"David played a secret chord, he played it well and it pleased the Lord. But you never cared for music, did you..."
Hallelujah has been covered more times than I feel like counting. John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainright, and K.D. Lang both have prominent covers. Cale's appeared, years after it's recording, in the animated film Shrek, though Wainright's appeard on the soundtrack due to licensing issues. Personally, my favorite is Cale's. To my taste his rather stiff and mannered recording highlights the feeling of a "broken Hallelujah" more than Buckley's more popular but more romantic version.
There's been a resurgence of interest in Hallelujah ever since it's inclusion in Shrek. The resurgence surfaced in an unlikely place a few weeks ago. Jason Castro, one of the hopeful contestants on American Idol, sang a tender and vulnerable version to the delight of the audience and judges. I was pretty impressed with the song choice. American Idol is known more for tapping into banal and easily packaged pop than for presenting edgy or deep material. Castro's performance wasn't perfect (his vocals tanked in the last moments) but respectable and his shortened version avoided some of the more challenging lyrics. But it highlighted the power of the songs images to resonate with a new generation who never heard the original or most of the covers when they were originally released.
Here are videos of Castro's performance and a live recording of Cale's. Follow the links for video's of Cohen, Buckley, Lang, and Wainright.
You can pickup the original Cohen version on the Essential Leonard Cohen, which I highly recommend. Thanks to YouTube users casezille108 and thecatkeaton for posting the videos.