The sad news broke Thursday evening that legendary poet and musician Leonard Cohen passed away earlier this week. The Poet Laureate of Pessimism was 82 years old and had just released his latest record several weeks ago.
While Cohen never achieved the mass commercial success of his poet-musician contemporaries like Bob Dylan, he remains one of the greatest lyricists and songwriters to emerge in the twentieth century—and his influential works continued late into his life. Perhaps his most famous work was “Hallelujah,” a song released in 1984 that was largely ignored for a decade until artists like Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and John Cale covered it and catapulted it to international fame.
Jeff Buckley once described it as a “hallelujah to the orgasm,” and folk-jazz singer Allison Crowe called it a “very sexual” song. And yet the song has gone from an erotic poem about love and spirituality to a modern standard used in often elegaic settings: it has appeared in kids movies, teen TV dramas, and police procedural shows; used for countless American Idol, X Factor, and The Voice auditions; covered by artists as diverse as Celine Dion to Adam Sandler; and adapted for use in churches, Orthodox synagogues, and memorial services; and performed before Pope Francis by both a choir of children and pop-star Jennifer Hudson.
Listen below for just a brief glimpse at the diverse range of covers and renditions of this classic song: