Songs of the Season – Cloverton – A Hallelujah Christmas

This is undoubtedly one of my favorite songs ever, and certainly influenced the name of this blog. Just listen.

Cloverton was a little Christian band from Kansas. I don’t know how successful they were on the Christian music “scene”, but in 2012, this song went viral, even getting play on Glenn Beck’s TV show (which was hugely popular then).

Probably because of the people who were spurring on its popularity, the band soon found itself in legal trouble over copyright. US law gets very weird with some of these things, ruling that things like parodies don’t need permission to be performed, but correct credit needs to be given for the music, etc. I really don’t know. However, at the time, Leonard Cohen was still alive, and it is said that he hated this version and he (well, probably his record company) took legal action against Cloverton. Not only could they not sell singles of this song, there was an effort to get every copy of this video purged from the internet. Youtube was taking copies of this down pretty much as fast as they went up. Things were a little better on Vimeo, and I downloaded the video before Cloverton’s channel disappeared.

Cohen wrote a beautiful song. However, he struggled mightily with the lyrics, and he wrote and rewrote verses for it, and over the years wound up with a bunch of different versions. He uses a lot of the Old Testament imagery, which makes sense, as he was Jewish, but as beautiful as the song is here, I don’t think Cohen manages to build all the connections. First of all, he kind of walks the line between infatuation and love, which is ambiguous (and what many songs do). He seems to get to the point that sometimes there not only is suffering in love, but also humiliation. However, I don’t think he ever really makes the connection to “Hallelujah” – how we can be grateful or even joyful in our suffering. As much as I do kind of like what Cohen did, in my opinion, it almost seems like his “Hallelujah” is a surrender to masochism.

The brilliance of this version, though, is that I think Cloverton actually does manage to get to that last point. I think that this would have been incredibly hard to do outside of a Christian context, and probably one of the stumbling blocks Cohen ran into. Cloverton’s version is one of the few Christmas songs that takes the events of Christmas and ties them firmly to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. At the same time, it takes the idea of suffering and transforms it to sacrifice and redemption, and when one can do that in real life, “breathing Hallelujah” is not a surrender to masochism, but rather a maturing of faith, the progression from “I believe” to “Let Thy Will be done in me”.

As a side note, this song was so popular that even though it couldn’t be played on the radio because of the legal stuff, for about the next five years, versions of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” started getting added to Christmas playlists on the radio stations, and groups like Pentatonix were adding it to Christmas albums. This made no sense, as Cohen’s version has nothing to do with Christmas, but it took about five years to stop. (I think Lindsey Stirling was brilliant, doing an instrumental version for Christmas – it reminds one of the Cloverton song without using their text!)

In addition to the “Carol of the Bells” playlist, I’ve started a general playlist of Christmas songs that will include pieces mentioned here, for anyone interested.


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