Read the inside story of the writing and recording of Leonard Cohen's oft-covered masterpiece "Hallelujah. Bob Dylan was one of the first to recognize its brilliance, playing it at a couple of shows in This excerpt was originally published in December A group of musicians from Tulsa provided the backbone of the arrangements. Sid McGinnis — who joined the band at Late Night with David Letterman that same year and has remained with the show ever since, in addition to recording with the likes of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Dire Straits — provided additional guitar parts. Lissauer, a Yale graduate who has gone on to a successful career scoring films, beamed when he spoke of these sessions that took place almost thirty years earlier. Seated in the larger of the two studio rooms he operates from his thirty-five-acre farm about an hour north of Manhattan, he described working on Various Positions as pure pleasure. There were no roadblocks, no disasters; it was great start to finish — it was high art, it was just thrilling. Each verse ends with the word that gives the song its title, which is then repeated four times, giving the song its signature prayer-like incantation. The word hallelujah has slightly different implications in the Old and New Testaments.
David Cheal. He was spending much of his time with his children in the south of France, but eventually a collection of songs came together. When Cohen took the album to his record company, Columbia, the suits were not impressed, judging that the album was not good enough to merit release in the US. So in Cohen released it through the independent label, Passport. It met with little acclaim.
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He was the elder statesman of a trio of iconic male North American singer-songwriters that included Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. Their singing was the flip side to the American Dream, a jarring contrast to the seductively beautiful voices of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, each using an idiosyncratic vocal tone to channel the anger, joy and pain of their songs. This may account for the way the song has gradually seeped into the public consciousness. The recording was picked up to be used in the film Shrek , starting a long sequence of placements in movies and TV shows. But the most critically acclaimed version was recorded in by the late American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley on his album Grace. In the greatest songs there is a combination of lyric, melody, rhythm and harmony that come together in an alchemic fusion of craft, inspiration and perspiration. Cohen is one of the great songwriters and wrote as many as 80 verses of Hallelujah before cutting it down to a final four. That commitment to the craft is evident in the melodic construction, which is as organised as a Mozart melody or Miles Davis improvisation.
Pop standards don't really get written anymore. Most of the best-known standards were composed before the arrival of rock and roll; perhaps something about the new brand of mass-marketed, Ed Sullivan-fueled stardom just didn't quite jive with the generous old-world tradition of passing songs around the circuit, offering to share. So when an obscure Leonard Cohen song from was resurrected in the '90s, then repurposed and reinvented by other artists so many times it became a latter-day secular hymn—well, that was kind of like a pop-music unicorn sighting. Alan Light's new book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" traces the bizarre cultural history of that very unicorn: "Hallelujah," a song that lay dormant in Cohen's vast repertoire for more than a decade before its popularity surged up again with a posthumous Jeff Buckley single. Light reverentially details every stage in the evolution—and along the way, he reveals the compelling stories behind some of its most iconic interpretations. Leonard Cohen's original appeared in as the first track on the second side of his album Various Positions. Though he'd composed some 80 verses over the course of five years or so, according to Light, he whittled the song down to four for the final studio recording. Cohen has always been ambiguous about what his "Hallelujah," with its sexual scenery and its religious symbolism, truly "meant.