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Love is not a victory march

Cover versions are often disappointing, particularly when the original is gorgeous, evocative, and iconic. Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah” is a perfect example of this. It’s been covered countless times, but rarely do the covers come anywhere close to the beauty of the original. The one exception, I’d say, is John Cale‘s version. It works for three reasons: 1) Cale’s voice, which is similar to Cohen’s, but also distinctively lovely on its own, 2) the string section, and 3) Cale’s lyrical changes and additions, which are adapted from various lyrics that Cohen uses during live performances of the song. My favorite additions are: “I’ve seen your flag on the Marble Arch/Love is not a victory march/It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah” and “Maybe there’s a God above/But all I ever learned from love/Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you”. So very lovely:


  1. this was my first “hallelujah” and is still my favorite.

    September 10, 2011
    • It’s so beautiful. & Until recently, I hadn’t realized just how often it’s used in television shows. It seems to be the go-to version of “Hallelujah” for t.v.

      September 10, 2011
  2. That’s a great version. I’m also a big fan of Jeff Buckley’s rendition, the simple instrumentation and intimacy of the song has its own charm. It also has a certain poignancy since it only really became popular after the singers death in 1997.

    September 10, 2011
  3. I was about to say, “thank you for not mentioning the beat-to-death Buckley version,” and then the previous comment appeared. Ah well.

    September 11, 2011
  4. Great song. I’m another one who prefers the Buckley version.

    September 11, 2011
  5. I’ve never heard of John Cale, but I really love this performance. His voice is just gorgeous, and the string accompaniment is sumptious. How do you post YouTube videos here? (not that I want to spam the joint up or anything!)

    September 11, 2011
    • John Cale is great & his work with the Velvet Underground and his solo stuff are both fantastic. And omg, I know- this performance is amazing. I snagged the .mp3 from this video so I could have it in iTunes.

      & Feel free to post any YT videos you’d like. I’ve never posted one in the comments section before, but I’m going to give it a try here. As far as I know, you just paste the YT url on its own line, making sure there’s a break between your comment’s text and the line that contains the video’s url. If this video embeds, then you’ll know that works. Anyway, here’s one of my favorite John Cale songs, “Cleo”. It’s just so fun & pretty:

      September 12, 2011
    • I’m definitely going to have to check out more of John Cale’s stuff- I’ve only heard two of his songs and I really like them both! And he looks pretty darn cool at 2:11 in the “Cleo” vid. :)

      OK- here goes nothing. This is a cover of my favourite Marty Robbins song, “Big Iron”. It’s performed by the 90s alternative band The Meat Puppets, and I think that it’s a splendid version of an old country song.

      September 12, 2011
      • Ooh that’s awesome. I used to dig them back in the day (I’m old :) )

        September 12, 2011
  6. Andrew B. #

    Terrifically sorry to deviate from the singer-songwriter theme, but I’ve listened to this tune about thirty times in a row, so I have to share it. The lyrics cover a variety of topics, ranging from how to dance, what to tell the DJ, what you can do with my love, and what aircraft to imitate while dancing.

    September 15, 2011
    • Ha! I love that damn song. I have it on my i-Pod. Super-duper catchy stuff.

      September 16, 2011
  7. Yes! I completely favor the John Cale version and the added lines are the best part of the whole song as far as I go.

    September 23, 2011
  8. I I don’t know if Cale added the lyrics but Cohen has used those lines in a magnificent performance .

    September 24, 2011
  9. Cale knew Cohen. Cohen had a crush on Nico, singer for the VG. While he was living at the Chelsea, Cohen was a frequent audience member. Lou Reed fawned all over Cohen, Cohen started sitting with Cale because Reed was arguing with Cale at this point, it kept him away.

    September 26, 2011
    • That’s fascinating stuff- I hadn’t heard most of it before. Thanks for sharing!

      September 28, 2011
  10. I’d have to say that beyond Cohen’s live performance, my favorite one is Allison Crowe.

    September 27, 2011

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