Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
Why do a feature on Glee?
Well, for one, it’s an insanely popular show. Second, and more importantly, Glee is pop culture’s number one source for cover music right now. It’s kind of sneaky about that fact; few people, if any, talk about the music of Glee as cover tunes, but that’s precisely what they are. Often the show’s performances don’t do much in the way of altering the original song as covers typically do, but sometimes they can surprise us. Regardless, I think it’s interesting to look at those performances: why the show chooses a particular song, how the arrangement differs (if at all), etc.
So it is that each Wednesday I’ll be doing a rundown of every track Glee covered that week, delving a little into the history of the original track and talking about how the Glee version relates. I suspect a lot of people who watch the show are introduced to a few new songs every episode (even a music nerd like me had never heard “Papa Can You Hear Me?” prior to last night — a crime, I know), but I also think that people really into music but not big Glee fans might enjoy seeing some fresh performances and reinterpretations of favorite songs. In short, I think this feature has something for everyone, and I hope you agree!
Now, without further ado, let’s get into this week’s episode of Glee, “Grilled Cheesus.” This week the Glee cast takes on spirituality after Finn has a religious experience with a grilled-cheese sandwich, and the kids decide to spend their time performing songs about religion. However, things get serious when Kurt’s dad suffers a heart attack at work and lands in the hospital in critical condition. With the whole Glee club feeling the strain, some want to lean on religion more than ever, while others, including Kurt himself, aren’t so sure.
1. Only the Good Die Young (Billy Joel)
Originally recorded for his album The Stranger in 1977 (on which Cover Me has done a Full Albums feature), Joel’s call to the aptly-named Catholic girl Virginia to give it up was a bit controversial in its day. Still, it was popular enough to land on the Billboard charts and make The Stranger Joel’s most commercially successful album to that point. The take Glee gives us is not too terribly different from the original, with the exception of a less gritty instrument mix (which seems to downplay its rowdiness a bit); still, it’s the perfect song for horn-dog Puck (Mark Salling), who I suspect would dedicate this song not just to one girl but to all of them. Glee cast version / Original version
2. I Look to You (Whitney Houston)
Written by none other than R&B master R. Kelly, this track comes off Whitney Houston’s 2009 album of the same name—her first studio release in seven years and a deeply emotional record about her “triumphs and ups and downs.” In Glee, Mercedes performs the song to convince Kurt to turn to God for guidance, and actress Amber Riley delivers a reading of Houston’s vocals that is simply incredible and easily on par with that of the original in this writer’s opinion. Original version
3. Papa Can You Hear Me? (Barbra Streisand)
This song, originating in the 1983 film Yentl, has been a favorite of pop-culture parody for some time, taking shots from the likes of The Simpsons, Spamalot, and Austin Powers. Show star Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) gives us a totally straight but heartfelt reading of the song, which is perfectly appropriate for a character who dreams of being Barbra Streisand — in fact, I suspect Rachel only performed this song so she could re-stage the scene from the movie. Glee cast version / Original version
4. I Want to Hold Your Hand (The Beatles)
This Beatles track, a single from 1963, is arguably one of the most popular songs of all time (and the Beatles’ first number one hit in America!), but the Glee version owes a lot to 2007’s Across the Universe musical. Much like that rendition, Glee slows down the tempo to give the song some gravity. However, the show plays up the orchestra’s involvement more, also giving the song a bit of a classical feeling. Kurt (Chris Colfer) delivers a touching rendition of the song in tribute to his father, and I think it makes for one of the episode’s more moving scenes. Original version / Across the Universe version
5. Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
“Losing My Religion,” off 1991’s Out of Time, was R.E.M.’s first true commercial smash hit and turned college radio mainstays into modern rock stars, partially due to a tremendous music video. Glee male lead Finn (Cory Monteith) gives us this song in a very literal context; experiencing a crisis of faith, he now feels alone in the universe, which perhaps is the reason his vocals sound a fair bit angrier than the desolate tone Michael Stipe originally brought. Glee cast version / Original version
6. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)
This is one of folk duo Simon & Garfunkel’s signature songs, coming off their final album of the same name in 1970. Again Glee owes a debt to another cover version, as Mercedes channels Aretha Franklin’s reading in this choir-fueled spiritual hymn that is literally performed in a church. Between this and “I Look to You,” I feel that this episode of Glee pretty much belonged to Amber Riley. Original version / Aretha version
7. One of Us (Joan Osborne)
And now we get to what I think people come to Glee for — the full-choir rendition of popular songs. Here they take Joan Osborne’s only commercially successful song, off 1995’s Relish, and work their magic in the episode’s final performance. Glee cast version / Original version
Tune in next Wednesday for another set of all-new Glee covers.