Posted by Christopher Will on 03/13 at 12:57 AM
Glee. It was once associated mostly as a synonym for “happy” and an ellipsis for the numerous glee clubs that pepper high schools and universities. Today, that word is packed to the brim with pop culture prominence. It is a massive television movement, almost three successful seasons deep and with a fan base that rivals that of some of pop culture’s biggest phenomena. Today, Glee has given some of pop music’s most innovative and recent artists the push they need to break into mainstream notoriety. Today, Glee has re-awakened the classics and theater to a generation that was once thought lost to the timeless roots of modern music.
For those of you don’t know (and if you don’t, you’ve been living under a rock), Glee is a show on Fox that combines high school histrionics, musical theater, and popular culture under one angst-ridden, flashy, campy roof. It was brought to the eyes of the public through it’s pilot, which premiered in May of 2009. When a few of it’s musical numbers were sent to mainstream radio and iTunes, the show’s semi-acappella take on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” skyrocketed in fame, reaching #1 on iTunes and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The success of the pilot and of the “Don’t Stop Believing” cover launched a monumental musical revolution, with almost every episode and cover praised by the masses for it’s theatric originality and ground-breaking themes. Glee has given a voice to bullied, misunderstood, and lonely teenagers, and has painted a comic yet fairly realistic picture of high school through the eyes of it’s self-proclaimed “rejects.” Glee has also given its fans, critics, and everyone else in between a hell of a lot to talk about.
With that being said, here are my top 5 Glee songs, counting down from 5 to 1, each with reasons why I think they stand paramount at the top of Glee’s massive musical legacy.
#5: Faithfully (originally by Journey): Aside from Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac, one of the classic artists that Glee has effectively brought into the modern pop spotlight is Journey, both with it’s use of “Don’t Stop Believing” in the pilot and with it’s Journey medley in the season 1 finale. Other than “Don’t Stop Believing”, “Faithfully” stands as not only one of the casts’ best Journey covers, but also the most relevant Journey cover in the scope of the show’s plot. Placed at the precipice of Finn and Rachel’s burgeoning romance, their duet adds even more warmth and romance to the already epic love anthem. Their voices harmonize effortlessly, Rachel’s strong vibrato compliments Finn’s breathy, less refined voice, and the backing choir brings the song to a grandiose close. Out of all the cast members, Lea Michele (Rachel) and Cory Monteith (Finn) have the most chemistry, and it blazes brightly in this number and scene. I believe that true covers aren’t meant to outshine the originals, but instead pay homage to them in the artists’ own unique way. If that is the case, then Glee hit the nail on the head with this cover, both setting it apart from Steve Perry’s version and also paying tribute to the lyric and melodic power of the original.
#4 I Feel Pretty/Unpretty (originally from West Side Story and by TLC, respectfully): One of Glee’s crowning achievements has been it’s (mostly) successful use of mash-ups, intertwining two different songs to make one cohesive, original effort. “I Feel Pretty/Unpretty” has been its most thriving mash-up attempt, combining the hook from the West Side Story number with one of TLC’s most ubiquitous hits. The Glee producers took the song one step further and switched up the production, changing the original pop-infused R&B sound of “Unpretty” to a softer, acoustic-influenced record in the vein of Colbie Calliat. Not only is this the only time that Rachel and Quinn share a duet, it’s also arguably Quinn’s best musical number, where her soft, silky vocals shine amongst the minimalist strings and acoustics. The song stands at a pivotal moment in Rachel and Quinn’s friendship, when Quinn agrees to help Rachel reshape her image in the form of a nose job. One of the best parts of the song is in the bridge, where the synthesizers float over Quinn’s melodious “ohs” as Rachel repeats the word “tonight” with increasing pitch and volume.
#3 Teenage Dream (originally by Katy Perry): When the Glee producers decided to introduce Darren Criss of “A Very Potter Musical” to the Glee cast and Glee fandom, they did so in such a powerful way that it not only launched his character (Blaine)’s cover of “Teenage Dream” to the top tiers of the Billboard Hot 100, but also cemented Darren Criss as a household name across the country. Blaine’s opening lines are brief before he launches into the “Teenage Dream” cover, and fortifies arguably one of the best character introductions created by the Glee producers. His boyish charm and boy-band vocals transform the Katy Perry cover from a sweet, feminine love song into a spirited, androgynous acappella ballad. Backed by the Warblers, who in reality are an acappella group from Tufts University, Blaine deftly handles the verse and chorus vocals as the choral talent of The Warblers sends his voice to grandiose heights. This was also an apt introduction to the purely acappella works of the Warblers, as it is their best record, as evidenced by popularity and sales.
#2 Loser Like Me (Glee Cast Original): Glee had a brief stint towards the end of the second season where they premiered “original” works. These were created in the show by the main cast, which composed the fictitious high school choir “New Directions,” in an attempt to win both the regional choral competition and, later, the national choral competition. Their song “Loser Like Me” premiered in the Season 2 Regionals episode, and stands solitary among Glee’s catalog of songs as it’s prime underdog anthem, celebrating what the show deems as being a “loser.” Rachel and Finn handle most of the lead vocals, while the rest of “New Directions” come in to give the chorus and bridge a fuller, singsong feel. The song’s 90’s pop-rock flare and optimistic themes caused it to fare well on mainstream radio, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though it could be argued that their cover of “Don’t Stop Believing” is the most iconic song in Glee’s collection of tracks, “Loser Like Me” more effectively epitomizes the hardship that the characters must face as high school’s outcasts, and the hope they hold in a brighter future.
#1 Smooth Criminal (originally by Michael Jackson): When Glee decided to create an episode covering Michael Jackson, they did it by the textbook, recreating the majority of the songs without much deviation, even recreating the music videos. As fun and entertaining as many of those numbers were, they didn’t compare to the cover of “Smooth Criminal” by characters Santana and Sebastian. The muscular and violent cellos are barely contained by the pair’s flawless vocals, and the record as a whole bristles with pure musical power. The song is fast-paced, passionate, and bone-chilling, one of the best, if not the best, covers in Glee’s entire portfolio of music. The dueling cellos rip and tear through the silence as if in an attempt to bring the listener down to the ground in euphoric agony, and one of the strongest parts of the song is the bridge. There the cellos pluck along in dark solitude, spinning their dueling solos back and forth as if they were some delightfully forbidding death knell. They rise and rise in volume before Santana cuts through with a goose-bump inducing “I don’t know” and the song blasts back into the final chorus. You can bash Glee for it’s copycat covers and campy plot lines, but you can’t deny that “Smooth Criminal” is a truly genius piece of music.
Hopefully with it’s successful mid season finale, Glee will begin to expand it’s breadth of musical experimentation with it’s cast, and we will see more fresh new takes on some of the best past, present, and future hits. Perhaps Rachel could perform Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” to Finn, showing off her delightfully pop-friendly vocal range and introducing us to a new, sensual side of her character. Maybe Santana could perform Jessie J’s “Do It Like A Dude,” a foot stomping, gender-bending, Caribbean tinged masterpiece that would not only celebrate her swag and sexuality but also give the track the American airplay it deserves. Maybe Sebastian and the Warblers could perform Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close” or Fun.’s “Some Nights”, both unique and acappella worthy songs. We’ll have to see if the Glee producers agree, but at the very least, we can continue to watch as Glee spearheads the movement to place theatrical musicality in the forefront of the public eye.
Author: Christopher Will
Bio: Christopher Will is a junior studying Communications and English at Penn State. He enjoys scouring the internet for the latest pop music news and gossip, and loves sharing new music with his friends and peers. Some of his favorite artists include Breathe Carolina, Fun., Childish Gambino, Gotye, Yellowcard, and Robyn.
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