Songs of Biblical Proportions: “Take me to Church” and “Hallelujah”

The magical combination of love and religion that spawned endless covers

There is a certain magic that happens when [physical] love is described in [literal] terms of faith and religion. Clearly, this works because they, piousness and physical love - are often seen as opposites or, rather, enemies of one another. So when one is taken to describe the other, boundaries of blasphemy are crossed and, in that, there's certain power and completeness. But, more than that, words of faith are perhaps some of the most dramatic, the most universally understood in their significance, whether the audience is religious or not. In the myriad reactions they may cause, neutrality is rarely one of them.

The songs "Take me to Church" and "Hallelujah" resemble one another due to their obvious references to religion but also to they way they describe love. They both refer to love and lovemaking and the irrational, irresistible, yet often painful, desire they provoke. "Take me to Church" is, in fact, a clear allegory of love making, which the lyrics clearly present as, not only something to believe in, but the right thing to believe in, although this may come at a high price. An earthly desire - or sin - which demands blind faith, worship, sacrifice and offers fulfillment along with its respective earthly punishment. Yet, Hozier suggests, for any true believer, the punishment is well worth the price of experiencing it.  "Hallelujah" presents a metaphor of [physical] love as well where the "Hallelujah" can be one of ecstasy as much as as it can be one of anguish.

The song "Hallelujah" seems, superficially speaking, like a strange praise to love - and it partly is - but the song gradually unravels layer upon layer of disappointment and resignation, both things so often associated with love, realistically speaking. Thus, there's a danger with this song that we may fall in love with the idea of it (a poetic melodically-pleasing Hallelujah about love), rather than what the song is actually about in its entirety. This process closely mirrors the way we sometimes fall in love with another person. Along with the references to faith, this is what makes the song universal, no matter the differences in interpretation.

The main difference between the songs is that, whereas in "Take me to Church", the believer gladly sacrifices himself to love and passion, in "Hallelujah" the process of reconciling individual beliefs with desire and the sacrifices love demands is one that perhaps causes more pain than it's worth (though there's no sense of choice here). Love in "Take me to Church" is more idealized while in "Hallelujah" it is, ironically, more down-to-earth and nuanced. The first offers a sort of happy ending, albeit all the pain. The latter, a realistic, albeit tragic, story, veiled in vagueness, with no definite answers or ending.

Since Hozier's hit "Take Me to Church" came out last year, there have been many interpretations, covers, and renditions of it. The ballet version directed by the famous photographer David  LaChappelle, starring Russian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, is by far the most beautiful "interpretation" of the song. The dance is beautifully choreographed and preformed, the location impeccably selected, the time of day carefully planned, the light shining through perfectly staged and the tattoos...minor details that are so perfect, they are major. A video that is worthy of worship. Elle Goulding's version satisfies all the pop lovers out there. She offers a softer yet still - surprisngly! - soulful cover (p.s. I do not particularly like Goulding).

"Take Me To Church"

My lover's got humour

She's the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody's disapproval
I should've worshipped her soonerIf the heavens ever did speak
She's the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday's getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week'We were born sick,' you heard them say itMy Church offers no absolutes
She tells me, 'Worship in the bedroom.'
The only heaven I'll be sent to
Is when I'm alone with you.

I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

[Chorus 2x:]
Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

If I'm a pagan of the good times
My lover's the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice

Drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That's a fine-looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We've a lot of starving faithful

That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

[Chorus 2x:]
Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife
Offer me my deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

No Masters or Kings
When the Ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am Human
Only then I am Clean
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

[Chorus 2x:]
Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

"Hallelujah" was originally written and sung by Leonard Cohen but brought to great fame by Jeff Buckley's shiver-inducing version. Rufus Wainwright sings in his signature melodramatic - slightly playful yet dramatic - style. Since it first came out in the 1980's, "Hallelujah" has spawned hundreds of renditions. Yet, these three below remain the most beautiful to this day.

"Hallelujah"

Well I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing HallelujahHallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the HallelujahHallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...

Baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor (you know)
I used to live alone before I knew you
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
and love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...

there was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me, do you?
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...

Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah