Fox’s hit TV show “Glee”, now on mid-season hiatus in its third season, recently hit their “300th song” milestone with their functional conglomerate of “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You”, (the original artist, of course, being fellow pop favorite, Adele).
The show has been thoroughly criticized in the past for the stars’ reliance on the “auto-tune” technique. However, many of the actors are former Broadway performers (including frequent guest star Kristin Chenoweth), and have no need to rely on such “help”. It is their talents that rise to the top and add a thicker level of quality to the overall catalog, along with some of the other cast members (like Chris Colfer) who possess naturally gifted vocals.
It can be argued that the producers have a larger say in whether or not to use auto-tune, but you can see for yourself in Glee: The Concert Movie which members are honestly stopping for breath (like Darren Criss and Lea Michele), while others (like Heather Morris) lip-synch their way through to the end.
Anyway, after much deliberation, below is a list of my favorite 10% of the show’s musical canon. These are the songs I would introduce someone to if I wanted to get them interested in the series, as they have withstood the test of time. These songs are the heart of “Glee”, what makes it more than throw-away bubblegum fluff. These songs make me proud to be a “Gleek”.
(Note: This list does not include songs from the Christmas albums and is in no particular order.)
1. Defying Gravity (Chris Colfer solo version) – There are three versions of this cover of the showtune from the Broadway musical “Wicked”: the Chris Colfer version, the Lea Michele version and the Chris Colfer/Lea Michele version. Chris Colfer’s (Kurt) version outshines the others in that when Rachel is Broadway, she’s very Broadway, often reducing a song to style over substance. It is more believable that Kurt would triumph over adversity than Rachel, who views inconsequential setbacks as major blows to her ego.
2. Highway to Hell (featuring Jonathan Groff) – Okay, I must confess, I am a huge Jesse (Jonathan Groff) fan. When I found out that he was coming back in season two, I had trouble sleeping. And I’m nearly 30 years old. I enjoy the “Spring Awakening” soundtrack even more now that I know he was the original Melchior. Vocal Adrenaline breathes new life into their cover of this AC/DC rocker from season one’s “Hell-O” episode.
3. I Kissed a Girl – This rendition was inevitable once season three shifted its focus to Santana’s (Naya Rivera) sexuality. Katy Perry’s tune is infectious and has an energy that jumps out from the radio. The “Glee” cast keeps the energy alive and enhances it with multiple girls who’ve kissed girls, making this a delightful guilty pleasure.
4. Don’t Stand So Close to Me/Young Girl – Here is Matthew Morrison at his finest, back when Mr. Schu was the teacher you wish you had, instead of an annoyance uttering cliches. This mash-up of The Police/Gary Puckett’s original odes to jailbait are perfect material for Mr. Schu, who wants to send a message to an episodically convenient, lovelorn Rachel, while simultaneously and comically seducing Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays).
5. Over the Rainbow – Mr. Schu and Puck (Mark Salling) channel Israel Kamakawiwo’ole on this season two closer. This version doesn’t add a lot to Kamakawiwo’ole’s interpretation, but Will and Puck’s vocals together add a smoother tone, making a light-hearted cover of a heavier song even lighter.
6. Rolling in the Deep (featuring Jonathan Groff) – Adding a male voice to this piece and turning it into a duet adds an additional layer of scarring to the already flawless original. Michele is a master of pop music – I prefer her pop renditions to the majority of her Broadway covers. The “stage crew” in the background provide enough acapella support that this song stands up well enough on its own without instrumentals. And, of course, it features Jesse.
7. Marry You – I was torn between which of the cast’s Bruno Mars’ covers was better, this or “Just the Way You Are”. I ultimately settled on “Marry You” because “Just the Way You Are” sounds pretty close to the original and although indeed a solid cover, “Marry You” adds that extra delight to an already fun song. One thing “Glee” does exceptionally well is how they surprise the audience by splitting up lyrics amongst cast members. This song becomes even more delicious when Artie (Kevin McHale) chimes in.
8. Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina (Lea Michele solo version) – Uncharacteristically, I prefer Michele’s solo version to Chris Colfer’s solo version of this song. She tones down the drama and only emphasizes notes when necessary. Michele pulls vulnerability and heart-felt emotion from a Madonna song that I used to poke fun at. This is no small feat.
9. Don’t You Want Me – This Human League track is one of my favorite 80’s songs. So, when I heard the first notes play at the karaoke party in the “Blame it on the Alcohol” episode, and I realized that Blaine (Darren Criss, my second favorite male on the show) and Michele comprised the duet, I was, pardon the pun, “gleeful”. The instrumental here is disco music on steroids.
10. Hello, I Love You – I am normally not a fan of Finn’s (Cory Monteith) and I consider him to be one of those correctly assumed to lean heavily on the auto-tune technique. However, his interpretation of this Doors classic is bitter and heated with lust, as opposed to the smoldering but quieter original. It works.
11. Jolene – Dot Marie Jones, a.k.a. Coach Beiste floored me with her version of this Dolly Parton favorite. To be on “Glee”, I generally assume that you have to be a jack-of-all-trades, à la the cast of “Saturday Night Live” (i.e. you can sing, dance and act), but I never figured Jones to be the sleeper. Normally I can see these things coming (mark my words: Sugar Motta [Vanessa Lengies] is going to become a great singer somehow), but I was honestly surprised at Beiste’s hidden talent. It figures that only someone like Sue (Jane Lynch) could drag it out of her!
12. Man in the Mirror – Choosing the strongest male voices of the Glee club (Blaine, Puck, Artie, Sam [Chord Overstreet] and Finn) to kick off this Michael Jackson tune seemed an affecting way to pay homage to a legend, but goosebumps rose when the rest of the cast joined in as the choir for the closer.
13. Misery – The Warblers are arguably the best ensemble ever featured on “Glee”. Opening the “Original Song” episode with this Maroon 5 hit was a great way to usher us in to an episode packed with quality tunes.
14. Pretending – Out of the two original songs featured on the “Original Song” episode, this is arguably the superior piece. “Loser Like Me” is fun and allows you to own up to what makes you different, but “Pretending” takes itself more seriously, allowing those of us who rolled our eyes at “Finchel” to see them for the first time as two people who genuinely cared about each other, but who couldn’t find an effective method with which to express themselves.
15. Rose’s Turn – Kurt spins this Gypsy yarn with enough biting sarcasm and resentment to earn resonation with anyone who’s felt ever slighted. Adding “Rachel Berry” to the lyrics (and making it work) was a nice touch.
16. Rumour Has It/Someone Like You – This electrifying mash-up marked the 300th song of the series. Santana (one of my favorite female vocalists on the show) and Mercedes’ (Amber Riley) choice to disembody themselves from the Glee club and form their own assemblage was the writers’ next best decision to creating the Warblers. An effective way to showcase other feminine talents on the show, the creation of the “Trouble Tones” saved “Glee” from becoming “the Rachel hour”. Now, if they’d only add Tina to the mix…
17. Singing in the Rain/Umbrella – I am not a fan of Rihanna‘s and purely despised the song, “Umbrella”. Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy claimed it was one of the best pop songs ever created. I failed to see the magic. So, of course, I was open-mouthed and wide-eyed when I saw how well it worked once mashed up with Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain”. What a brilliant idea this was! And guest star Gwyneth Paltrow never fails to impress, especially here on her duet with Morrison.
18. Teenage Dream – It’s no surprise that this cover of the Katy Perry billboard charter was one of the top grossing “Glee” tracks in the short history of the show. Blaine’s lead, coupled with the ever competent back-up vocals of the Warblers, added an updated boy band vibe to a sugary tune that changed everything we thought we knew and loved about the show.
19. We Are Young – This is one of those songs where the original by fun. will always pale in comparison to the “Glee” version. I had not heard of this song until right before the episode aired and it, too benefits from the power pop injection that the ensemble cast never fails to deliver.
20. Another One Bites the Dust – Another Jesse song, I know. Groff again harnesses his rock growl, making this Queen hit an even contender with the rest of Jesse’s catalog.
21. On My Own – Another Les Miserables favorite. I think it works so well here because Rachel is just beginning to realize her diva potential, and the character is not flooded over by the behavior that Michele has been reported to exhibit off-screen. Rachel is humble and vulnerable here and, despite having a flair for the dramatic, she thankfully strips this one clean.
22. Girls Just Want to Have Fun – I was literally saying one week before this episode aired that I have never heard a cover of this Cyndi Lauper track, (especially one performed by a male), that I did not laugh at or that trumped the original. Then, Finn sings this song to Santana and impresses me. This is a fantastic cover. It works so well at a tempo that’s slowed down to a crawl, and it bears a strong resemblance to Kurt’s version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles (see below). Finn appears to have taken singing lessons and is not relying as heavily on technical enhancement here. I am glad to see that his voice has improved over the seasons, probably because of the criticism he has received wherein he was compared to Cher (see article above).
23. Like a Virgin – Another ensemble track (featuring Jonathan Groff) that is improved upon by incorporating diverse vocal talents. This Madonna cover was one of the more qualified songs to emerge from the “Power of Madonna” episode.
24. I Follow Rivers – Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) is a great match for Lykke Li’s precedent. The show gyps us out of a longer version so if you were not impressed when you watched the “Night of Neglect” episode, you should check out this preview. Ushkowitz doesn’t receive as much screen time as say, Michele or Riley, but here she certainly proves that she has what it takes to be front and center.
25. I Dreamed a Dream – One remarkable strength about “Glee” is their casting. They always manage to find actors that not only strikingly resemble other cast members’ physical appearances (for familial purposes), but who also provide great vocal balances. Any song Idina Menzel performs with Michele (her biological daughter on the show) make me weepy. Both veteran Broadway performers, their rendition of this Les Miserables tune could be mistaken for an authentic showtune.
26. I Could Have Danced All Night – Jayma Mays has a beautiful, airy voice and I am sad that they don’t showcase it more often on the show. Emma’s translation of this My Fair Lady melody is exquisite and practically sparkles.
27. Sing – This variant of the My Chemical Romance number blows the doors off of the original. This is another song that is great on its own but is enhanced when taken into context with the storyline. The bridge especially takes this song to a whole new level, dragging alternative rock kicking and screaming into the realm of power pop.
28. Dog Days Are Over – Tina was the perfect choice to head up this Florence and the Machine track. As in previous tracks that feature the ensemble cast, (otherwise known as “songs I’m a sucker for”), like “Sing” and “We Are Young”, this cover is injected with a shot of espresso and makes you want to celebrate life from the inside out.
29. I Want to Hold Your Hand – I learned much later that Kurt’s interpretation of this Beatles’ hit was actually a cover of the film version performed in Across the Universe. Nonetheless, the slower tempo here, like that of the aforementioned “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, coupled with Kurt’s soaring soprano, transforms the fun original into a genuine weeper.
30. Somewhere Only We Know – Blaine adds a thicker layer of heartbreak to this Keane gem that didn’t need any help, but certainly doesn’t suffer from it. Darren Criss has such a fabulous voice that he can make any song shine even brighter, and this ode to a soon to be lost love takes on a deeper significance via Blaine’s stylish intonation.
Ask me tomorrow and I might tell you differently, but those are my top 30 picks of the “Glee” catalog.
Purchase these songs on Amazon.com at the above posted links. Or listen to the previews and re-live the magic in an attempt to sate your yearning for more until the mid-season hiatus is over in February of 2012!