The Music of Glee: Episode 1×9 – “Wheels”

Jennifer’s been rewatching Season One in the evenings, and last night I was walking by her desk and caught the wheelchair dance number out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t remember the plot of the episode, but certainly the title. “Wheels” was a hard title to forget.

“Dancing With Myself”
Written by Billy Idol and Tony James
Performed Most Notably by Billy Idol
Version Performed on GLEE by Nouvelle Vague
Performed on GLEE by Kevin McHale

Originally recorded and released in 1980 by Billy Idol, with his band Generation X, it was remixed and re-released in 1981 when Idol went solo and became a huge success. The Idol version even featured Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols on guitar and the video (above) was directed by Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist. The song was covered in 2006 by French New Wave band Nouvelle Vague on their second album, stripping down the guitar riff, switching out the electric guitars for acoustics and giving it a Bossa Nova rhythm.

Josh Note: I’m a big fan of Nouvelle Vague. Jennifer and I even saw them open for Dead Can Dance back in 2004, after the first record came out. They specialize in covering punk and new wave pop songs in their signature bossa nova style. And, that first record was so memorable, you’ve probably heard half of it in movies and commercials, without actually knowing it. They recorded two more records (Bande a Part and 3), but with diminishing returns. By 3, the novelty of their style had passed and they were having to dig so deep into the new wave catalogue for songs to cover that the selections were mostly unknown to the casual listener. Still, that first album (and the second, if only for “Dancing With Myself” and their version of The Cramps’s “Human Fly”) are well worth your time.

“Defying Gravity”
Written by Stephen Schwartz
Performed Most Notably by Idina Menzel
Performed on GLEE by Chris Colfer and Lea Michelle

The signature song from Stephen Schwartz‘s Wicked, the Broadward musical based on Gregory Maguire‘s book, “Defying Gravity” was originally recorded in 2003 by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith (though only Menzel’s part is featured in the GLEE version). The song comes at the end of the first act, right before intermission, when Elphaba vows to defend the Animals of Oz. The song charted at #60 on the UK Singles Chart.

Josh Note: What can be said about this track that hasn’t already been discussed on the podcast? It’s one of the most enduring Musical Theatre songs of the last 20 years, inspiring a significant mainstream following. Maybe “Memory” from Cats, is the next most recent in terms of mainstream appeal, though the “Defying Gravity” generation has probably never heard it.

“Proud Mary”
Written by J.C. Fogerty
Performed Most Notably by Ike & Tina Turner
Performed on GLEE by The Glee Cast

Tina Turner and her husband and band leader Ike Turner first covered this song in 1971, originally recorded as a roots rock song by Fogerty’s band Creedence Clearwater Revival. It would become Turner’s signature song, both in recordings and performance and reached #4 on the pop chart. Both the CCR and Ike & Tina Turner versions of the song received awards from the Grammy Hall of Fame, in 1998 and 2003, respectively.

Josh Note: “Proud Mary” has been covered a million times by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Presley to Neil Sedaka. And, endlessly, by contestants on American Idol. But, really, we’re all most curious to hear the version by Leonard Nimoy, from his album The New World of Leonard Nimoy.

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