(Sorry about no blog on Friday. Life got away from me. But here's this one!)
One of the main complaints about Glee is that the covers are really not worth listening to on their own, because they pretty much just do watered-down karaoke versions. This is an entirely valid complaint. Although I love the show, much of the time they do the exact same arrangement, exact same phrasing, and it ends up being fine but nothing special. (It's the context of the story that makes it special - but that's something I've discussed already on this blog, so I won't get into that.)
Every once in awhile, though, they'll do something new and interesting, and I figured I'd list a few of my favorites here.
1. For the most part, Glee's original songs are bland and uninspired. But there are two I have thoroughly enjoyed. The first one is Loser Like Me, a cheerful outcast anthem that, I feel, is the anthem for the show as a whole, which really does celebrate those on the outskirts of society in every way. It's poppy and upbeat, but it's a really entertaining song all on its own.
2. The second original song I thoroughly enjoyed was Big Ass Heart. The character of Puck wrote this song for his then-girlfriend Lauren, who was understandably offended when he initially sang Fat Bottomed Girls and dedicated it to her... so he wrote and performed this one, which is a ridiculous song but is absolutely a ton of fun.
3. Glee has done more and more mash-ups over the years. Some of them are bizarre and make no sense, like their combination of Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams" and "I Can't Go For That," but some of their mash-ups are incredible. There have been two separate "mash-off" episodes where the guys and girls in the club compete against each other to see who can do the best mash-up. In the first episode, I think the guys clearly win with their rendition of It's My Life/Confessions, Part II, which was more fun than the girls' poppy Halo/Walking on Sunshine.
4. However, in the second episode, it was the girls who rocked it with Start Me Up/Living On a Prayer, while the boys did an acceptable-but-not-that-interesting cover of Diana Ross songs.
5. The best mash-ups, in my opinion, have lyrical continuity, and that works perfectly with Hit Me With Your Best Shot/One Way or Another, which combine into an incredible fight anthem. (During the show, this is sung during a dodgeball fight between two competing glee clubs.) I almost can't hear the songs separated out anymore, because they belong together so well in this version.
6. The thematically appropriate mash-up of Survivor/I Will Survive leans more heavily on Survivor than I Will Survive, but overall it really, really works. The performance utilizes the two strongest and most interesting female vocalists on the show (e.g. not Lea Michele) so it ends up being pretty great.
7. I love the sound of the Umbrella/Singin' in the Rain mash-up. The songs are close enough in original meaning to make the lyrics work together beyond just the obvious rain references, but the song also sounds cool. Pushing Singin' in the Rain into a modern R&B style is fascinating and, surprisingly, really works.
8. The Glee version of Papa Don't Preach was never released as a full single, but even just the first and chorus of this acoustic, folksy cover is actually significantly more interesting than the original rocky version.
9. The crew doesn't do much to change the cover of Friday, but what they change takes it from being dumb and kinda annoying to being dumb and kinda fun. They speed it up, injecting it with far more energy than the original version had, and it becomes a mindless dance song. I would listen to this over the original any day.
10. Toxic was the only worthwhile performance of the first Britney Spears tribute episode, as it was the only one that deviated from the original song's sound in any way. While I like the original version of the song, I really like this rockier version.
11. One of the competing glee clubs is an a cappella group. There have been a few great performances from them, but my favorite is undoubtedly When I Get You Alone, partly because Darren Criss is super fun to listen to and partly because I love how the sound of this song changes when the music is taken out of it.
12. The Michael Jackson tribute episode was filled with music, mostly done exactly in the same style as the original, but for Smooth Criminal, they actually brought in the 2Cellos guys who had done a cello cover of the song earlier. The cello + the vocals = a fascinating version of this song.
13. Glee does its fair share of showtunes, but one of my favorites was their out-of-nowhere rocked out version of The Rain in Spain from My Fair Lady - not one of the showtunes I would have ever expected them to tackle. The song makes little to no sense out of the context of either show, so it's kind of a bizarre cover on its own, but it's certainly a lot of fun and differs from the original.
14. These last two are songs that I am completely in love with. The first was a recent performance on the show - Darren Criss' slow-down acoustic performance of Teenage Dream, just him and a piano. It was extremely moving on the show and really compelling to listen to outside of it. I've listened to it nine times in the last week, which is a ridiculous amount for me. There's something about this performance that is very sad and moving and beautiful.
15. And the final one... the song that was everywhere a couple years ago... Rolling in the Deep. While I enjoy Adele's version well enough, this a cappella version abandons the driving rhythm of the original song and we end up with something that almost sounds like an old-time folk spiritual - a totally different sound from the original and, to my thinking, a far more compelling one.