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Showstoppers: Ranking our favorite 'Glee' musical numbers


Gosh, so much has changed since the last time I sat and thought about my favorite performances on "Glee." The live tour was probably just some crazy dream, there was no power of Madonna, Puck had just reluctantly joined the gang and we had no idea that three of Broadway’s most respected voices would soon enroll at McKinley.

Now that the show has completed its first season, I thought it would be fun to rank my 10 favorite performances from the entire season -- yikes. Tough call, given there is, what, 100 something tracks that have gotten the “Glee” treatment?

I know my list won’t satisfy all the Gleeks out there -- we can have a sing-off later – but here are my 10 favorite numbers. See what made the list, what got snubbed, where previous favorites rank now and what song takes up two slots, after the jump.

10.  “Express Yourself” (“The Power of Madonna”)

If Madonna exudes anything, it’s fierce independence, and nothing sums this up better than “Express Yourself.” The girls are at a constant battle with the boys and this little number silenced them. My jaw still drops when I watch the scene. The finger waves, the corsets, the dancing! Never have the girls looked and sounded so good.

9. “I Wanna Sex You Up” (“Acafellas”)

From the glows of the groovy shadow boxes behind the Acafellas, Schuester’s (Matthew Morrison's) seductive blue-eyed soul and Puck's more-than-suggestive dancing to this version of Color Me Badd’s signature tune was enough to make Sue hot and bothered. The song gets bonus points for the kid in me that used to sing this in front of my parents not knowing what in the heck sexing someone up meant.

8. “Defying Gravity” (“Wheels”)

No other episode had two songs that made the cut, but Kurt and Rachel’s take on the “Wicked” staple is simply sublime. Rachel is always known for a good diva showdown, and even if Kurt threw this one for the sake of his father (that story line was never revisited, the mysterious phone calls just mysteriously stopped), he more than makes up for it for those lucky enough to hear him sing it live on tour.

7. “Jump” (“Mattress”)

For me, “Jump” was the moment when I realized the musical numbers were on the verge of getting B-I-G. With an over-the-top production value (quality mattresses are not cheap) and a little bit of stunt action, the kids made an otherwise drab mattress commercial into every big kid's fantasy. (OK, maybe just mine.)

6. “Dancing With Myself” (“Wheels”)

“Wheels” still ranks as one of my favorite episodes of the season. The episode was a power punch of emotion as they explored some very touchy subjects including Artie’s (Kevin McHale) disability. McHale shined in this solo and left me wanting to hear more of Artie.

5. “Somebody to Love” (“The Rhodes Not Taken”)

Call me a nerd, but this take on Queen’s “Somebody to Love” still sends chills down my spine just thinking about it. Any theater geek, or for that matter functional human being, can confirm that this performance is sheer perfection. From Rachel’s powerhouse vocals to Artie’s harmonies, this is one performance that stands on its own. The "Glee" cover even found itself covered on "American Idol," though as Randy would say, "It was mad pitchy, dawg."

4. “Push It” (“Showmance”)

I love it whenever the gang takes a risk with song choices, and it doesn’t get much riskier than Salt-N-Pepa’s classic bump-and-grind romp. The song, with its wildly suggestive lyrics, was a perfect defining moment for the kids to show the entire school that says, “We’re here, we’re gleeked out, now deal with it.”

3. Journey medley: “Faithfully,” “Any Way You Want It” / ”Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin,’” “Don’t Stop Believin’" ("Journey")

The Journey medley that the kids took on at regionals was epic. Full of emotion, the medley demonstrated how cohesive and polished the kids have become. It wasn’t about any over-the-top acrobatics that rival Vocal Adrenaline could pull off; it was about showcasing those superb voices. 

2. “One Less Bell to Answer” / ”A House if Not a Home” (“Home”)

Here’s the thing about guest stars on this show. When they get to shine, they sparkle brighter than a diamond. Jonathan Groff was amazing in “Hello,” Idina Menzel was out of this world with “I Dreamed A Dream” and Neil Patrick Harris impressed me during “Dream On,” but only one guest star made the cut: Kristin Chenoweth. Her duet with Matthew Morrison on “One Less Bell to Answer” / ”A House if Not a Home” is well, perfect.

1. “Don't Stop Believin’” (“Pilot”)
There was something magical about the first offering from the kids. While Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” has the unfortunate life of being demolished every Friday and Saturday night by college students waiting for their turn to play beer pong, this was the moment that sold us on the show -- enough to wait months for the official premiere. Three minutes, and a face full of tears later, mission accomplished.

Bringing the list of my favorites down to 10 was so much more difficult than I ever imagined. As a bonus, here are five honorable mentions that hold a special place in my heart, but couldn't make the cut:

Honorable mentions:

“Don’t Rain On My Parade” (“Sectionals”) – Rachel had so many classic moments; her bursting through the doors and storming through the audience is was pure diva.

“Rose’s Turn” (“Laryngitis”) – Kurt’s heartbreaking opus for his father was magnificent. Still, it doesn’t outweigh the beauty of “Defying Gravity.”

“The Boy Is Mine” (“Laryngitis”) – Given the fact this is one of my favorite songs, I was incredibly floored to see it get the “Glee” treatment. The shocker of the number is Santana (Naya Rivera) has a fabulous set of pipes.

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (“Acafellas”) – I know by now we’re all tired of the remakes of this groovy anthem -- Liza Minnelli’s version makes my stomach churn – but Kurt took on the song (that, if you didn’t know, Brittany’s Heather Morris performed with Beyonce) and cemented the show into pop-culture textbooks at a time when people were still asking, “So what is ‘Glee’ about?”  

“Bad Romance” (“Theatricality”) – I’m sure some of you are shocked this didn’t make my Top 10. In fact, it was a contender only because I saw it live and that was a sight to see. Like Sue’s “Vogue” (which also didn’t make the list), seeing it early didn’t excite me for seeing it on my television screen.

Did you favorite rank (apologies to reader Gleek82, I hated "To Sir With Love")? Any song surprise you? If you were me, what would have been your Top 10? Feel free to rank away in the comments and compare with other Gleeks. I want to see what some of your favorites are!

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photo credit: FOX


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Comments () | Archives (19)

I loved Run Joey Run!! Maybe it's because my sister and I used to act it out in our living room! It was on one of those 70's compilation cds that my mom ordered from a tv commercial. LOL

Oh come on! You didn't even mention any of the duets with the special guests!

Excellent List, but there are WAY too many to choose from! Here's my "short list":

1. Don't Stop Believin
2. Somebody to Love
3. Don't Rain on my Parade
4. I Dreamed a Dream
5. Bust Your Windows
6. Jump
7. Express Yourself
8. Both Mashups (Halo/ Walkin on Sunshine, It's My Life/ Confessions)
9. The Lady is Tramp
10. Defying Gravity

Honorable Mentions: Poker Face, The Boy is Mine, Bust a Move, Hate on Me, Like a Prayer, Dream On, One Less Bell to Answer/ A House is Not a Home

matthew morrisons vanilla ice rendition was off da hook. it was such a huge surprise, and the dance steps were completely magic. its a number i ve gone back and watched over and over. seriously one of the glee numbers that took an old tired pop song and lit it on fire. i went back and watched the original vanilla ice video online as i thought his dance moves were another redo of the original but his moves were a million times better than the original. if you didnt catch it watch it... its in a recent episode still availble on hulu

i think my all time fav is the run joey run video rachel made---far greater than a lot of the songs in your top ten.

I love your list. Bust Your Windows is a favorite of mine - her live performance was excellent. Mercedes has some excellent moments, though I just saw Jill Scott a few days ago and was reminded how incredible the original of Hate on Me is.

"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"

I would have even bumped up your #2 to #1. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to Burt Bachrach tunes as family dinner background music, but when the duet came on the screen I was completely spellbound and had chills the entire time. I love hearing/seeing a lot of the 80s tunes from my high school/college years, but this medley was the high point in the series that has stuck with me over time.

I'm not sure if this counts, but I loved "4 Minutes" from the Madonna episode. I loved that they showcased Kurt and Mercedes, and I thought the arrangement with the band and the dancing Cheerios was outstanding. I really think they underutilize Kurt on this show.

Also loved Safety Dance and Lady is a Tramp!

In general, I really like your list. The one exception for me was the Journey medley. I just didn't find it all that great.

YES! The live performance is what bumped it up to the top half of my list! So great!!!

Safety Dance blew me away. I cried through the whole thing the first time through simply because they let Artie out of his wheelchair and he tore it up. I was so happy for both the actor and the character. And then rewatching it a few times I realized was an enormous task it must have been to do that number at a shopping center with all those dancers and extras and "real people". Bravo.

And Single Ladies on the football field was just so far out in left field that it still tickles me no end. Only on Glee could you get away with that one. Well done.

This was quite a challenge...

My Top Ten:
1. Don't Stop Believing - First Glee chills ever and the moment a ton of people fell in love with this show.
2. Don't Rain On My Parade - Diva or not, Lea Michele actually sounded BETTER in this at the live show. She is unreal, and this show wouldn't work without her blowing us away almost every episode.
3. Bust Your Windows - Amber Riley upped the ante on Jazmine Sullivan's sass, plus this was hilarious (Kurt?? Mercedes really??). Only on Glee.
4. Like A Prayer/Like A Virgin/Express Yourself - Sorry I cheated. The vocal arrangements in Like A Prayer, the seamless editing in Like A Virgin, the freaking attitude of Express Yourself. I can't pick just one from this episode.
5. Somebody To Love - Let the music do the talking.
6. Poker Face - Stripped down, emotional, two of my favorite voices in the biz today managed to make me fall in love with a song I couldn't stand on the radio. That is the power of Glee :)
7. Lady Is A Tramp - Puck channeling Sammy Davis Jr. is one of the best things that happened all season.
8. Maybe This Time - KChen is brilliant, and what better way to introduce her talent to New Directions and the Glee Audience than this kind of vocal perfection. Kurt crying post-song is the icing on the cake.
9. Bohemian Rhapsody - Maybe not New Directions way of doing things, but can imagine if you saw something like this live? Insane. Jonathan Groff, another amazing guest star.
10. My Life Would Suck Without You - Totally exemplifies the heartfelt, albeit cheesy message these writers are constantly throwing our way. The choreo during this number was too adorable for words.

Didn't quite make it but I love nonetheless: I Dreamed A Dream, Proud Mary, Push It, Rose's Turn, Defying Gravity, One Less Bell to Answer/A House is Not a Home.

I love this show but how could you think of bad - mouthing "To Sir With Love"? It was a perfect choice for the storyline & let the story move forward to next season. Being an old fogey, it was nice to hear a song from so long ago! Now, how about doing an Elvis night? Think what some of the guys can do with that! (If they can make an Elvis "Mr Potatohead" surely they grant permission for a song or two of his!)

I loved Puck's Sweet Caroline!

It strikes me as nigh unto impossible to have a "top 10" with less than 20 or so songs. These are the most talented musical bunch ever assembled, at least IMHO.

How fantastic is Leah Michele? After watching the season finale I thought about how great it is to have a show like glee to spotlight the talents of Michele and the rest of the cast.

My list of favorites:
1. Don't rain on my parade (I love love love this one)
2. Don't stop believin
3. Sweet Caroline
4. Defying Gravity
5. 4 minutes

I liked when they did the upbeat rock version of Sinatra's My Way. No. 1.

my list is how much i play it on my mp3 player...

1. don't rain on my parade
2. rose's turn
3. true colors
4. somebody to lvoe
5. one
6. like a prayer
7. defying gravity
8. hate on me
9. loser
10. bust your windows/and i'm telling you i'm not going...

Not necessarily in particular order:

- Halo/Walking on Sunshine
- It's My Life/Confessions
- Any Way You Want It/Loving, Touching, Squeezing
- Home
- Safety Dance


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