I recently compiled a list of my top ten favorite musical moments or performances from the first 13 episodes of Glee, for discussion purposes with some fellow fans. Let me just say that it was very difficult to whittle this down to just ten performances. My rules were that we had to see a good portion of the song on screen, and… actually, that was really my only rule. That kept out numbers like “Taking Chances,” which was a great song, but we didn’t hear more than a snippet of it on the show. I also tried to take into account lots of different aspects, like singing, music arrangement, dancing/choreography, emotional meaning behind the song (particularly for the character(s) singing it), context, and impact. I narrowed it down to twenty options, then peeled a few away until I was left with ten. I’ll post the other ten at the end of the list.
The Top Ten Musical Moments from Glee (Thus Far)
10. “Take a Bow” – performed by Rachel (Lea Michele) in Episode 1×02, “Showmance”
This is both a great performance within the episode (well-shot and acted) and as a regular song. I definitely prefer it to the original Rihanna version. It’s a defining moment for Rachel, who is beginning to realize that she can’t have everything that she wants. If she is going to aim for stardom, some other aspects of her life, like friendships and romances, might have to fall by the wayside. Rachel faces disappointment a lot – I think we tend to forget that because she’s so upbeat and determined – and that’s why this peek past her “I’m going to be a star” exterior is so emotional. I think it was a star-making moment for Lea Michele as well, as it showed that she can do more than play an all-singing, all-dancing version of Tracy Flick.
9. “Papa Don’t Preach” – performed by Quinn and Puck (Dianna Agron and Mark Salling) in Episode 1×11, “Hairography”
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this performance. I hadn’t really been the biggest fan of Dianna Agron’s voice up until this song, most likely because the glossy over-production of her songs made her sound like Britney Spears. Here, however, we hear her tackling the music of another famous blondie, Madonna, with just an acoustic guitar as backup. In this bare-bones arrangement, her voice sounds worlds better; she even manages to add a tinge of emotion, vulnerability in particular. I also enjoy the acoustic guitar part with some fierce strumming. But it’s more than a musical number, because it showcases a nice “parental” moment between mommy and daddy-to-be, Quinn and Puck. Sure, he ruins it later, but for once it’s nice to see a carefree Quinn, for once not enduring and berating Finn’s idiocy. And while this is probably the least subtle song on this list, it really was a perfect fit, indirectly addressing Quinn’s family fiasco from the previous episode.
8. “I Wanna Sex You Up” – Performed by the A Cafellas (Matthew Morrison, Patrick Gallagher, Stephen Tobolowsky, Cory Monteith, and Mark Salling) in Episode 1×03, “A Cafellas”
This could be viewed as a surprising choice, especially considering that it was never even released on iTunes (although it was a bonus track on the “Volume 1” soundtrack, if you bought it at Target). However, I thought that it was such a fun number, and definitely the bright spot in an otherwise strange and lackluster episode. The choreography was funny and over-the-top, and we got to hear Matt Morrison’s “butter on warm toast” voice. In fact, the entire episode seemed like an attempt to convince us that these kids were lucky to have a talented guy like Mr. Schue as their coach, and the 90s R&B numbers he performed definitely achieved this, and more . It was also the first time we got to hear Puck sing, which would then lead me to wonder, every single episode, why Finn constantly got solos over his more talented friend. There’s also the added bonus of seeing Sandy and Ken pouring their (creepy and awkward) sexuality on thick, for the ladies and for Josh Groban.
7. “Alone” – Performed by Will and April (Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth) in Episode 1×05, “The Rhodes Not Taken”
It was a necessity for me to include one of the songs from Kristin Chenoweth’s episode, and it was a toss-up between this and “Maybe This Time.” I think this one won out in the end for a few reasons: 1.) I needed some more Mr. Schue love on the list; 2.) Kristin Chenoweth singing a Heart ballad = a match made in heaven; 3.) when you remember that April is high on horse tranquilizers the entire time she’s performing this number, it puts an entirely new spin on it. I also loved the bowling alley karaoke setting, and the fact that we were witnessing one of Will’s teenage fantasies coming true. The song doesn’t really have any literal connection with the plot, but who cares? I want to kiss the genius who brainstormed that K-Chen should belt out an 80s power ballad.
6. “Jump” – Performed by New Directions in Episode 1×12, “Once Upon a Mattress”
All things considered, this is probably one of the most complex performances that New Directions has done, and that’s fitting because it’s their first “professional” gig. There’s some extremely impressive choreography, original set-pieces that work to their advantage, and overall, the song is performed extremely well. Even without all of the flashy aspects of the visual performance, it’s a fun song to listen to, and one of the most creative musical arrangements. It finds them revisiting the “bum bum bum” vocalization they first used in “Don’t Stop Believin'” (basically, they do a good portion of the background instrumentation with their voices). I’m speaking with experience when I say that this is probably how a real choir would probably perform the song, instead of having the flashy, polished backing band, which can at times be a bit overwhelming. It’s got a contagious sense of fun about it that really contrasts with the unfortunate events that follow it.
5. “It’s My Life/Confessions” – Performed by the Boys of New Directions (Kevin McHale, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer, Mark Salling, Harry Shum, Jr., and Dijon Talton) in Episode 1×06, “Vitamin D”
It was never an option to not include the initial two “boys vs. girls” mash-ups that we heard on the show, in “Vitamin D.” They’re two of my favorite songs that have been featured this season; they’re very energetic, almost frenetic (wonder why?), and the most unique songs to come from the show so far. The issue, though, is deciding which number is best? I’ll admit, initially I chose to combine them, but then I decided to put on a brave face and bring down the hand of judgment. And you can see where that hand fell. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t adore this number. It introduces us to the boys more – up until then, only Kurt and Finn, and perhaps Puck, had significant story lines. We didn’t know the two new boys at all, and we only really knew Artie as the boy in the wheelchair. Here we discover how much of a hardcore BAMF he is. In my opinion, he steals the show. He has the best male voice in the cast (although Puck gives him a run for his money, and Kurt has the most impressive range), he rocks out on the guitar (even though it’s fairly obvious that he doesn’t really play it), and his proficiency in the wheelchair insures that he doesn’t stick out too much amongst the choreography. It’s more than the power of Artie that makes this number great, but seeing him finally come into his own is a definite plus.
4. “Halo/Walking on Sunshine” – Performed by the Girls of New Directions (Jenna Ushkowitz, Amber Riley, Lea Michele, Dianna Agron, Heather Morris, and Naya Rivera) in Episode 1×06, “Vitamin D”
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: this picture is hilarious. Okay. Now, let me explain why I chose the girls’ number over the boys’. For one, I think that the energy they brought to the number seemed a bit more authentic than Finn palming his mic and opening his eyes really wide in a pantomime of hyperactivity. Secondly, “Halo/Walking on Sunshine” is more upbeat, and I love things that are happy and sunshiny. I also love their yellow dresses and want to steal them. Yellow is a color that looks good on all six of them, and you have to admire any one person who can pull it off, let alone six people rocking the canary. Also, their dancing is more cohesive, rather than relying on “stunt dancing” like the boys’ number. Sure, Matt and Mike “Other Asian” Chang can dance, and what they do is awesome. But remember, Brittany, Quinn, and Santana are all cheerleaders, yet they don’t rely on backflips and toe touches to make up the majority of their choreography. Everyone dances and they do it well. The same could be said of the singing, in fact. Aside from that final note Rachel sings. That’s all her.
3. “Bust Your Windows” – Performed by Mercedes (Amber Riley) in Episode 1×03, “A Cafellas”
Like the mash-ups, “Bust Your Windows” is a song that Glee has really made its own. It wasn’t a very well-known song before Mercedes covered it on the show, at least it wasn’t ubiquitous as some other songs, like “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Stop Believin'” or even “Gold Digger.” As unsubtle as the song is (a jilted lover throws a rock through her ex’s car window; on the show, Mercedes throws a rock through Kurt’s Escalade window), the context in which it is performed really adds another layer to it. It’s mostly clear that Mercedes’ affection for Kurt is misplaced, and yet the passion with which she sings the song makes it clear that she is completely unaware that Kurt will never love her like that. She’s genuinely upset, and it’s understandable; it can be easy to misread signals when you really want them to indicate the opposite. This is arguably the moment in which Mercedes becomes a full-fledged character. She dances with the best of them, she belts out her emotions with impressive vocal prowess, and she makes us sympathize with her. It’s also a very good example of one of Glee‘s dream-sequence musical numbers, which I really enjoy because they allow for more elaborate set pieces and dances, and they are essentially a theatrical peek into the character’s mind.
2. “Push It” – Performed by the Original Members of New Directions (Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, and Jenna Ushkowitz) in Episode 1×02, “Showmance”
This outrageous, slightly raunchy number is hands down the most intentionally funny performance that New Directions has put on. Although it’s partially conceived by Rachel as a way to appeal to Finn (she’s trying to give him one thing his girlfriend Quinn won’t: sex), it also serves as a successful attempt to up the club’s “cool” factor. And it definitely is “cool,” and it’s also laugh-out-loud hysterical. Of all the Glee numbers that I love, I’ve watched this one the most, because it never fails to make me guffaw. That’s right. Guffaw. I love how they mime completely inappropriate sex acts while looking slightly embarrassed and resigned, yet determined. I love Kurt’s fanny pack. I love that Rachel, Kurt, and Tina are wearing knee pads (because it’s so extreme!). I love how Artie declares that, “This song ain’t for everybody. Only the sexy people,” with just the right amount of sass. I wish that the whole glee club would attempt hip hop songs more often, particularly old school hip hop, instead of leaving them to Mr. Schue to perform. More inappropriate dancing would be a delight, as well.
1. “Don’t Stop Believin'” – Performed by the Original Members of New Directions (Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, and Jenna Ushkowitz) in Episode 1×01, “Pilot”
In my opinion, this is the defining moment of the show. It’s got this effervescent sense of unity and optimism about it, and it’s fun and inspiring. This is the moment that makes viewers want to commit to the ride. To me, it was an acknowledgment that dreams don’t always come true, but why stop trying? Beyond that empty auditorium, outside of the club, there’s a harsh reality, and it might ultimately keep these kids from becoming a Broadway star, or owning a closet full of Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, or finding love, or even escaping Lima, Ohio. But glee club is their safe haven, the place where they can say things like, “Don’t stop believing,” and it won’t sound cheesy or forced. What is high school if not the time and place where you can achieve all your hopes and dreams, if only momentarily? To me, that’s the point of Glee. It’s to remind viewers what it was like to want those impractical things that now seem completely unobtainable. It provides us with a story and characters to pin our hopes and dreams, whether they be past or present, to so we can then watch them come true. Even if they fail, we shouldn’t “Stop Believin'” that all of our astronomical dreams could come true, no matter how briefly. Ultimately this is the most authentic aspect of the high school experience portrayed on Glee. I look back on my days in high school choir and theatre, and that’s exactly what I felt, like I was a star and like anything could happen for me. That kind of optimistic realism, which is so perfectly embodied by this song, is what keeps me coming back to Glee every week.
Just Missed the Cut:
“Sweet Caroline” – Puck’s shining moment; a tribute to a Jewish musical icon.
“Ride Wit Me” – The most, uh, “gritty” (?) Glee number so far. A really fun, honest moment between the glee club members.
“Dancin’ with Myself” – An interesting acoustic cover that really showcased Artie’s voice (and some of his deeper emotions).
“Maybe This Time” – A brassy duet between Rachel and April Rhodes. It was presented in an interesting way that kept it from really being a “duet” – I prefer to call it “dueling divas.”
“Somebody to Love” – The first time we really see all twelve members of New Directions performing together; it’s also one of their first public performances, and it takes the time to showcase a small variety of singers.
“Defying Gravity” – A very pretty arrangement that makes for a very emotional moment for poor Kurt. At first I didn’t like it too much, but after watching it again (just a few moments ago, in fact), I think I’d put it further up the list – if not in the top 10, then much closer.
“On My Own” – The first time we see Rachel getting her “diva” on. For me, it’s most memorable for the epic (and depressing) slushie facial our heroine gets towards the end of the song.
“True Colors” – Tina’s refreshingly no-frills voice is a great complement to this simple song. It’s not flashy, and no one is showboating. It also a very pretty, colorful looking number.
“Proud Mary” – I’m a big fan of this song to begin with, and the wheelchair choreography is particularly awesome. This one just barely missed the cut (if I had decided to combine the two mash-ups, it would have been in).
“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” – A really cool mash-up that is earnestly performed by Will. It was just nice to get a song from him that wasn’t an awkward cover of an R&B, hip hop or rap song.
**As this list is kind of getting a lot of attention, let me address two popular numbers that I left off, and why I left them off either the top ten or the honorable mentions list.**
“Don’t Rain on My Parade” – While Lea Michele performed the crap out of this, of course, I feel uncomfortable every time I hear this song, no matter who is singing it. I sang it for my senior voice recital, and let’s just say that it wasn’t one of my shining singing moments. It makes me feel embarrassed to hear it, and all I can think of is my own screw-up, so while it’s completely unfair to the song and performance, I just couldn’t bring myself to put it on the list and give it a write-up. Sorry.
“Somebody to Love” – This one just isn’t that exciting to me. Sure, it’s a terrific song in general, and the performance is pretty good, but there’s just something about it that keeps it from standing out. Or perhaps it’s a lack of something. Maybe I’m just way too in love with the original Queen version. Either way, there are musical numbers that I find much more original, dynamic, and effecting.