51 Weeks: 51 Songs From The Past: Week 47: Pentatonix – Hallelujah

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Donna Connolly from Retirement Reflections who, this week, is in charge of Hugh’s music time machine.

Thank you to Hugh for giving me the distinct privilege of flying his Music Time Machine. After revving up the engine, I initially headed out with gusto to a time far, far away. Being a novice pilot, I tragically lost control and we’ve crashed straight into 2016!

51 weeks 51 songs from the past poster

Yet all is not lost. Here, I ‘ve serendipitously found Pentatonix, the (then) five-member a cappella group who had just released their version of Leonard Cohen’s, ‘Hallelujah’ for their album, ‘A Pentatonix Christmas’.

I know, I know. Hallelujah has been covered a gazillion times before (Jeff Buckley, k.d. Lang, Rufus Wainwright, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Brandi Carlile, Bono, Justin Timberlake/Matt Morris…to name only a few). In addition, this song has been made popular by television (think ‘The O.C.’) and film (most notably, ‘Shrek’). If you have never seen the Pentatonix’s video version, it’s not to be missed. And if you have, I’m sure that you’ll want to experience it again. Go ahead, take a peek while I attempt to put Hugh’s music time machine back together…before he notices the damages!

Incredible, right?

The original three Pentatonix members, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying, were schoolmates together in Arlington, Texas. They were later joined by Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola. Together they won the third season of NBC’s ‘The Sing-Off’.

After Sony’s Epic Records quickly dropped the group, Pentatonix formed their own YouTube channel, distributing their music through Madison Gate Records (a label owned by Sony Pictures). Their popularity soared, and they soon reached over thirteen million subscribers. In May 2017, Avi Kaplan left the group due to the demanding touring schedule.

And since Hugh always likes to include a bit of the chart history for the song that he is covering, here’s the scoop. Leonard Cohen first released Hallelujah on his 1984 album, ‘Various Positions.’ Incredibly, the album never reached the charts. Cohen’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ spent less than a week on a Billboard survey (reaching Number 7 of ‘Top Singles Sales’), until his death in November 2016. Then, sales of the original song and its many covers soared.

Timing is everything. ‘A Pentatonix Christmas’, released less than three weeks prior to Cohen’s death, hit double platinum by February 2016, becoming the highest charting holiday album by a group since 1962.

With their originality, stunning photography, and voices that meld together to bring shivers up your spine, the Pentatonix give honor to Cohen’s message that “many kinds of Hallelujahs exist, and the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”

Do you have a cherished version of Hallelujah? If so, please share a link to it in the comments.

Want to join Hugh in building up your 51 favourite songs from the past? There’s not much time left, but you can still leave a link in the comments section and showcase your next song. I look forward to meeting you there!

Bio:

Donna lived in Beijing, China for fourteen years (her excuse for not always knowing Hugh’s featured songs)! Leaving international life behind, she and her husband retired to Vancouver Island, Canada, in June 2015. To document this transition, Donna initiated ‘Retirement Reflections’. Her favorite part of blogging is the interaction with others. You can connect with Donna in the comment section below, or via the following social media sites. She would love to hear from you.

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Blogger, Writer (and time machine driver) Donna Connolly

My thanks to Donna for taking the controls of my music time machine this week. I’ll be back behind the controls next week when we’ll be stopping off in the year 2000.

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92 comments

  1. Donna, thanks for introducing me to the Pentatonix version of Hallelujah. I think my favourite cover of the song is by K. D. Lang. I especially like this version, which is quite similar to the version I have on CD: https://youtu.be/P_NpxTWbovE
    She also did a great rendition of the song at the opening ceremony for the 9lympics in Vancouver.

    Jude

    1. Hi, Jude – I have been a long-time fan of k.d. lang, and I adore her version of Hallelujah. Ultimately, the stunning photography, precise choreography and the perfectly blended voices of Pentatonix, combined with this beautiful song, is what caused me to choose the Pentatonix version for this post.
      BTW – I absolutely love that kd has chosen to go barefoot in the video that you highlighted!

  2. Sorry Donna, I can see from the other comments that i’m In a minority, but I don’t like it. l love Leonard Cohen (and saw him four times). I love Hallelujah. I even love some other people singing Hallelujah and have quite a collection of covers – but I won’t be adding this one. It seems too overwrought to me – I like the raw, simple versions.

    1. I’m totally jealous that you saw Leonard Cohen four times, Anabel. I adore the Pentatonix’s version but definitely understand that it is not for everyone.

    1. Hi, Robbie – Thanks for stopping by. Shrek did help to popularize this song even further — especially with younger audiences. I must admit, it is a bit disturbing to have young children singing Cohen’s lyrics.

    1. Thanks, Steve. I LOVED flying Hugh’s Time Machine. I felt just like a kid in a candy store! BTW – Rufus is also an excellent choice!

  3. I’m a big fan of Pentatonix and that song so when the two came together it was something to celebrate. I’ve sung that song in a quartet I used to participate in and it was fun to sing. The weird thing about the song is when you actually listen to the words and thinks about them they are somewhat nonsensical. But there is much forgiveness for the lyrics when the song resonates with your soul. Especially with the beautiful harmonies from Pentatonix.

    1. Hi, Molly – I’m with you one-hundred percent! Hallelujah + Pentatonix is a beautiful thing. I am very impressed that you are a singer (along with your many, many other talents). Me singing ‘Hallelujah’ is a version that NOBODY wants to hear! Trust me!!

      1. Haha! I started singing after my son left home – took lessons and really enjoyed them. At one time I sang in four groups – the church choir, a quartet, a community choir, and an audition-only acapella choir. It got to be too much but I still sing in the church choir and long for the day when I can return the acapella group. Almost went back this year but then realized with the book release I wouldn’t have time. I LOVE choral music. It is my favorite.

  4. I do love that song! And I’d forgotten about the Pentatonix video. Thanks for the reminder. It was great to see it again.
    I’ve got a version of Hallelujah by the Three Tenors – also superb.

    1. Hi, Pam – Yes! Hallelujah is such an emotional song. Even though the Pentatonix version is a bit brighter (and fun) it still strikes at the core. Glad that I am not alone in this song making me cry!

  5. What a spectacular rendition of this song. I’ve heard it sung many times before (and I’ve even played and sung it myself on my guitar) but I’ve never heard it sound so beautiful. Thanks Donna 💖🎧

    1. Hi, MIriam – I am so impressed that you can play this song on the guitar. You are a very talented lady!

  6. I so enjoyed this post – Donna’s humor and the music! This song is timeless and beautiful, no matter who sings it. Pentatonix did a fabulous job, but Leonard . . .well, Leonard!
    Nice to learn about Donna. (And I hope Donna gets the time machine fixed before Hugh finds out!) LOL 🙂 xxx

    1. Hi, DG. It is great to connect with another Canadian!
      About Hugh’s Time Machine…I have quietly returned it…and hope he will not notice the damages when he attempts to take off in it next week! 🙂

    1. Hi, Debbie – You are so kind!
      Now if we can just get that ’email notification’ thing fixed – we can resume our regular connection. I’ve missed that!

      1. It has truly been a ‘blast’ to have control of your Music Time Machine, Hugh. You have established a brilliant community here. I am delighted to be part of it!

    1. I’m delighted to connect with a fellow Pentatonix fan! Thanks for commenting – I greatly appreciate it.

  7. I love the song so much that over the years I’ve often switched stations or otherwise turned it off just so that I never get sick of it. I often compare Leonard Cohen’s version of this song to Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” After you hear one of them sing it, I just don’t want to hear another version. Great choice, Donna. – Marty

    1. Hi, Marty – It has been fascinating to read different people’s responses to this music video. Janis and Jill needed to turn off the visuals (which never would have occurred to me). I also would not have thought to turn off my favourite song so as not to get sick of it. For me, once I have a favourite, it is BINGE-ALL-THE-WAY! 🙂

  8. Nice to see you here, Donna. What an incredible version of the song, indeed. I had not heard of this band or seen the clip before. I don’t have living in China as an excuse, but close… 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi, Liesbet – You have even better excuses for missing out on songs, musical groups and music videos!! I’m glad that I was able to share this one with you. 🙂

  9. I love this song, Donna! Pentatonix is amazing. Their harmonies are incredible. I also love Lindsay Sterling’s violin based songs too. Perfect choice for the holiday season,my friend. I’m listening to the song as I type this comment and am just getting chills!! 🙂

    1. Hi, Terri – Thank you for letting me know about Lindsay Sterling’s violin based ‘Hallelujah’. I just checked it out on YouTube. It is so beautiful!!

  10. I love Leonard Cohen and I LOVE Hallelujah. I don’t think I could ever listen to it too many times. It gives me shivers every time.
    My favourite version would be Rufus Wainwright – although, is there a bad version?

    1. Hi, Joanne. I’m in full agreement — how could anyone not like Leonard Cohen? I also like Rufus Wainwright’s version and I cannot get enough of this song. I believe that there are some VERY BAD versions out there — but I try to avoid them so as not to ruin one of my all-time favourite songs! Thanks for stopping by here and commenting. I greatly appreciate it.

      1. Cohen was such a masterful poet. He made the brilliant decision early in his career that the best way to make money as a poet was to put his words to music. A true genius.

        I tried to introduce my youngest son to Cohen a few years ago, but he would have nothing none of it. I guess not everyone can feel the magic.

      2. I tried the exact same thing with my youngest son. I was sure that he would love Cohen. Sadly, I was proven wrong.

    1. Hi, Jill – That’s interesting about the visuals. It wasn’t me that turned them off (it was Janis, from RetirementallyChallenged). For me, the visuals on the Pentatonix video raise the whole thing to an even higher dimension. I’ll need to watch again and see if I can find what would annoy a viewer. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Hi, Ritu – I am so glad that you enjoyed it. It’s been fun reading all of the different reactions to it. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Hi, Kathy – Great comment! I fully agree. There are so many layers to this song that I discover something new every time that I listen to it (and that has been many, many times)!

    1. Hi, Lynn – I was thrilled when Hugh asked if I would take control of his time machine for this post. And I didn’t even need to beg! Incredible!!

    1. “He reaches the depths of my soul.” I absolutely adore this expression, Teagan. I love when music and art moves us in this way. Thanks so much for your comment. I greatly appreciate it.

  12. No one did this song as well as Leonard Cohen, in my humble opinion. Hallelujah is a song of longing, loss, and despair, but too many performers look at it as a way to show off their vocal talents. I enjoyed the voices of Pentatonix members (I have to admit that I had to turn the visuals off) but I’m with Richard, k.d. lang probably comes the closest to conveying the emotions of Cohen’s original intent.

    That was an interesting backstory on how the group used social media to gain fame. I had never heard of them so I appreciate the introduction.

    1. Hi, Janis – I’m so glad that you voted for Leonard. It is his song after all. Interesting how the visuals turned you off (or you turned them off). I am continually mesmerized by them. It would be fascinating to know which song version (other than his own) Cohen would have chosen as his favourite of all. Thank you for the detailed comment. I believe this kind of engagement (especially on topics that we feel passionate about) is why we blog.

      1. I would have loved to know what Leonard thought about all the various renditions (he was probably just enjoying all the royalties 🙂 ). I’m not sure why I found the visuals so annoying… maybe they seemed self-indulgent (too much focus on the singers and not on the song), and the female singer made we want to get a wet washrag and clean off her overly made-up face. I also thought it odd to put this song on a Christmas album… even more evidence that they – or their producer – knew nothing of what the song was about.

        I love the engagement too, and… wow… I had no idea how passionate I was about this song!

      2. Oh man, Cohen’s first love could not have been the royalties. That would dampen my infatuation. 😦

  13. Hi Donna! Yes I agree that the Pentatonic version of this song is beautiful. And I actually LOVE just about every version of Hallelujah except for the ones that seem to leave out the original lyrics by Cohen that attempt to make it a standard religious song. I think it beauty of it is how it reaches into deep questions about faith and how we live in the world with each other. Great song. ~Kathy

  14. I’ve not heard this version before. Wonderful singing. It feels bigger and brighter than most versions, which are a little darker I think. The second verse always strikes me as rather sexually transgressive.

    1. Hi, Brian – I agree with you that this version does seem ‘bigger and brighter’. The brilliant singing choreography and photography wonderfully combine to further enhance an already beautiful composition.

    1. Hi, Erika – I agree that this version is absolutely stunning. It was an easy song choice for me. Thanks for listening!

    1. Hi, Cathy – I am so glad to share a version of this song that you hadn’t heard previously. This song appears on one of The Pentatonix’ Christmas Albums — which makes Hugh’s late-November posting very timely!

  15. For me, there are so many versions of the beautiful and sometimes haunting song. Some are presented in a memorable way and then I’ve seen some that were disrespectful. This is because of my religious roots and how the word Hallelujah is normally used. However, you can’t get away that this a beautiful song.

    1. Hi, Chuck – Absolutely no disrespect was intended. I remember reading an interview with Leonard Cohen where he stated that his intention behind this song was to show that ALL of our Hallelujahs are important — even when we are feeling low or unworthy. That has always stuck with me. I also read that being a perfectionist, Cohen wrote 80 different verses to this song. It is interesting which ones stuck and which ones have been put aside. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I greatly appreciate it.

  16. I only heard of Pentatonix this year but since I have always loved a cappella (does anyone remember a Canadian group called the Nylons?), I very much like this version. But like Darlene, my favourite is KD Lang. I’ll never forget the 1st time I heard her singing it years ago and the hairs on my arm stood up. It’s a beautiful song regardless of how often it is covered.

    1. Thanks, Marian – I totally remember The Nylons and love them too! The power of their combined voices is simply breathtaking. Thank you for including them.

    1. Hi, Leigh – I greatly appreciate you reading and commenting. If you haven’t yet checked out other songs by Pentatonix I highly recommend you to do so. They are a very interesting and unique group.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed this selection. ‘Hallelujah’ has been a favorite song of mine for quite some time. To me, this video, combined with the song and the power of acapella is completely mesmerizing.

    1. Hi, Darlene – My husband is still annoyed at me for not going with the KD Lang Vancouver Olympics version. It was a tough choice!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. It is truly a privilege to be on Hugh’s site today. He is incredibly generous!

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