There are millions of songs out there. Some are good and some aren't so good. Yet, with as many songs that exist and the amount of new songs being written every day you'd think people's knowledge and recall of them would be vast to the point of discombobulating. Apparently not so. In this society, when it comes to determining one's hierarchy of needs, music is treated as an afterthought, an addendum and audible wallpaper.
Most people have a mental reserve of only a few thousand songs culled from childhood, teenage years into adulthood and even that's fleeting at best. It strikes me as strange the musical disconnect people have on a personal level despite music intruding on our personal space everyday in shopping malls, sports stadiums, doctor's offices, television commercials, on telephones and elevators. On second thought, it's most likely backlash because of it.
And through it all, like sperm breaking into the inner sanctum, some songs have an odd resoluteness that crashes through racial, class and generational barriers destined to live in our psyches forever. Trust me, even the darkest most evil black metalhead, if held at gunpoint, will be able to stumble through a half-sung version of USA For Africa's "We Are The World" or Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time."
Conversely, the most down hip-hop head, if faced with being waterboarded, will be able to sing the chorus of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Enter Sandman" like it was "Happy Birthday." Some of these songs, however beloved initially, upon admission into the pop culture milieu will gradually become disliked due to excessive rotation. There was a time, long long ago, when Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" sounded great. Sadly, those days are long behind us and the song has shrivelled up into an 8 minute dirge of time wastage.
As the days roll by, and more treasured songs become reviled with their unwelcomed anointment into our lives, I find myself zeroing in on certain songs with abhorrence while allowing others a pass. Maybe I don't mind hearing Rihanna's "Umbrella" song because I think she's hot and it's still fairly new but the recent rediscovery and exhumation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" should cease and desist immediately.
I'll admit I love the song, or should I say "loved" the song. As much as Cohen wrote it, John Cale's version is the beautiful template from which Jeff Buckley parroted to perfection on his superb 1994 album, "Grace", a scant 10 years after Cohen's recording. I have yet to hear a version of "Hallelujah" that bests it and trust me, everyone and their grandmother have been falling over themselves almost desperate to show the world they can sing it too.
Everyone from Bon Jovi, Axel Rudi Pell, Bono, Tangerine Dream, Willie Nelson, K.D. Lang to even Adam Sandler have performed and/or recorded it. There are hundreds more who've taken their stab at it and it always sucks balls to me. Slowly, as each new take on "Hallelujah" has hit my ears, my initial fondness for the song has devolved into absolute loathing.
After Buckley did it back in 1994, covers of "Hallelujah" should've stopped (just like George Lucas should've after Episode 6). However, we're talking about the music biz, a hollowed out juggernaut that thrives on redundancy, or "heavy rotation" as its been coined. Whether it's repeating the same catchy chorus in a song over and over again, signing bands/singers that ape the popular version, or hearing your once-favourite song on the radio a million times over, popular music has been streamlined to deaden your insides.
For the singer, I understand the song's appeal. In our secular world, it's the closest to being a religious hymn, something a lot of people quietly yearn for, whether they realize it or not. Usually sung at a high register in hushed tones, this song about a man's struggle with himself/God/partner/love/lust etc., endows the singer with an angelic, ecclesiastical stature upon delivery. It almost demands reverence from an audience, even after horrible renditions. So, it makes sense its appeal to the parade of soulless, attention-starved egos lurking in the Rock N' Roll biz is unparalleled.
Just like Cale so resourcefully unearthed this buried song from the depths, so should someone else pick up the gauntlet and troll the vast library of songs out there to liberate another gem to the forefront. And then it too might grow to become a celebrated tune synonymous with revulsion and nausea. Anything to stop the endless procession of gimp-like "Hallelujah" covers.
Never will it be more appropriate to utter the title of the song out loud then on the day the final "Hallelujah" cover is sung. "Hallelujah!" I will shout from the highest mountain, "My ears can stop bleeding and I can now take the forks out of my eyes."
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