As oversimplifying as it may seem, if a songwriter can get one work to bury deep in the public consciousness, then they've done their job and followed the creative muse that drives them. Leonard Cohen had more than a few entries from his songbook take hold of listeners in a career that spanned nearly 50 years - but the one that truly passed through generations was "Hallelujah," now the centerpiece of a new career-spanning collection of Cohen's work.
Already available digitally, Hallelujah & Songs from His Albums, coming to CD and translucent blue double vinyl on October 14, is exactly what's advertised: a previously unreleased live version of that mystifying standard (recorded at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008), followed by 16 chronological selections from his songbook, from "Suzanne" - the very first song on his 1967 debut album - to the title tracks to 2016's You Want It Darker (released 17 days before Cohen's passing) and Thanks for the Dance, his final compositions issued in 2019. "Bird on the Wire," "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Who by Fire" and "I'm Your Man" are among the key selections introducing or reintroducing listeners to his poetic lyrics, at times minimalist songcraft and distinctively deep voice.
In life, Cohen found the appraisal of "Hallelujah" to be "ironic and amusing," considering its tortured history and initially indifferent response. A haunting meditation on love and sex punctuated by biblical imagery and open to considerable interpretation - including by the composer, who wrote dozens of verses and was known to perform many of them in concert - "Hallelujah" was part of Various Positions, a synth-driven album initially rejected by longtime label Columbia Records and issued in America by the independent Passport label at the start of 1985.
Cohen would come back into critical and even commercial favor as his career went on - and a strange, parallel story formed around "Hallelujah." John Cale covered it in 1991 for a tribute album to the artist, planting a seed that grew wildly over the next two decades. That cover inspired renditions by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, the latter of which was included on the soundtrack to the animated family film Shrek (2001), which featured Cale's version in the film. From there, the song would be covered by everyone from Willie Nelson to k.d. lang, American Idol contestants to a capella ensemble Pentatonix. It became a song for weddings, funerals and every valedictory moment imaginable.
If you're still wondering "but why issue this collection now," there's a chance to dive into the song's history even deeper. This month, the Tribeca Film Festival will screen a new documentary, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, which will make its way into theaters in New York and Los Angeles on July 1. The documentary is itself inspired by The Holy or The Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah," a fantastic 2012 book by music journalist Alan Light. (An expanded paperback publishes tomorrow, June 7.)
You can stream or download Hallelujah & Songs from His Albums now and pre-order the physical versions below.
Hallelujah & Songs from His Albums (Columbia/Legacy, 2022)
- Hallelujah (Live @ Glastonbury Festival, England - 6/29/2008)
- Bird on the Wire
- Famous Blue Raincoat
- Chelsea Hotel #2
- Who by Fire
- Dance Me to the End of Love
- I'm Your Man
- The Future
- In My Secret Life
- Recitation w/ N.L. (Live @ O2 Arena, London, England - 7/17/2008)
- Show Me the Place
- Come Healing
- You Got Me Singing
- You Want It Darker
- Thanks for the Dance
Track 1 previously unreleased
Track 2 from Songs of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1967)
Track 3 from Songs from a Room (Columbia, 1969)
Track 4 from Songs of Love and Hate (Columbia, 1971)
Tracks 5-6 from New Skin for the Old Ceremony (Columbia, 1974)
Track 7 from Various Positions (Passport, 1984)
Track 8 from I'm Your Man (Columbia, 1988)
Tracks 9-10 from The Future (Columbia, 1992)
Track 11 from Ten New Songs (Columbia, 2001)
Track 12 from Live in London (Columbia, 2009)
Track 13-14 from Old Ideas (Columbia, 2012)
Track 15 from Popular Problems (Columbia, 2014)
Track 16 from You Want It Darker (Columbia, 2016)
Track 17 from Thanks for the Dance (Columbia/Legacy, 2019)