Cohen's Hallelujah debuts on Billboard 100

WASHINGTON • Hallelujah was arguably Leonard Cohen's most famous song, the musical legend's most lasting legacy.

Thirty-six years after being released, it has finally made its debut on the Billboard Top 100 - which charts the United States' top singles - at No. 59 for the week of Nov 11 to 17.

It also entered the Digital Song Sales chart at No. 12, having been downloaded 33,000 times that week, according to Billboard. During the same week, it was streamed in the US 3.8 million times.

Cohen, 82, died on Nov 7 after a fall and his death was made public on Nov 10.

Hallelujah may be rock's most famous song too, having been covered by more than 300 musicians, from Neil Diamond to Justin Timberlake, with Bono, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and k.d. lang in between.

Cohen worked on it for years, writing more than 80 verses before trimming it down to the five that appeared on the record.

But when he finally brought Various Positions, his 1984 nine-song record that included Hallelujah, to his label Columbia Records, the company decided not to release it in the US.

"Leonard, we know you're great. We just don't know if you're any good," the head of the music division at Columbia Records, Mr Walter Yetnikoff, said, according to Cohen.

Although it was released in the US by a minor label called Passport in 1985, that was enough to ensure the album never charted. Furthermore, Hallelujah was not released as a single after the album's first, Dance Me To The End Of Love, bombed.

The song did not chart in Britain either, until 2008, after an amateur singer named Alexandra Burke sang a version of it on the reality television competition The X Factor. It still had not charted in the US until now.

This should not come as a surprise. Album sales tend to spike after an artist's death.

Following David Bowie's death in January, for example, his album sales increased by 5,000 per cent for a week.

And after Prince died in April, his record sales soared by 40,000 per cent.

In the four days after Amy Winehouse died in 2011, her record sales experienced a 37-fold increase.

Less than a month after Whitney Houston was found dead in a hotel bathtub in 2012, she became the first woman with three albums in the top 10 of Billboard 200's chart.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Cohen's Hallelujah debuts on Billboard 100'. Subscribe