100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s #3 Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

Released : 1995

Exactly when did the music die? Was it February 3rd 1959? How about April 5th, 1994? Maybe it was more recently, say January 10th, 2016. The answer is the music has died a million times, just like it hasn’t been born yet. Once it passed in Memphis, on May 29th 1997, when Jeff Buckley waded out fully clothed towards the swift and deep running Mississippi River as the afternoon turned to dusk. After sliding further into the treacherous currents the last words his companion Keith Foti would hear him utter were the chorus to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. His body was found washed up on the river’s bank six days later.

Buckley was the son of sixties folk maverick Tim – although they only met once – but far from being dissuaded by the past, he eagerly chose to pursue a career in music of which the springboard was a 1991 tribute concert to his late father in New York. A series of intimate one-man shows followed boasting a wildly eclectic set list of covers – and which if the crowd were lucky could last for upwards of two hours. Inevitably the major labels came calling: America was getting bored with the nihilism of Grunge, and released in 1995 Buckley’s debut Grace eventually sold quarter of a million copies, largely off the back of incessant touring and word of mouth.

It’s focal point was a spellbinding version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song into which the singer poured all the experience of being alone under a pencil spot into. His voice undulating masterfully, the unadorned guitar played both angel and devil, the fragile threads often threatening to climax before falling away (An artist with a deep natural sensuality, Buckley once described the essence of his interpretation as a paean to “The hallelujah of the orgasm”). Two years later in Memphis for sessions to record Grace‘s follow up and possessing a talent which was almost endless, the music decided contrarily to spend an hour by the water until the water took him – only for it to re-born somewhere else, just as it always is.


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