As a former Gleek, being exposed to the massive myriad of music from “Glee” at such an impressionable age was both a blessing and a curse. I started my Gleek journey in middle school and didn’t look back — at least for quite a few years.
Due to my infatuation, I found myself discovering more songs and artists than I ever had previously, thanks to the musical television show’s long and diverse discography. I was introduced to music most people my age never would have listened to, like Journey or “Les Misérables.”
However, I also unwittingly gained a Pavlovian response to certain songs. I can’t listen to “Proud Mary” without immediately thinking “This one’s for you, Artie” or sing along to “Bohemian Rhapsody” without hearing the faint echoes of Quinn Fabray giving birth and screaming “Let me go!”
As I have grown older, I have come to look back at my time as a Gleek and shake my head tiredly at the lacking writing and mostly passable song covers. But regardless of my love/hate relationship with this show and its infuriating storylines and characters, I consider myself qualified to decide which of the memorable covers deserve to be recognized over other performances.
As any Gleek would agree, you are not allowed judge “Glee,” unless you suffered through “Glee.”
1. “Thriller”/ “Heads Will Roll” — Michael Jackson/Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Honestly, if I go to a Halloween party and this song is not on the playlist, that’s a loss for me. This cover can’t be fully experienced unless it is accompanied by the thrum of the stereo at a house party while you try to avoid your ex-boyfriend. Or is it just me?
The song is a mash-up of “Thriller” by Michael Jackson and “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the combination of the King of Pop’s hit and an indie rock band’s eclectic sound makes a surprisingly cohesive blend.
The result is an explosively spooky bop that marries the two genres with great vocals and a drum line infusion. The mash-up is conducted through a half-time performance in zombie makeup and is carried by the talented stylings of characters Santana Lopez and Artie Abrams.
2. “Teenage Dream” — Katy Perry
For the memory-obsessed “Glee” fans reading this and wondering which cover of “Teenage Dream” I’m talking about, it’s the first one, because that is the only right answer.
This cover stands out for many reasons. Firstly, because it is the song that introduces Blaine Anderson, a fan favorite character with a dreamy smile and an insane vocal range. It is also the start of the Blaine and Kurt Hummel romance that will last for the rest of series. It’s also the show’s first official attempt at a wholly acapella performance.
This cover is unique due to the arrangement that starkly contrasts from the original song, which brings a fresh flare to the already catchy tune. I genuinely think that this song is a great example of a cover that might be better than the original.
3. “Shake It Out” — Florence + the Machine
This cover has always been a personal favorite of mine. The song has a heartfelt acoustic arrangement that differs from the whimsical and haunting sounds of Florence Welch. The performance itself is interspersed with scenes of Coach Beiste deciding to go back to her abusive husband after facing an attack from him. The end makes the cover much more melancholy than the lyrics already imply.
Nevertheless, it’s the amazing harmonies that make this song so breathtakingly powerful, despite the unfortunate accompanying scenes. The ballad features Santana, Mercedes, Brittany and Tina, who use their compelling voices to attempt to reach and comfort Coach Beiste.
This is a cover I enjoy regularly to this day.
4. “Rumor Has It”/ “Someone Like You” — Adele
Speaking of powerful performances, this mash-up follows a calamitous storyline in which Santana is outed as gay twice in one episode. She and Mercedes are featured on this cover and sing with captivating intensity as Santana tries to hold herself together as the world falls apart around her.
The song is a combination of two of Adele’s mainstream ballads and is blended well due to their similar sound. Though the mixture of the songs is not extremely inventive, the cover still stands out because of the mash-up’s vocals, performance and unforgettable emotion.
5. “Somebody to Love” — Queen
This pick might be controversial, as I know many Queen fans who were affronted at the idea of Queen’s music even being attempted on “Glee.” As I have grown from a music novice tween who knew nothing about Freddie Mercury to a young adult who regularly acknowledges what an icon he was, I can understand their discontent. However, I still find this cover to be remarkably executed.
The song doesn’t stray too far from the original, but it still maintains an epic twist by showcasing the degree of talent in this group performance, as there are many great voices belting throughout the number.
There also may be a nostalgia factor associated with this cover, but I know that the crescendo of Mercedes’ voice at the climax of “Somebody to Love” can only be indicative of what a show-stopping performance this truly is.
6. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — The Beatles
This version of The Beatles’ rhythmically upbeat “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is slowed down and reconstructed as an emotive piece by Kurt to sing for his bed-ridden father. The cover brings out a whole different meaning through the lyrics as Kurt and Burt Hummel are the most significant familial relationship on the show.
The song is altered from a buoyant love song to a solemn plea by Kurt, asking his dad to wake up after a heart attack.
The sentiment is reinforced by Kurt’s despondent state before and after the performance and his outstanding musical talent. It truly is a great performance by a character who most people overlook.
7. “Smooth Criminal” — Michael Jackson
This is another creative arrangement that was successful due to the talent of the performers and the electric energy of their harmonization. Santana’s voice is paired with Sebastian Smythe, a rival competitor of the glee club, and their resentment-fueled rendition of this song is enhanced by the vigorous playing by 2CELLOS as the vocalists glide around each other in a passionate, sing-off fashion.
The delivery is concurrently jarring and bombastic. It’s one of my favorite “Glee” songs.
8. “Make You Feel My Love” — Adele
This performance might blow all the others out of the water with emotion alone. This very faithful version of Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love” is sung by Rachel in the episode “The Quarterback.”
The cover is featured in the tribute episode for the late Cory Monteith (Finn), who tragically died from a drug overdose just as Season 5 filming began.
This song is one of the most heart-wrenching and poignant songs I have ever heard in my life. The performance is especially heartbreaking, as Lea Michele and Monteith were dating in real life, just as Rachel and Finn were together on the show.
This song and episode are true expressions of grief put forward by the cast and characters, who loved Monteith and his character, Finn.
9. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” — Meat Loaf
If “Somebody to Love” is a surprisingly well-implemented group performance led by Finn and Rachel, then “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is a beautiful masterpiece in which “Glee” assembles its wide array of musical talent into a brilliant production.
Not only does almost every main character have their own part, but the arrangement feels catered to them individually, which is very rare for a show built on making other people’s music fit different voices.
This cover is definitely the reason they finally won Nationals.
10. “Don’t Stop Believing” — Journey
I fought relentlessly with myself on whether or not to include this cover. The song is the central thought that comes to mind for Gleeks and non-Gleeks alike, and it is a definite marker for what the show was capable of accomplishing as the first real “Glee” performance.
Ultimately, I decided to include this Journey cover because I want to acknowledge the cultural phenomenon that was “Don’t Stop Believing” and to give credit to the talented actors/musicians in the show who kickstarted a whole generation of music fanatics — like myself.