Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas #1

So I was watching CBC News last night and a story popped up that Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" is the Christmas #1 in the United Kingdom. It's also #2 and #36.


I first heard about the particularly big deal it is to have the #1 song at Christmas from the movie Love Actually. It's the song that sells the most copies during Christmas week. And this year, a version sung by Alexandra Burke, is the #1 song.

Here's the problem. Her version of the song is monstrous. And while there are songs I frequently don't like, I don't drag out words like that except for special circumstances. And this is a special circumstance. Burke is the winner of the X-Factor competition in the UK - basically the same thing as American Idol. It even has Simon Cowell involved in it. I'm not a fan of these shows to begin with. Geoff Meeker, media columnist with the Telegram, asked me to write a few words about the recent "death" (please God let it be permanent) of Canadian Idol which you can read here, if you wish.

But this is evil. I reserve those words only for covers of songs that never should have been made. You know, like Madonna's version of "American Pie". This, this is just....she has back-up dancers in the video, for Christ's sake. For "Hallelujah". There should be no back-up dancers for a video of this song. I mean, just watch this thing and tell me you don't want to physically harm every one in the production of it.

So amidst this Christmas despair, is there any good news? Well, several actually. First, enough people in the UK shared my horror over the popularity of this song and tried to get other version to chart. And so it was that Jeff Buckley's classic cover of the song made it to #2. And in a nice twist Leonard Cohen's original also charted, making it as high as #36.

So there is some hope for taste, I guess.

But Cohen is the real winner. Because while Burke might get the fame and glory of a Christmas #1, Cohen actually owns the rights to the song, so he gets most of the money (or so I thought. This story makes me wonder). Which does put a bit of a smile on my face. And it is nice to see Cohen reach a new, younger audience at this stage in his life. And the English as just fascinated by this strangeness, with no shortage of articles about the song. Here's one of the better ones.

I just wish it was a better version of the song. I mean, if you have to listen to a young woman wailing away at that song, may I humbly suggest Allison Crowe's stellar version of the song instead?

Last Five
1. Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen*
2. Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
3. Hallelujah - Allison Crowe
4. Hallelujah - John Cale
5. Hallelujah - Rufus Wainwright


Adam Snider said...

OK, the Alexandra Burke version has got to be one of the worst version of "Hallelujah" I've ever heard, but the video is what truly makes it awful. With that video, she's managed to turn one of the greatest songs EVER into some kind of weird ballad about her winning X-Factor.

I find that far more annoying than the sub-par performance of the song.

Jackie S. Quire said...

I agree, the song... well.... her performance of it isn't the BEST I've ever heard, but then I could HARDLY do any better.

But sweet mother of god, that video is just... *shudder.

My favourite part I think was the hug between she and who I can only assume was her main competition.

Chick looks piiiissssed.

Also, the best line "you don't really care fer mewsik do yah?" Ick.

Finally, I do like that Allison Crowe version

Dale Kirby said...

I think the Wainwright version is the best of them.

Megan said...

If this was payback for the Hoff picture, I owe you some change.

Tracey said...

I've listened to them all except for John Cale because I couldn't find it but I agree with Dale and say the best is Rufus Wainwright. Though if I had to choose a female, it would definitely be Allison Crowe.

SRD said...

hey! I pointed this out in a comment on your christmas songs post..only i didn't realise that it was an ancient post. thought it had gone up yesterday. anyway, great minds and all that....

towniebastard said...

Megan, the damage some of the Hoff stuff I've seen on your site has scarred my soul, so I think I still owe you quite a bit.

Tracey, funny but Cathy was saying that the song just doesn't sound right to her when sung by a woman. That it needs to be a man and, ideally, played on piano. Which is why she prefers the Wainwright version.

SRD, yeah, I know. I figured you would catch up sooner or later. You are quite bright after all...;)

Fawn said...

Sorry, but while I agree that the video is stupid, I think she does a great job of interpreting the song. She has a strong and well-controlled voice. As for singing "do ya" instead of "do you", that's how I sing it, too (though less blatantly) since that's the only way it rhymes with its paired line: "Hallelujah".

Allison Crowe has far too much vibrato in her voice for my taste. She does a nice job on the piano though it's not a very difficult accompaniment. I do prefer it the piano to the electric guitar. As for the video...the way she stares off into space and never looks at her hands OR the camera, it's kinda creepy, to be honest.

The best female interpretation of the song, goes to k.d. lang. Now THERE's a voice.

Incindentally, Cohen apparently wrote about 80 verses for the song, so female artists could easily choose different lyrics if thet wanted to. The original version released by Cohen was more liturgical and far less sexual.

Adam Snider said...

I'm with Fawn, at least as far as the "do ya" bit. I thought it was odd that Jackie criticized that, especially considering that's the way that Cohen himself sings it.

In the original version of the song, it is "do ya" not "do you."

Then again, is it really worth picking on such minor points? Probably not, even though I just did.

Adrian said...

Although this is a pre-Christmas post, and we're now into New Years - I can't think of a more appropriate place to let you know of the intersecton of Allison Crowe and The Watchmen - for which you also express appreciation.

Entertainment Weekly has an item on the Watchmen movie's director/producer team of Zack and Deborah Snyder launching a website for their own production company.

In the Lounge of Cruel and Unusual Films, the Snyders list the the movies, books and music they're digging. Right now, they're grooving to the Jimi Hendrix version of "All Along the Watchtower" and Allison Crowe's Hallelujah.

As for comparing singers or intepretations, it's all individual taste. Allison's the greatest singer I've experienced in thirty-plus years of concert-going. Still, everyone has their own style and sound to which they're attuned. Whatever moves you, it's a good thing. And Leonard Cohen's song, "Hallelujah", is especially remarkable and enriching for being open to very different voices and approaches.