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Leonard Cohen's Billboard Chart History, 'Hallelujah' & Beyond
The singer-songwriter enjoyed his greatest successes on the Billboard 200 albums chart in recent years, while his trademark song "Hallelujah" became a hit for others.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen forged a history on the Billboard charts that never quite matched his critical acclaim and legendary status, although in recent years he enjoyed his greatest successes at last, logging his first two top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 -- in 2012 and just last week.
Meanwhile, perhaps his most beloved composition, "Hallelujah," became a hit multiple times, but for other artists, from Jeff Buckley to Pentatonix, which, most recently, brought the legend's inspirational ballad to the Billboard Hot 100's top 40 with its newly released cover.
As previously reported, Cohen's death was announced Thursday (Nov. 10) via a message on Facebook, stating, "We have lost one of music's most revered and prolific visionaries." Cohen was 82.
Cohen made his Billboard chart debut at age 33 on March 2, 1968, when his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, debuted at No. 162 on the Billboard 200. The set would peak at No. 83 that April. (By then, he had drawn praise mostly as a poet and novelist.)
Cohen added three more modestly charting albums on the Billboard 200 through 1973: Songs From a Room (No. 63, 1969), Songs of Love and Hate (No. 145, 1971) and Leonard Cohen: Live Songs (No. 156, 1973).
He recorded six more studio albums through 1992, but wouldn't again appear on the Billboard 200 until 2001, when Ten New Songs dented the chart with a No. 143 peak. Three more entries on the chart would rise no higher than No. 76 (Live in London, 2009) until Feb. 18, 2012, when Old Ideas blasted in at No. 3, marking Cohen's first top 10 (and highest rank since Room reached No. 63 in 1969). On Old Ideas, Cohen collaborated with Patrick Leonard, who had co-written and co-produced hits with Madonna since the '80s.
Cohen added the No. 15-peaking Popular Problems in 2014 and, just last week, on the Billboard 200 dated Nov. 12, he earned his second top 10, as You Want It Darker debuted at No. 10.
Helping Cohen achieve new chart heights in the 2010s was the life that "Hallelujah" took on for numerous other acts. He originally released the song on his 1984 album Various Positions, which -- hard to believe, given the song's enduring appeal -- has never (so far) appeared on a Billboard album chart. To date, Cohen's version of "Hallelujah" has spent a mere week on a Billboard survey: It charted at No. 7 on the mostly physical sales-based Hot Singles Sales chart dated Dec. 8, 2012.
Jeff Buckley's 1994 cover of "Hallelujah" has since become beloved, although it, too, wasn't a chart hit at the time. It topped the Digital Songs chart in 2008, however (after Buckley's 1997 death), sparked by Jason Castro's performance of it on American Idol. The song would go on to become a favorite for contestants on various TV talent competitions.
"Hallelujah" would hit the Hot 100 at last in 2010, when Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris' take, featuring Charlie Sexton, reached No. 13 that February. They had performed the song on MTV's Hope for Haiti Now telethon following the country's devastating earthquake. "Obviously, I was going to help answer phones and help make donations," Timberlake told MTV News at the time. "But as soon as I got that call, all of a sudden ... it was kind of like a big, highlighted neon-green [light], everywhere I looked: 'Hallelujah, hallelujah.'"
Idol's Lee DeWyze and The Voice's Matthew Schuler took "Hallelujah" to Nos. 44 and 40 on the Hot 100 in 2010 and 2013, respectively. In December 2015, Jordan Smith of The Voice sent his version to No. 61, while Lindsey Stirling's mostly instrumental cover reached No. 81 this past January.
Just last week, Pentatonix's a cappella cover brought "Hallelujah" to the Hot 100's top 40 for a third time, following the Timberlake/Morris/Sexton and Schuler versions, debuting at No. 32. At the time of Cohen's death, the song was a Hot 100 hit, ranking at No. 77 on the current, Nov. 19-dated chart.
Looking ahead, Cohen's album catalog and his and other versions of "Hallelujah" are likely to reach new chart levels (likely on lists dated Dec. 3, as those tallies will reflect the Nielsen Music sales and streaming tracking period of Nov. 11-17).
Already, as of this posting, Pentatonix's version has risen to No. 2 on the real-time Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 chart.