How Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah Slowly Became Popular
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Music
Written over 5 years with over 80 verses by Canadian Jew Leonard Cohen:
Curated down to 4 verses that appeared on an obscure 1984 album the record company didn't want to release:
1984 was dominated by Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna so the song went mostly unnoticed.
In 1991 Welsh singer John Cale recorded the version of the song we now know, for a tribute album.
It was heard by then-unknown singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley while cat sitting for a friend in Brooklyn in 1992:
He recorded it for his debut album Grace in 1994:
Grace was a critical hit but went mostly unnoticed by the mainstream until 1997 when Jeff Buckley mysteriously died, drowning in the Mississippi River.
As people discovered Grace they discovered his version of Hallelujah.
Hallelujah began getting featured in movies like Basquiat and the TV commercial for eToys in 1999.
U2 recorded an awful version of the song that even Bono admits stinks.
The makers of Shrek in 1999 had heard the song in Basquiat and decided to use the John Cale version in a critical scene:
They expected the studio to replace the song, but they didn't.
This took the song mainstream as six year olds were now singing the song.
The Shrek soundtrack featured the Rufus Wainwright version due to label loyalty.
In 2001, Scrubs soundtrack featured the John Cale version too.
The Jeff Buckley version spread slowly and more artists covered it.
The Imogen Heap version was featured in the third season finale of The OC in 2006:
That's when the song finally hit the music charts. It didn't hit #1 until two years later.
The song slowly built a fan base and exploded in 2008 thanks to American Idol:
Buckley's version was not an instant hit, nor did Buckley live to see the full measure of the reception his recording would ultimately have; he died in 1997. The album on which it appeared did not go Gold in the U.S. until 2002, nine years after its release. In fact, like Cohen's original, the Buckley version was not released as a single, until much later, and it didn't chart until 2006, posthumously for Buckley. In March of that year, Buckley had his first national Top 10 bestseller when "Hallelujah" was number seven in Norway. In 2007 it made the top 3 on the Swedish charts. In March 2008 it topped Billboard's Hot Digital Songs in the U.S. after a performance of the song by Jason Castro in the seventh season of American Idol. The sudden resurgence of interest provided both Gold and Platinum status, the RIAA certifying the digital track on 22 April 2008. It has sold 1,144,000 digital copies in the US as of May 2010.
The Jason Castro version from March 2008:
By 2010 Hallelujah was thriving.
Justin Timberlake recorded a poignant version for MTV Hope for Haiti: