I am becoming increasingly amused and irritated – in roughly equal parts – by the number of people who seem to think Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah" is some kind of religious hymn, and particularly suitable for Christmas.
Most recently, this has been evidenced by all the contestants of the X-Factor performing it, with the idea that the winner would release it as a "certain" Christmas Number One. However, at the moment, it seems that X-Factor’s winner Alexandra Burke may be edged out by campaigns to promote Cohen’s original, or the extremely popular Jeff Buckley interpretation.
But it is not just the X-Factor. I have heard this song twice elsewhere on TV, performed in a "classical" fashion, the mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins has included Hallelujah as a track on her album "Sacred Arias" (alongside songs such as "The Lord is My Shepherd", "Ave Maria" and "Pie Jesu"), and I heard it the other weekend being sung by a choir (which included children) in Peterborough town centre.
For pity’s sake, what on earth are they thinking of? Haven’t they ever considered the words they are singing (or not singing, in the case of some of the more bowdlerised versions)?
Both Cohen’s, Buckley’s and John Cale’s version make it fairly clear that this is not a song about religion. Despite the title, the many biblical references and the repeated Hallelujahs of the chorus, this is a song about the act of sex; which draws a comparison of the height of physical passion with prayer. In fact, Buckley called his interpretation of the song as an homage to "the hallelujah of the orgasm".
I don’t see how anyone could miss this:
"well there was a time when you let me know
what’s really going on below
but now you never show that to me do you
but remember when i moved in you
and the holy dove was moving too
and every breath we drew was hallelujah"