movie music beatdown, vol. 4: don’t stop believing

Time of death, 10 p.m. May 19.

That’s when Don’t Stop Believing, the 1981 Journey hit that only got as high as #8, was staged in the pilot episode of Glee. That makes roughly 8,354,912 movies and TV shows and sports events and karaoke bars where you’ve heard the song in the last five years.

So now it’s over. No one can use it anymore.

But for those shows that did use it, two stood out — The Sopranos and Glee. A quick nod to Scrubs and Family Guy, but those don’t compare to how the two ultimate ones used it.

Remember, the Wednesday MOVIE MUSIC BEATDOWN (TV today, but still) runs all summer and is scored on three levels, with the aggregate score determining which show used the song best. If you have a song in mind that’s been used in at least two different movies and you want to know who used it best, e-mail me with the suggestion. And see there over on the right, scrolling down a little bit? We’ve got a new poll with some new songs to determine what song we’ll break down next week, so vote now.

SONG: Don’t Stop Believing, Journey

TV show 1: The Sopranos


The scene: With Tony waiting for his family to arrive at the local greasy spoon that looks like every other 24-hour joint in New Jersey, he peruses the choices and pops two quarters into the tableside jukebox. Remember those, kids? Yeah, they used to have those things, tableside jukeboxes, with actual records in them. So already, we’re being told – or beaten over the head  – that this suddenly coming-to-fruition struggle of Tony keeping his family together is a reality because he never stopped believin’. So this is the song he chooses. Really. It is. You know how the rest goes. A mild family conversation spliced with quick-cuts of every move everyone in the diner makes before the song cuts and the screen abruptly goes black. Score: 7


Appropriateness: My question has always been: Is that really something Tony would have chosen? The song came out in 1981, when according to the show, Tony was 21 and just starting out in the mob. He made his first kill in 1982. Do you really want to think he was blaring this song on his way to the hit? I sure don’t. How about other 1981 songs like Jesse’s Girl? Woman? Angel of the Morning? All of them would have had just about the same amount of meaning and the same amount of pop culture kitsch. Score: 4


The episode: Woo hoo! Let’s spark some more debate about the most-debated series-ending scene in TV history two years after the fact! The 15-second cut to black that made about 20 million people reach for their cells to call the cable company seemed a bit much at the time, and in retrospect, seems more like an Andy Kauffman-style stunt than a true vision for what became of the Soprano family. The show already said enough with Tony peering over his shoulder at every person who dared take a step anywhere in the diner — I’d be fine if that was how we remembered Tony, living in his own personal prison, stuck between his demons and his family. Whether you love it or not, the scene propelled Don’t Stop Believing back into the pop culture landscape, with it being played on the top 40 stations almost immediately after the episode aired. Some movies have done that with songs (Stand By Me, Bohemian Rhapsody) but it’s the first time I can remember a TV show doing it. So apparently, no other mix of TV and music ever has ever struck a nerve like that. Score: 9

TV show 2: Glee

The scene: The dream appeared dead. Well, at least the show tried to paint it that way. The jock had ditched the glee club, the teacher whose vision started it was about to bail for a new job and the remaining club members were ready to dump the whole thing. Whatever will they do??? Of course the jock comes back, infuses some pop in their culture with this rendition of Don’t Stop Believing as the teacher watches in the back of the auditorium and everyone refocuses on the glee club looking toward regionals. It’s masterfully shot, with quick cuts, a rough but stirring dance sequence and the bonding of the geeks with the jock. Too bad it’s so predictable. Score: 8

Appropriateness: When a song like this is reintroduced into the landscape, it has implied, unwritten copyright restrictions. First and foremost — after one show uses it, you shouldn’t use it again for at least five years. That’s being generous. So on the surface, there’s no way Glee should have touched it. What if My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002 had used Tiny Dancer? Wouldn’t we right off the bat dismiss it as a copy off of Almost Famous from 2000? We would. And we’d be right. So the same parameters should be applied to Glee, using Don’t Stop Believing just two years after the Sopranos, very famously, did. It’s the first thing I thought of when I realized that was the song being performed, that it was too soon. But it’s so well done, you can’t help but almost forget about Tony and his family. Almost. Score: 3

The episode: When it aired after the Idol season finale in May I said it was the best pilot I’ve seen in years. Two months later, I’m still fine with that assertion and am just as pumped about the upcoming season as I was after I saw the pilot. Creator/director/writer Ryan Murphy — the guy behind Nip/Tuck — has his faults, and they are plentiful. We have no idea if he’s going to be able to sustain a long run of Glee, since N/T went from top 5 show on TV after its second season to less than a guilty pleasure now. But that’s a question for another time. I’m a fan of the cast — Jane Lynch is quickly becoming this generation’s Jane Curtain, that’s a compliment — and all the subplots. It’s just too bad it has to look and sound so much like a musical version of Election. Hopefully that will change. Score: 8

THE DECISION: Sopranos 20, Glee 19. I don’t keep track of the scores in my head when I’m writing — I had no idea it was going to be this close. I actually was pulling for Glee, because I fell hook-line-and-sinker 100% for the cheese of the DSB scene. In retrospect, it comes down to the same question it comes down to every week: When you hear Don’t Stop Believing, what show do you think of? Sopranos or Glee? As much as I like Glee, I still think of Tony at that table. And I wasn’t even a Sopranos fan.

Don’t forget to vote for next week’s Movie Music Beatdown, we’ll be back with movies next week for sure. Vote in the poll over there on the right to get your favorite movie music in next week’s discussion.

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