“Hallelujah” began its improbable journey in 1984 when Cohen — a legend among the musical literati for such songs as “Suzanne,” “Bird On A Wire” and “Famous Blue Raincoat,” but still a relatively obscure poet turned folk musician — was about to turn 50. He pored over the words to the song for many years, filling two notebooks, writing more than 80 verses and recording two versions with almost completely different lyrics. When “Hallelujah” was finished, his record company, Columbia, turned down the album it was to be featured on, Various Positions. The album was subsequently released in 1985 on the indie label PVC Records.
In the nearly three decades since, the song has become a modern-day hymn, played everywhere from ground zero, the Vatican and the Super Bowl to earthquake and hurricane relief benefits and memorial montages at awards shows. The song, which is also broadcast at 2 a.m. every Saturday night by the Israeli Defense Force’s radio channel, has even inspired the bookThe Holy Or The Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley And The Unlikely Ascent Of Hallelujah, authored by Alan Light, former editor in chief of Vibe and Spin.