It’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to the lyrics of “Hallelujah.” Cohen himself famously said that he wrote hundreds of verses for the song and that he was reduced to bashing his head against the floor while writing them. Even more confusing is that the artists who have done the numerous covers have changed the lyrics, used different versions, and even made up their own stanzas. Ostensibly, Cohen said that the song was about things that couldn’t be reconciled and that the word “Hallelujah” was about the times that, through some miracle, the things that couldn’t be reconciled were.
The Relationship Angle
One of the common themes of the song, no matter the version, is that relationships in Cohen’s world were adversarial instead of cooperative. The line, “No, it’s a cold and very broken ‘Hallelujah,'” is quite depressing on the surface, and it’s not a happy line by any stretch of the imagination, but Cohen said that it was actually a caution against being that way in a relationship. Cohen’s despair at the relationships of his life must have brought him to a crisis of faith when he sings, “Well, maybe there’s a God above, …” in a song full of Biblical references, including King David playing his harp and Samson and Delilah.
Does He Even Like His Own Song?
Cohen released the song in 1984 after many tries with various record companies. According to him, Columbia said that, “We know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.” It must have been a bitter pill, indeed, when John Cale released a cover in 1991 that overshadowed Cohen’s own performances. Still, even with that vicarious popularity, the song didn’t reach the Billboard 100 until Cohen was dead. Cohen once said that he thought it was a good song, and that he liked the song, but he was tired of other people singing it. He meant not just the cover artists but everyone who sang it. But, in a confusing line from the same interview, he also said that he, “… was always happy when someone did one of my songs.”
Because the song has been covered by so many others, and because of its Renaissance after Cohen’s death, it has appeared in a great many television programs and films. Several reality show contestants on “The Masked Singer” and “American Idol” have sung it, and it’s been a staple for dramatic situations in both police procedurals like “Cold Case” and medical dramas like “ER.”
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you dont really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor falls, the major lifts
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Well, maybe there’s a God above
As for me all I’ve ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
But it’s not a crime that you’re hear tonight
It’s not some pilgrim who claims to have seen the Light
No, it’s a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah
Well people I’ve been here before
I know this room and I’ve walked this floor
You see I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
But listen love, love is not some kind of victory march, no
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And I remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove she was moving too
And every single breath we drew was Hallelujah
Now I’ve done my best, I know it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didnt come here to London just to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song
With nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Songwriters: Leo Robin / Pete King / Vincent Youmans / Clifford Grey
Hallelujah lyrics © Leo Robin Music Co
Listeners of Rock music, might also appreciate the song purple rain by Prince.