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Origleenals: Songs that Glee borrowed

March 14th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

“What, the show for kids?” my colleague, the one with an extravagant collection of adidas tracksuit jackets, replied when I asked if she watched Glee. It’s a frequent mistake to confuse Glee with High School Musical, and therefore to presume that the interpretations of the songs covered on Glee must be intrinsically inferior to their originals. Fact is, in several cases the Glee versions are equal to their originals, and sometimes they exceed the high bars set by the versions they draw from.

The best example of this is Glee’s cover of the Bacharach/David medley One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home, originally a quite stunning duet of Barbra Steisand with herself on the 1971 Barbra Joan Streisand album. On Glee, the utterly wonderful Kristin Chinoweth and Matthew Morrison (as teacher Will Shuester) improve on Streisand’s template, with Chinoweth’s strong and vulnerable voice leading and Morrison shining with is restraint. It is one of the best pieces of musical television I have seen. See it here.

Glee is about the music; the drama is generally incidental. The action is set in McKinley High School in Ohio, and it’s not a stretch to presume that Glee draws some of its dramatic inspiration from the sadly short-lived but excellent series Freaks And Geeks, which was also set in an Ohio school named McKinley High. Glee’s dramatic narrative is not always a vapid device used to propel the narrative from song to song. Some episodes are very much plot-driven. The “hey kids, let’s put on a show” contrivance of the MGM musicals (which the producers clearly love) and periodic  use of soap opera mechanisms may be used liberally, but Glee does deal with real issues, aiming to raise consciousness.

When the show succeeds in that – the record is patchy – it does so extremely well, especially in addressing subjects such as bullying, homophobia and prejudice. The character of Kurt, played by the superlative Chris Colfer, is a vehicle by which to explore homosexuality. The female football coach, unkindly but descriptively named Shannon Beiste (pronounced “beast”, played beautifully by Dort-Marie Jones), is being excluded, socially and romantically, because of her size and looks. A scene in which Will Shuester gives Beiste her first kiss is as tender as anything one will see on TV.

Other times, the treatment of issue-lines is on the heavy-handed side. Artie’s disability more often than not is a plot device (whatever happened to the walking gadget from the Christmas episode), and the recent sex-ed episode was as ambitious as it was shallow (and Gwyneth Paltrow has a way of going from adorable to annoying in double time).  Such moments are often saved by great song selections, such as Stevie Nicks’ Landslide to articulate and instance of unrequited (bisexual) love.

And then there is Jane Lynch as adidas obsessive evilton Sue Sylvester, who gets the show’s best lines, and shows a massive dose of humanity when she interacts with her sister, who has Down’s syndrome. If there was no other reason to watch Glee, Jane Lynch would provide a most persuasive argument to do so anyway.

Still, Glee is mostly about the music, so here is a compilation of 21 songs that have been covered on Glee. Some of them are not originals, but covers from which the Glee versions drew (such as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s ukulele-driven version of Over The Rainbow or  Sammy Davis Jr’s version of The Lady Is A Tramp). Others are versions I thought readers might enjoy, such as the Stones’ live version of You Can’t Always Get What You Want from 1969’s The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus show, the late Ronnie James Dio’s cover of Aerosmith’s Dream On, and Bobby Darin’s take on Don’t Rain On My Parade, which in Lea Michele’s rendition obviously draws from Streisand. Also included is Streisand’s duet with Judy Garland on the latter’s TV show in 1963, which was pivotal in setting Streisand on the path to superstardom (of course, she would have made it anyway).

The mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R. To look up when the songs were performed on Glee and by whom, look here for Series 1 and Series 2 (episodes are below in brackets behind the years). PW in comments.

TRACKLISTING:
1. Journey – Any Way You Want It (1980) (22/1)
2. The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want (live) (1969) (13/1)
3. Ike & Tina Turner – River Deep, Mountain High (1966) (4/2)
4. Parliament – Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) (1975) (21/1)
5. Rufus and Chaka Khan – Tell Me Something Good (live) (1983) (21/1)
6. Bill Withers – Lean On Me (live) (1972) (10/1)
7. Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (1971) (16/1)
8. Bobby Darin – Don’t Rain On My Parade (1966) (13/1)
9. Dean Martin – Sway (Quien sera) (1954) (8/2)
10. Julie Andrews – Le Jazz Hot (1982) (4/2)
11. Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer – Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1949) (10/2)
12. Sammy Davis Jr. – The Lady Is A Tramp (live) (1963) (18/1)
13. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Over The Rainbow (2006) (22/1)
14. The Pretenders – I’ll Stand By You (1994) (10/1)
15. Fleetwood Mac – Landslide (1975)  (15/2)
16. Ronnie James Dio & Yngwie Malmsteen – Dream On (1999) (19/1)
17. Kiss – Beth (1976) (20/1)
18. John Denver – Leaving On A Jet Plane (1969) (1/1)
19. Dionne Warwick – Don’t Make Me Over (1962) (11/1)
20. Diana Ross – Home (1978) (16/1)
21. Judy Garland & Barbra Streisand – Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again (1963) (4/2)
BONUS TRACK: George Thorogood & the Destroyers – One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer (1977) (14/2)

GET IT!

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  1. halfhearteddude
    March 14th, 2011 at 13:22 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. March 14th, 2011 at 16:22 | #2

    The Mrs. and I tried “Glee” on DVD. I got through an episode and a half before I had to flee the room, and even she had enough after a single disc. I give the program credit for its wide-ranging musical taste, but if Lea Michele ever comes on my TV again, I hope nothing heavy and throw-able is close at hand.

  3. March 14th, 2011 at 16:23 | #3

    I gotta go with your friend on this one. Glee is American Idol with less (ironically) drama. That’s a positive for it. It’s the equivalent of recent Broadway shows that recycle Billy Joel, The Four Seasons or Green Day instead of writing new show tunes. It’s a K-Tel compilation by Hollyridge Strings instead of original hits by the original artists. When everyone else said “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!”, they had their own songs.

    I’ll admit that I have a personal issue with people bursting into song for no apparent reason. I’ve been around a long time and have never seen it in real life. They try to gloss over this by building the show around a school glee club in the band room, but in the middle of a song they cut to the group in costume on a stage or some outside location. The sound is better than any high school band room in Ohio could possible provide and the band gains extra instruments when nobody is looking.

    I’m thankful that they are bringing attention to older songs, but it highlights the fact the quality radio programming is a thing of the past. Not to mention that the song selection is bland enough that it would sound acceptable on an episode of Your Hit Parade from the 1950s. The kids are lapping it up like cocaine; they’ve got more hit singles than Elvis. Do you think it’s justified? If you continue to give them free reign they’ll come up with a series of Beach Blanket Bingo movies, mark my words.

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