Everyone went bananas when “Glee” hit the small screen two years ago, hooking the shower singers, the high school drama queens and critics alike. And if the show itself wasn’t enough to blow your socks off, the music sure did: Each of the “Glee” albums (except the soundtrack from “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie”) hit within the top five on Billboard. It seemed as if “Glee” had finally created the ultimate combination of music and TV.
But no matter how special “Glee” might seem, the concept of mixing music performance and TV was popular before everyone on the show (except Jane Lynch) was conceived. And if it had been conceptualized back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, “Glee” would have been a sing-a-long dime-a-dozen.
While most notable of the TV-music hybrid shows from the time of mop-top haircuts and bell bottoms were “The Monkees” (1966-1968) and “The Partridge Family” (1970-1974), these shows were never important to me. Sure, I like “Daydream Believer” as much as the next person, but I was drawn to another TV show from the era of free love and fringe that is often forgotten for its (admittedly meager) contributions to the music side of TV: “The Brady Bunch.”
How could fans of the beyond-cheesy, larger-than-life family forget the few performance-based episodes like “Dough Re Mi,” during which the bunch auditions to become a family act à la The Jackson 5? Peter’s voice cracks during rehearsal and Greg wants to kick him out of the group. Instead of coldly leaving his brother behind in a quest for fame, Greg learns a valuable lesson about the importance of family and rewrites the audition piece to incorporate Peter’s puberty.
The resulting song, “Time to Change,” stands out on 1993’s often-forgotten compilation It’s a Sunshine Day: The Best of the Brady Bunch as one of the syndicated siblings’ best tunes. And it’s this album, more so than re-runs of “The Brady Bunch,” that sticks with me. The days of watching the Bunch (and “Get Smart,” “Green Acres” and “The Andy Griffith Show” — I was a nerd) on Nick at Nite with my family are over. But, walking to class, I just might tune my iPod to a classic Brady Bunch ’60s groove such as “We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter” or “Gonna Find a Rainbow.” My sister and I fell in love with Barry Williams’s (Greg) version of “Sweet Sweetheart,” and when he came to Cincinnati as Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” we waited backstage for his autograph with the middle-aged women still hot for him after all those years.
The Bunch kids were not nearly as talented as the cast of “Glee.” Not one of them could belt like Mercedes or command the stage like Rachel. In fact, a lot of the songs off It’s a Sunshine Day are just plain awful. There is an annoyingly sweet (and out of place) rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” and a shortened, terribly off-tune and completely lackluster take on Don McClean’s immortal “American Pie.” These songs are so bad that they somehow end up being good.
More than that, though, they represent nostalgia for me in a different sense than the nostalgia “Glee” evokes: I remember my grade-school self jumping up and down on my bed singing the Bunch’s “Cheyenne” into a hairbrush; I remember geeking out over “Glee” with my roommate my freshman year in our prison cell-sized dorm room. Similar to my disinterest in watching “The Brady Bunch,” “Glee” as a TV series has lost all appeal to me, but I’ll still listen to the “Glee” station on Pandora when I need some fun music to study to.
This is the fate of music/TV hybrids — “The Monkees,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Glee,” even “Flight of the Conchords.” These shows entertain for a while, but which do you do more often: watch the shows, or listen to the tunes? The beat goes on.