on this particular song.
Here's an unlikely powerful version. Performed by a Michigan State University a cappella choir as they stand in the hallway of someone's dorm, I was especially enthralled by the chorus, with all of them singing in perfect harmony. It's a strange video, but I like it. There is another video online of the same group singing their version in concert, but I like the silliness of the hallway performance. Choir boys are delightfully nerdy. Apparently, "Hallelujah" is becoming somewhat of a standard amongst today's high school and college choirs.