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Here are the best and worst versions of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen (Credit: Getty Images)

There are hit songs, tracks by artists that play incessantly on the radio for months at a time before being relegated to the bargain bin. Then, there are songs that win awards, that get polite nods of recognition years later or make it to “best of the decade” compilations.

And then there’s “Hallelujah.” Leonard Cohen’s classic ballad was not even the best-known track on his 1984 album “Various Positions” when the LP was released. Nearly 20 years later, the song has been covered by hundreds of artists.

As the original artist prepares for performances at Radio City Music Hall this weekend, here’s a brief rundown of some of the best-known (and, in some cases, best forgotten) versions, rated with Cohen’s trademark fedoras.

Jeff Buckley -- five fedoras
The gold standard of covers, Buckley’s version combines the pathos of the original with the slightly quicker tempo of John Cale’s version.

John Cale -- four fedoras
Cale’s arrangement of “Hallelujah,” for the 1991 Cohen tribute album “I’m Your Fan,” is the one used by most subsequent cover artists, making his version one of the most important recorded.

k.d. lang -- three fedoras
The Canadian singer-songwriter has used her version of the song to bring the house down at awards shows and even at the Winter Olympics. The string section makes the song into a grand showstopper.

Rufus Wainwright -- two fedoras
This piano version of the song was recorded for the soundtrack to the first “Shrek” movie and seems, for lack of a better adjective, Disneyfied. Seek out Wainwright’s version of Cohen's “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” instead.

Michael Bolton -- one fedora
At once, this is a reminder of everything awful but also the one positive aspect of Bolton: He’s got great pipes. Of course, every note is overwrought and the children’s choir in the background is the coup de schmaltz.

Any ‘American Idol’ contestan -- zero fedoras
Sorry, manufactured pop “stars,” but having Simon Cowell be mean to you doesn't give you enough pain to belt this one out.


If you go: Leonard Cohen is at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m., 1260 Sixth Ave., 212-307-7171, $69.50-$250.
 

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