Meeja: December 2008 Archives

Before anyone has a pop at Alexandra Burke for murdering Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, they need to have a listen to this. It makes you wonder where the William Shatner version is and, if there isn't one, why not?

Let's face it, it's the week before Christmas so where would we be without a Christmas Number One Controversy? And the X-Factor has not let us down by spraying both cheese and saccharine over a song that does a whole lot better with just a slice of lemon.

Burke's version has offended quite a few people, including Sally Whittle, who is among the Twitterers campaigning for a Hallelujah Christmas minus the X-Factor:

"It's not like any of those X-Factor watching muppets actually cares about music, is it? So why go out of your way to offend those of us who do?

"Praise be for the Twitter tweeps and especially Emma, Anne, Jed, Badger and all those urging us to go and download Buckley's version repeatedly to keep X-Factor off the Christmas number 1 spot."

And praise be to YouTube where you can go and listen to the new and quite a lot of the old versions. At first, Burke's version seemed OK. Strip it of the baggage that goes with the X-Factor and you have a cover that isn't all bad. Whoops, thought that thought too soon. Suddenly, the producer found the Dion-a-Tron and cranked it up to 11. Burke talks grandly of updating old classics. I was instantly transported to movie blockbusters of the 1990s. And the awful vision of a single song lodged at number one for months on end appeared before me.

Then the really scary part kicked in. I had a second listen, and it didn't seem as bad. I may have got this wrong, but the soul diva warblings in the verse after the strings kick in could be a partial reference to a key part of the first verse: "a fourth, a fifth, a minor fall, a major lift". It sounds as though she drops in a fourth and a third above the root that's in the original melody. Or it could just be bog-standard soul diva warbling. But I don't think it's as blind a copy as some of the detractors think.

What really does for the song is that, courtesy of Big Production, the emphasis shifts entirely to the chorus, which wrecks the appeal of the song. In all the good versions – otherwise known as the ones I like – the chorus is always sung in a desultory way. Bob Dylan tries just about every way possible on his live version.

So it was interesting to see how people responded in the vox pop on the 6 O'Clock News. One liked the Buckley version saying it was "clear". The others seemed to prefer Burke's because it was more upbeat, more shiny.

Seriously, there's got to be some sort of musicology paper in all this that looks into the way people hear music. You have versions that, in musical terms, are pretty similar. Yet people have wildly differing opinions of the value of what they hear. It demonstrates what people get out of music, if nothing else.

Other reasons to be cheerful: Cliff Richard hasn't released a version. Not yet.

Actually, that's all the reasons.