The music of Glee: Ballad

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Last night’s episode of Glee, titled “Ballad,” was packed with songs — or, in some cases, snippets of songs — so let’s jump right in a discuss them.

The first performance was a duet by Rachel (Lea Michele) and Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison) on “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Though the singing was beyond competent, this scene was all about comedic effect and the awkwardness of Rachel’s developing crush on her teacher. To that degree, it totally worked. The internal monologues of each character were hilarious, making this the best use of “Endless Love” in a comedy since Happy Gilmore.

Next up was a performance by Finn (Cory Monteith) of “I’ll Stand by You” by The Pretenders, which he sang to the sonogram of the daughter he still thinks is his. Compared to the first performance of the episode, this one is a complete downer — though it’s hard to disagree with Kurt, who pointed out that the song is in Finn’s wheelhouse. The guy is great with the soft-rock classics. And whereas Kurt singing a “girl” song created a stir last week, it’s hardly noticeable when Finn does it here because Chrissie Hynde sings in a lower vocal range than most female singers on the original.

It wouldn’t be Glee if we didn’t get a mashup, and Schu brings back the show’s favorite format with a medley of “Young Girl” by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by the Police. Like “Endless Love,” this song was written into the script to elicit more laughter than praise, with Morrison’s exaggerated facial expressions and gestures hammering home the point of the lyrics … but we kind of dug it. Let’s face it — these are both great songs, and Morrison is a standout performer even when he’s goofing around. Note to self: This one might be worth the price of an iTunes download.

Speaking of downloads, Rachel’s version of “Crush” by Jennifer Paige is available on iTunes, so if you liked the line or two she sang in Schu’s car, you might want to look into it. Judging by the brief part we heard, her version sounds extremely faithful to the original, which has a guilty pleasure of ours since The Dismemberment Plan covered the song on its split EP with Juno.

Whether it was intentional or not, Finn singing “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka to Quinn at the Fabray family dinner table was the third “joke” song of the night. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Finn taking that song seriously, and while he doesn’t do a bad job on it, the song made us fight off fits of laughter, especially watching Quinn’s parents figure out the deeper meaning behind Finn’s serenade. [On a side note, CNN.com users once voted “(You’re) Having My Baby” the worst song of all time.]

The final song of the night is a version of “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, sung to Quinn and Finn by the rest of the glee club. How you feel about this performance depends largely on how you feel about the original, which — as opposed to “(You’re) Having My Baby” — actually placed among Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. To us, it’s always seemed a bit hokey and trite, and in this context it’s just a little too on the nose. Still, it’s not bad, and someone without our prejudices against the song might find it to be uplifting and even inspirational. We just found it to be OK.

Photo: ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Michael Yarish/FOX