Britney Spears caught it. So did Madonna. Even Michael Jackson had a turn. Now the Beatles are getting the Glee treatment in a two-part season premiere, airing Thursday, September 26. A good Beatles tribute is no easy feat. Many have tried, few have succeeded. To better understand what Fox’s pop music sitcom phenomenon will be up against, I delved into Mediander Connects to find the best and worst Beatles tributes in television and film history.
In terms of utter fiascos, nothing comes close to 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a musical film starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton—and a critical and commercial failure. (It did feature Steve Martin singing “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” into a stethoscope, so it wasn’t all bad.) On the other end of the spectrum, and setting the bar high for Glee, we have Ferris Bueller’s foot-stomping, parade-halting “Twist and Shout” lip-sync—an undisputed classic.
Digging deeper into Connects I found some real curiosities that, depending on your taste, could rank high or low on the scale. Rodney Dangerfield’s rendition of “Twist and Shout” in the 1986 film Back to School (coincidentally released two days after Ferris Bueller—a lucky Connects find) is a case that will split? audiences right down the middle.
Beatles-themed primetime TV episodes are nothing new. They’re a great ratings boost, given the Beatles’ built-in audience of about half the world. American Idol now holds an annual Beatles night. The X-Factor holds the occasional Beatles week. But Glee will leave these other programs in the dust, since it’s a substantial cut above the amateur talent show. Glee’s singers aren’t high schoolers (well, not real high schoolers anyway) with a week to rehearse. They’re Broadway talent with managers, agents and Playbill credentials, and the best creative directors in the business to help bring their performances to the next level.
Beatles songs are featured a lot in film and television, but you’ll notice that we’re usually hearing cover versions, not originals. Why? Well, to use a recent case, Mad Men producers reportedly paid $250,000 to use the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” in a Season 5 episode. But it’s a good thing the songs are so expensive. The high price of original Beatles songs is the only thing standing between us and “Drive My Car” Hyundai commercials, “Mean Mr. Mustard” Grey Poupon spots and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” burglary protection ads. So thank you, Glee, American Idol and Rodney Dangerfield for giving us our Beatles fix at a low-cost alternative to the real thing. Keep it coming!
Photo courtesy of Everett