Music: The Joy of 'Glee'

Jan 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Sarah Jones



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Glee castmembers perform a mash-up of Katrina and the Waves'

Glee castmembers perform a mash-up of Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" and Beyonce's "Halo."

What do “Imagine,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Thong Song” have in common? Musically, not a lot. But they've all been covered on Fox's smash hit show Glee, a smart, funny musical drama that chronicles the lives and loves of a bunch of social misfits who sing and dance together in their high school glee club.

Developed by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy and starring the hilarious Jane Lynch (40-Year-Old Virgin) and a cast of mostly stage actors, Glee's formula is simple: Nine students (and their oddball teachers) deal with typical teen issues, and the drama is played out in larger-than-life song-and-dance arrangements of iconic songs from the past four decades. More than 50 hits have been covered, including songs from artists ranging from Madonna to Kanye West to the Rolling Stones.

Glee attracts more than 8 million viewers each week. But the real success story is the music: iTunes downloads of Glee singles have topped 2 million, two soundtrack albums have been released and a concert tour is planned for 2010.

The show introduces classic hits to new audiences — the cast version of Journey's “Don't Stop Believin',” showcased in the pilot, sold 500,000 downloads and generated new sales for the original. Glee also has a knack for turning show tunes into pop hits, propelling cast versions of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked and “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret up the charts.

The show owes much of its success to its superstar music team, led by Adam Anders, whose producing and songwriting credits include Ashley Tisdale, the Backstreet Boys, High School Musical 3 and Hannah Montana, The Movie. Anders is a hit-maker: He recently had 18 simultaneous singles on the iTunes chart, including 16 songs from Glee, one by Miley Cyrus and one from a Disney collective. A few years back, he wrote some TV themes for Fox; when Glee was being developed, the network suggested creator Murphy meet with Anders. He wasn't hired right away.

“I think part of it was, he wanted this show to be the anti-High School Musical, and he was nervous because I had done High School Musical,” Anders says, laughing. “I told him, ‘Look, that's just one thing that I've done so I understand the logistics of doing a musical, but obviously, the music doesn't need to sound like that.’ He came back to me, I think it was on a Friday, and said, ‘Can you have [Amy Winehouse's] “Rehab” to me Monday morning? If you nail it, the show's yours.’ We spent the weekend on it, and the rest is history.”

Anders and his partner in Sweden, super-producer Peer Astrom (Celine Dion, Madonna), work on an intense timeline, with about seven days from music approval to show taping to producing songs. Their teams work across time zones, around the clock, arranging, tracking and mixing — multitasking to produce up to 11 songs in a single week. “We use the time change to our advantage, so when I go to bed he keeps working, and vice versa — basically, 24 hours a day, six days a week,” says Anders.

The team communicates via Skype and transfers files over the Internet. “At one point, I had three studios in Sweden going, I had three here and one in New York, at the same time,” says Anders, who records vocals at Chalice in Los Angeles. “I'm recording, then checking in every half hour on Skype, with all of the other things going on at the same time. It's pretty crazy.

“The main thing it comes down to is having the right people,” he stresses. “Everybody working on my team is supertalented; everything they bring to the party is top-notch. You really only get one shot when you're on this compressed a timetable. That's what I've been most proud of: how we've been able to pull off so much volume at such a high level. There's one episode where we're doing a huge Broadway number with a full orchestra to a Kelly Clarkson cover, to a Rolling Stones song, back to a Dreamgirls cover, all in the same week.”

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