By some interpretations, Cohen is in an argument with God. King David’s “hallelujah,” in the book of Psalms, is said to have pleased the Lord. Cohen addresses God: “But you don’t really care for music, do you?”
For others, we talk about the evolution of a relationship through a metaphor that mixes sex and religion.
Cohen originally wrote around 80 verses of the song, and used a different selection of the verses in the original recording and in a 1988 live performance.
The song wasn’t all that popular when it first came out. However, it was covered by John Cale, in 1991, for a tribute album. He used the modified lyrics, based on Cohen’s 1988 live version. Jeff Buckley heard Cale’s version and did his own cover on his 1994 album Grace. Buckley’s version went on to become the most well-known recording of the song.
Since then, the song was covered over 300 times. It is today emblematic and figures among a multitude of film soundtracks and television shows. It became a contemporary standard. Many versions change the lyrics, especially Christian versions that tone down all the ambiguities of the song.