THE MUSIC OF “GLEE”: Awaken Your Inner High School Drama Queen!
What a difference a Golden Globe makes (as well as a lot of other awards too, by the way…)! Already a guilty pleasure among gay audiences, the victory in January for the boys and girls of William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio pushed the two volumes of the “Glee” soundtrack to #1 on the charts both Statewide as well as in the UK not too long afterward. I’m not gonna get into a sociological thesis on why the TV show is a big hit with gays. You can debate that amongst yourselves later, kids. But for those of you out there who can’t hardly wait for Wednesday nights to stay home, the “Glee” soundtracks may keep you from going into withdrawal until the new episodes in April. Featuring equal doses of classic chart-toppers, current hits, the occasional novelty (1989’s “Bust A Move”), and prime showtunes (like “Defying Gravity”, from “Wicked”), the two-disc set boasts 34 songs in all. (Additional tracks are included in alternate versions of the CD.) For the most part, the young warblers don’t reinvent or experiment with the songs, but just cover them… although there are a few exceptions. The most successful artistic dabbling includes a mash-up of The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap’s “Young Girl” on Volume 2. In addition, the creators of the soundtrack also turn a lot of songs into duets or into big gang bang group numbers (Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”, Queen’s “Somebody to Love”). For Glee-heads, the appeal is obvious; and even among those who don’t watch the show, it’s definitely a thrill to hear the timeless classics that you know by heart redone with voices that are oh-so-unblemished and oh-so-flawless (Insert sarcastic “auto-tune” comment here.). Granted, The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and Lily Allen’s “Smile” were (arguably) just a lot of pop fluff anyway, so the kiddies’ versions don’t come across as much of a stretch from the original. The Gleesters’ “Don’t Stop Believin'”, the opener of Volume 1, sounds quite inspired; the high-energy ode to the power of perseverance is guaranteed to put you in a good mood, at least for as long as a subway ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan. REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling”, as performed by Cory Monteith (Finn), becomes a new anthem for that old feeling of young but intense passion. On Volume 2, highlights include touching takes on Paul Anka’s “(You’re) Having My Baby” as sung by Monteith, and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, as sung by Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina). Lea Michele-as-Rachel’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is a guilty pleasure for theater queens of all ages. For non-Gleeks, whether or not you like the kids’ new versions will probably depend on how much you identify the songs with the original artists. Purists may scoff at how the bubblegum-flavored covers strip Steve Perry’s raw passion from the original “Don’t Stop Believin'”… or how “Alone” misses the mark without the touches of true torment in the voices of the women of Heart… or how “Endless Love”, admirably as its done by the Gleesters, just ain’t the same without the original’s Diana Ross-isms and Lionel Ritchie-ness. The same goes for a song like Liza Minnelli’s “Maybe This Time”, which would arguably sound most authentic when sung by a world-weary diva like… Liza Minnelli. That said, Kristin Chenoweth (as April) and Lea Michele do make the classic from “Cabaret” sound mighty nice! A special shout out goes to Amber Riley (Mercedes). With her sassy, smart takes on “Hate on Me” and “Bust Your Windows”, and an extra soulful version of Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over”, she stirs in some cinnamon & spice flavor to this largely vanilla concoction.
The ultimate questions is: Can the music of “Glee” stand on its own, without having to see the cute boys and girls on TV actually singing it and dancing along to it? For the most part, it does. The cast’s “Imagine” bears very little resemblance to the John Lennon original, but the lyrics and message are more timely than ever in 2010. The campy, Gleed-up “Jump”, on Volume 2, will likely at least get a reluctant smile even from the most hardcore Van Halen fans. No matter how you feel about “Glee”, you may not be able to hide from the show’s sugary appeal for long; It seems like this is just the beginning of the “Glee” juggernaut. The creators have announced that one of the new episodes will feature nothing but Madonna songs. If that’s not gay, I don’t know what is!