The Fox Television show Glee has emerged in the past year as a pop culture giant. The series returned this spring with its highest Nielsen ratings yet. The show's accomplishments in the realm of music sales are even more impressive. Glee placed 25 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009, more than any other recording entity in a single year since the Beatles landed 31 songs on the chart in 1964. Now, the show has decided to go head to head with Madonna, one of the most iconic pop music figures, on a Madonna-only episode and EP of eight songs. Her record of 37 top 10 pop hits in the US is unmatched.
Timelessness of the Music
The first impression in listening to The Power of Madonna is how timeless Madonna's music is. Remove any of the surrounding controversy, personality, and visual imagery these are simply powerful pop songs. It seems only natural that Glee would take on the likes of "Vogue," "4 Minutes," and "Like a Prayer" both for the vocal workout they provide and the potential for dramatic impact. Almost any pop fan that was around when these songs first hit the radio will find themselves shamelessly singing along.
Covers or Karaoke?
Cover versions have a grand and glorious history in pop music. One need look no further than the multiple versions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" that have found their way into the pop culture consciousness in recent years to realize the power of a well-executed cover. However, karaoke, amateur singers singing along with pre-recorded backing tracks of hit songs, is held in far less esteem. While listening to The Power of Madonna, the question comes up. Are these really cover versions that add something new to the experience of the original songs, or are they merely karaoke? That question is best answered with a comment that there is a lot of grey area followed by another question of what does it matter to the enjoyment of the music?
The "by the numbers" versions of "Express Yourself" and "Vogue" here sound primarily like reasonably well-executed karaoke. I wouldn't boo the singers off the stage in the local bar. However, the re-conceptualizing of "Like a Virgin" as a duet, digging deeper into the marching band base of "4 Minutes," and grand choral extravaganza of "Like a Prayer" do seem to take us somewhere unique from the original Madonna recordings. Ultimately, it seems like the most relevant point about this question is that well-executed karaoke often inspires listeners to return to the original recording and stick with it as the true version of the song. A well-conceived cover, on the other hand, becomes a favored track all on its own.
Top Tracks on 'The Power of Madonna'
- "Like a Virgin"
- "4 Minutes"
- "Like a Prayer"
Simply a Souvenir or Music To Be Judged On Its Own?
Ultimately The Power of Madonna is something akin to a Broadway cast recording. Thinking about it on that level it can be seen as a souvenir for fans to listen to when they want to remember the dramatic moments of a favorite show. However, the best Broadway cast recordings rise above that level to become a treasured musical package all on their own. For most listeners The Power of Madonna will be the souvenir of those exciting moments when the show Glee was at its peak and the subject of conversation the morning after with their friends. These versions are in no danger of supplanting Madonna's originals on the radio. However, even if you don't see the show, listen to the best of these recordings, and you may develop a new appreciation for Glee's place in pop culture today.
Released April 2010 by Columbia Records.