Hallelujah set to be a Christmas No 1 and 2

Cohen song could be first to occupy top two slots in UK charts, thanks to covers

The man himself may insist, in his customary rasp, that he feels quite at home tending to his craft in a room 100 floors beneath Hank Williams in the Tower of Song. The music-buying public, however, appears to have decided that Leonard Cohen - poet, novelist, singer-songwriter and ladies' man - has been selling his talent too short for too long.

If the fans behind an audacious internet download campaign get their way, the 74-year-old Canadian could find his 1984 anthem Hallelujah making chart history by becoming the first song to hit the top two slots at the same time.

Cohen, alas, will not be ensconced in either place. The No 1 spot is all-but-certain to go Alexandra Burke, who won ITV's X Factor final last week and whose cover of Hallelujah has already been downloaded more than 150,000 times since Saturday evening.

And second place is almost within the posthumous grasp of Jeff Buckley. The American singer-songwriter, who drowned in 1997, recorded what some believe to be the definitive version of Cohen's Old Testament-informed love song for his 1994 album Grace.

Such is the awe in which Buckley's cover is held that horrified fans from all over the world embarked on a campaign to get it to No 1 as soon as it emerged that Hallelujah would be released as a single by the X Factor winner.

Last week their pleas had propelled the Buckley version to No 30 on the strength of downloads alone, and yesterday an unofficial provisional "mid-week" chart suggested it had shot up to No 3. According to the figures, it was trailing Leona Lewis's cover of Run by Snow Patrol - last week's No 1 single - by just under 10,000 sales.

Were Buckley's cover to canter past Lewis, and maintain that lead until the official Christmas chart comes out on Sunday, musical history would be made and a serene, if knowing, smile might break out beneath Cohen's grey fedora.

The double honour, albeit one shared by Buckley and Burke, would crown a triumphant year for Cohen, which saw him forced into his first tour in 15 years after his former business manager allegedly misappropriated the millions that he had put aside as his retirement fund.

In March the septuagenarian was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame and ushered, officially, into "the highest and most influential echelon of songwriters". The cover bonanza should ease his financial pain a little, bringing royalties of at least £250,000 his way.

Hallelujah has already been reinterpreted by everyone from John Cale - whose take many purists judge to be the finest - to Rufus Wainwright, whose version graced the Shrek soundtrack.

A spokesman for Sony BMG, which counts Cohen, Buckley and Burke among its artists, said the company hoped Burke would take the top spot, but conceded: "Obviously it would be brilliant if Jeff got to No 2."

Although it remains to be seen exactly how things will turn out on Sunday, some in the record industry are expecting a unique Christmas chart.

"We suddenly have the very real prospect of two different covers of the same song occupying the No 1 and 2 slots," said Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesman for the retailer HMV. "I don't think this has ever happened in UK charts history, and certainly not for Christmas."

Cohen could not be contacted yesterday for his thoughts on chart-topping success. Or Christmas.


Sam Jones

The GuardianTramp

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