Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
Hello, Glee readers (Gleaders?)! Two important things have happened since last week’s post went up. First: Glee topped the Beatles‘ record for number of entries on the Billboard Hot 100; last week’s releases brought them up to 75 charting tracks, versus the Beatles’ paltry 71 (ironic that last week’s songs included the show’s first #1 Beatles cover, no?). We’re only four episodes into the series’ second season at this point and the show doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, so I can’t imagine what Glee’s record will look like at the end.
Second, I received some feedback that readers might like me to be a little more critical in these roundups—not to tear the show apart (unless it needs it), but to call out performances that maybe weren’t great and spotlight those that were. I’m going to try that out this week and I’d like to start by retroactively saying that I find Rachel’s character insufferable this season, so when “Grilled Cheesus” delivered her singing an awful Barbra Streisand song from a movie that I’m sure would make me want to claw my eyes out, her case was not helped in the slightest.
Okay, now that that’s out of my system, on to “Duets”! This week, Coach Shue decides the kids should prepare songs with a companion and, to make things interesting, the best duo wins free dinner at Breadsticks—clearly, the stakes have never been higher! Partners get passed to and fro and melodies meet their harmonies, but not all of the pairings go down smoothly. They do, however, give Glee a chance to showcase its cast’s singing talent in a way we haven’t heard much before, as exemplified by the following songs:
1. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Elton John/ Kiki Dee)
This song, released as a single in 1976, was written by Elton and longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin as a tribute to Marvin Gaye-style Motown. Unbelievably, it was Elton’s first #1 hit in his homeland of Great Britain. With this song, Glee makes a fairly obvious choice for an episode about duets, but the performance by show-leads Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith) provides a nice, familiar foundation from which the rest of the episode can grow. Glee cast version / Original version
2. River Deep & Mountain High (Ike & Tina Turner)
Glee notably casts this 1966 single as a duet. Even though credit on the original release goes to “Ike and Tina Turner,” producer Phil Spector actually paid Ike $20,000 to stay away from the recording studio so he could produce the record as he wanted, giving only Tina a vocal on the original track. Spector considered this song his finest work and its initial poor reception in America greatly upset him. As one might imagine, Glee cannot hope to compete with Mr. Spector on the sonic front and the instruments in this track sound weak and flimsy in comparison to the original “wall of sound” recording. However, I’ll take any chance to showcase the vocals of Mercedes (Amber Riley) and especially the too-quiet Santana (Naya Rivera), who time and again proves she needs to be given more leads. Original version
3. Le Jazz Hot (Julie Andrews)
“Le Jazz Hot” originally appeared in the 1982 movie musical Victor Victoria, a film about a woman who pretends to be a man who excels at impersonating a female (it took me a while to figure that one out too). Famed composer Henry Mancini scored the film, which stars the unimpeachable songstress Julie Andrews in the title role. It makes perfect sense that Kurt (Chris Colfer) would opt to perform this song, although since he performs it solo he rather misses the point of doing a duet. I understand the show’s statement about the loner nature of Kurt’s character there, but musically I don’t know if this performance stacks up to his striking Beatles performance last week, or most of the other vocal work going on in this episode. Glee cast version / Original version
4. Sing! (A Chorus Line)
“Duets” chooses to remind its audience of Glee‘s Broadway roots twice and I believe that “Sing!” from the 1975 musical A Chorus Line performs that task much more effectively than its jazzy, hot partner. “Sing!”-ers Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.) never really get to perform anything in this show. In fact, Mike’s previous role has been to pop-and-lock in every choir number; he’s never had a discernible vocal much less a lead one before now. How wonderful, then, that this duo performs a number in which one of the vocalists literally cannot sing, despite his best efforts. It’s a great meta joke about Mike’s usual role in the club and also a reminder that at its heart Glee is more about the spirit behind a musical performance than the talent on display. This performance bleeds enthusiasm and totally won me over by the end, when all the other club members join in simply because they can’t resist. I could write a lot more about the interesting connections between A Chorus Line and Glee but for now I’ll just say that I strongly feel that “Sing!” is the performance of the week. Original version
5. Happy Days Are Here/ Get Happy (Barbra Streisand/ Judy Garland)
This performance is both a duet and a proto-mash-up; Streisand and Garland sang these two separate songs together on a 1963 episode of Garland’s television show, and Streisand eventually released that performance on her 2002 album Duets. As for Glee’s rendition…you may have noticed I tend to praise variety in this show, especially when it comes to who does the singing. I tire easily of Rachel and Finn getting all the leads. I realize they’re the show’s stars but at least ten people in this cast have tremendous voices and I’d like the show to utilize them all. Hence, it really bothers me that instead of allowing Brittany and Artie to perform the number we know they’d prepared, “Duets” gives another song to Rachel and Kurt—and another Streisand song at that! I found this performance totally superfluous. It did provide, I suppose, an emotional note on which to tie up the episode’s plot threads, but I feel a Brittany/Artie duet would have done the same and been infinitely more interesting and unique. Glee version / Original version
6. Lucky (Jason Mraz/ Colbie Caillat)
Glee‘s big popular number for the night, “Lucky,” comes off Mraz’s 2008 We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. I really don’t like this song or the kind of frat-boy chill rock Mraz represents, but I think Quinn (Dianna Agron) and newcomer Sam (Chord Overstreet… can that be someone’s real name?!) do a bang-up job of performing this number sweetly and with a bit of punch that Mraz’s delivery so often lacks. Agron is another actress that I think Glee really needs to spotlight more (“Lucky” is her first number this season) and although I’m worried that Sam will become a jukebox for toothless pop radio hits (between this and his performance of “Billionaire” earlier in the season), he does have chops. All in all “Lucky” is a fine performance and one which will surely be passed around the Internet ad naseum. Original version
Glee takes a break next week. Tune in the week after for another set of all-new Glee covers.