Bob Dylan Covers Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – Montreal, 1988


Leonard Cohen Sings “Hallelujah” To Bob Dylan

It’s a rather joyous song . I like very much the last verse. I remember singin’ it to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyrics. Dylan especially liked this last verse “And even though it all went wrong, I stand before the Lord of song With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah
– Leonard Cohen, from 1985 interview published in Paroles et Musiques

Of course, no post about Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and “Hallelujah” would be complete without the anecdote, a classic in Cohen’s repertoire, about the contrast in the time required by Dylan and Cohen to compose a song. The story appears in several Cohen interviews. The following iteration is from Leonard Cohen, Los Angeles 1992, a section of “Songwriters On Songwriting” by Paul Zollo:

That [“Hallelujah”] was a song that took me [Leonard Cohen] a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praise a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]

Bob Dylan Sings “Hallelujah” To  Leonard Cohen’s Montreal

Dylan went on to be one of the first artists to cover “Hallelujah,” performing it twice in his 1988 concert tour.. When Dylan’s Never Ending Tour came to Montreal in 1988, he performed “Hallelujah.” Dylan sang it once more in Los Angeles on Aug 4, 1988.

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Montreal: July 8,  1988


Credit Due Department: Photo of Dylan playing Barcelona in 1984 by Stoned59 – originally posted to Flickr as Bob Dylan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikipedia

The Cohen-Dylan Interface

All posts about Leonard Cohen’s & Bob Dylan’s opinions of each other, their meetings, and comparisons by others can be found at

Note: Originally posted May 10, 2010 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Video: Is “Hallelujah” Pop Culture’s Most Overplayed Song?

This video by Kevin B. Lee on Fandor Keyframe—aptly named “How Pop Culture Overplayed ‘Hallelujah’ ”—compiles some of the most notable times that pop culture used all of the song’s various covers. Lee’s video was inspired by Nick Murray’s article in the New York Times titled “How Pop Culture Wore Out Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah,’ ” written as a reaction to Tori Kelly’s performance of the song during the In Memoriam sequence at the Emmy Awards in September.

Excerpted from Hallelujah Again By Madeline Raynor (Slate: 12 October 2016).

While the claim that “This Video Shows That ‘Hallelujah’ Is Pop Culture’s Most Overplayed Song” is hyperbole, the video does offer an entertaining group of versions of Hallelujah in TV and movie soundtracks.

“That’s really a catchy chorus” – John Cale Talks About His Cover Of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”


You’re well known for covering “Hallelujah” at a tempo that defined future versions of it—the pace people identify it with.
Leonard’s tempo was much slower than mine. There were 15 verses, so it took a really long time to sit through a performance with Leonard. He was always very stately with it. I took it at the speed I could make sense of the words, because really that’s what makes it in the end. Can you grab people’s attention and hold it?

How did you decide you wanted to cover his song? Was it just for the I’m Your Fan compilation?
I remember hearing it when I went to see a Dylan concert at The Beacon, and he was on in the first half and sang the song, and I thought, ‘That’s really a catchy chorus.’ I really liked it. Then I forgot about it until the people at Les Inrockuptibles called up and said they were doing an album of his stuff, and did I want to sing one of his songs? I mean, I knew all the other songs. But I had to trim down the 15 verses on this one to verses I identified with, because a lot of them are pretty religious, and I don’t have much credibility talking about religion.

From Interview: John Cale Shares His Life Story by Cassie Marketos. Self-titled Magazine: February 21st, 2013. The entire article, an intriguing read, is available at the link.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Hreinn Gudlaugsson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia

Note: Originally posted Jun 16, 2013 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Is NY Times Article On Redundancy Of Covers Of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah A Redundant Cover Of Michael Barthel’s 2007 Paper?

nyclapThe most popular Leonard Cohen-associated item on social media today is How Pop Culture Wore Out Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ by Nick Murray (New York Times: Sept. 19, 2016), Its thesis is summarized in this excerpt:

But “Hallelujah” is most familiar from film and TV, where it has soundtracked dozens of deaths and breakups, and been belted in too many singing competitions to count. Because it telegraphs emotion — both mournful and hopeful — and involves some vocal acrobatics, it has become shorthand for Big Emotional Moment and employed by performers looking to stamp themselves with authenticity. [Bolding mine]

Now, this is not the first publication positing the overuse of Hallelujah. A few examples of earlier pieces follow:

In addition, there are a batch of forum threads, tweet conversations, and book references to the phenomenon.

The original exposition of this hypothesis,1 however, is rarely mentioned.

Take a look at “It Doesn’t Matter Which You Heard”: the Curious Cultural Journey of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by Michael Barthel ( April 26, 2007).  And, compare this excerpt from Barthel’s paper with the excerpt shown above from the NY Times piece:

The way Hallelujah is being used here [in TV and movies] is the auditory equivalent of a silent film actress pressing the back of her hand to her forehead to express despair—emotional shorthand. It’s sometimes called a needledrop, and it’s an element of visual grammar that signals the mood of the scene loudly and unmistakably. [Bolding mine]

Readers will find that Barthel’s paper is more thorough and far more nuanced than the piecs that have followed (kinda like covers of Hallelujah, eh?).

And yes, this may be the first post calling for a moratorium on articles calling for a moratorium on covers of Hallelujah.


  1. OK, it’s the earliest exposition of this hypothesis as far as I know []

Video: Tori Kelly Performs Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” For Emmys 2016 “In Memoriam”

While only a 45 second segment, this video does explain why this performance last night at the Emmys has already received so many accolades.

For more information, see Emmys 2016: Watch Tori Kelly’s Touching ‘Hallelujah’ for ‘In Memoriam’ by Althea Legaspi (Rolling Stone: 18 September 2016)

Update: See full sequence at Video of Tori Kelly’s Complete Performance Of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” For Emmys 2016 “In Memoriam”