Underrated Tunes of the Karaoke World Mary Traina

Ah, karaoke! The great equalizer! Education used to be the great equalizer but then everybody was like, “Ew, gross, when will I ever use math?!” …Then the economy crashed because nobody understood math. Now everyone consoles themselves the same way: with karaoke!

I love a karaoke night. Strangers become backup singers and fans and schmucks you root for, even though they brazenly put in ‘S-S-Sudio’ without realizing they didn’t know the verses.

In recent years, karaoke has become pretty mainstream. I guess we’ll credit Lost In Translation? Listen, don’t make me do research. I’ve just noticed that karaoke has become about as common as bowling. Even the occasional workplace function will encourage employees to let loose with a night of belting ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart.’ So it’s important to master this craft. Everyone knows what songs they hate hearing at a karaoke bar (lookin at you, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’). The trick is finding the song everyone didn’t know they were hoping to hear!

Lucky for you, I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time and money in karaoke bars. My mother is super proud. Sure, I attempt to do songs off The Bodyguard soundtrack more often than I should considering my limited vocal range, but for the most part, I think I might know how to pick ‘em. Below is a list of songs that have pleasantly surprised and consistently gone over well.

‘2 BECOME 1′ – THE SPICE GIRLS

If you and your friends are too shy to go it alone and are looking for a group song, give ‘Lady Marmalade’ the night off and pull this lil’ number out of your back pocket. Everybody has almost forgotten it by now but once it begins, they’ll remember every word.

Bonus: Ham up Baby Spice’s British accent for the “be a li’ul bit wisah baby. Puh’ i’ on. Puh’ i’ on.” line.

‘FAT BOTTOMED GIRLS’ – QUEEN

This is a good way to kick off the night. No warm up required. Even with a limited vocal range, you’ll hit every note like a boss. Plus, if you’re like me and feel uncomfortable every time you have to say the word for a genital, this song is well within your raunch comfort zone, don’t worry.

Bonus: Know your cue for when it’s time to yell, “Get on your bikes and ride!!!”

‘IT’S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW’ – CELINE DION

Read your crowd. By that I mean, there should be a crowd for this song. Don’t make the two guys who showed up to your birthday party early and haven’t grabbed a drink yet listen to you sing a song about touching. Wait until the room is full and I promise this song will make everyone want to warm up their vocal chords.

Bonus: Bring the drama or Celine Dion will jump through a mirror and strangle you.

‘FLAGPOLE SITTA’ – HARVEY DANGER

This is a good, mid-evening song. People are generally feeling pretty nostalgic at a karaoke bar so tickle their late ‘90s, studded belt side and seduce them with some Harvey Danger.

Bonus: Since we’re being nostalgic, sing the radio edit version and cut “damn” from the “god damn you” line.

‘ALL OR NOTHING’ – O-TOWN

I was a major skeptic of this one. The first time I heard it come on, I leaned over to my friend and said, “oh god, I hate when people put in sad, serious songs.” Literally 15 seconds later, we were all, everyone in the bar, singing every word at the top of our lungs. It’s called “Karaoke Therapy,” guys!

Bonus: If your secret crush is present, sing it directly at them for the duration of the song so that your friends have something memorable to gossip about.

ANY POP SONG YOU KNOW LIKE THE BACK OF YOUR HAND.

Sometimes people try so hard to find the perfect song for the audience that they forget they should be looking for the perfect song for themselves. Did that hit close to home? It’s okay, it’s not your fault. Let’s hug.

The best karaoke performance I ever saw was from this tiny girl in a pants suit who had come with her coworkers from what I assume was a stuffy accounting office or law firm. She looked pretty shy and nervous. Then she started singing ‘Kiss’ by Prince. She knew every word and every note. I don’t think she even looked at the screen. She wasn’t hamming it up, just being genuine. At the end of the night, we all fought to put her in our pocket and take her home with us.

Bonus: You do you, but don’t do totally you. Never go full you. Save your heartfelt rendition of ‘Arms Wide Open’ by Creed for the bathroom mirror and the bright red lipstick I assume you repeatedly, haphazardly apply while you weep into the mirror singing this song.

‘END OF THE ROAD’ – BOYS II MEN

This goes over best if you are Charles Barkley and then Boys II Men join you on the stage half way through.

Bonus: (See Charles Barkley link above)

Those are the songs that have worked for me, what about you? What songs have you found worked surprisingly well? And don’t say ‘November Rain.” Just trust me that, no matter what you think, you are not pulling that song off.

Image from Lost In Translation via blog.bloomspot.com

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  1. My only experience so far is “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack, after everyone else had had plenty to drink…

  2. Johnny Cash’s Jackson is my go to duet number, my best friend and I totally rock “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. And this one’s hard to pull off but I once saw “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with every word perfect and it totally brought the house down! They were even made to do it as an encore at the end of the night.

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  4. I never listen to it on its own but I always make it a point to do I Will Survive whenever there’s a karaoke machine in a room. It always makes people think I’m drunk enough to listen to them thrash some other song ;-)

  5. Saturday night by Bon Jovi is my crowdpleaser, i also loooove doing sugartown! But i have to admit that i only started doing that one after watching 500 days of summer….. And what about duets? Something studip is my alltime fav….

  6. I’m always down to sing “Party in the USA” or “Goodbye Earl.” “Party in the USA”| always gets a good response!

  7. Brass in Pocket by The Pretenders. I heart Chrissie Hynde!

  8. Great article, I want to go sing karaoke with you some day! My staple is “Criminal” by Fiona Apple and then either Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” if the crowd is hopping or “Warwick Ave” by Duffy if I am feeling really moody and brave.

  9. Oh god where do I begin. Totally agree on Carly Simon’s You’re so vain. If i’m not feeling quite as vengeful though, i’ll go for an old Frank Sinatra gem, so I can walk out into the audience and serenade strangers. A good group song is fat bottom girls. And the best duets are Under Pressure and Video killed the radio star.

  10. My fave in any hillbilly bar (especially one I’ve never been to before) is to rock the crap out of Independence Day – I’m a winner, winner every time on that bad boy! My husband’s go to (and he a former karaoke DJ, so we both have some experience!) is Wanted Dead or Alive…the crowd does so love to respond with the necessary “WWWAAAAANTEEEED”!

  11. I got with anything that I kinow by heart. Last time I did karaoke I sang White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane. Right before I had to tsing I forgot all the words but as soon as the first riff played it all came back to me.

  12. I have a few. And its always the same songs in rotation. Patsy Cline – Crazy, Fiona Apple – Criminal, and STYX – Blue Collared Man. I also love to lay down some Phantom of the Opera! ha!

  13. My go-to karaoke song is “And I Am Tellin’ You” from Dreamgirls! You know the one where Jennifer Hudson really blows it out! Woo! That’s a fun song to sing. :)

  14. For me it’s Carly Simon’s You’re so Vain or anything by the Mamas and Papas. I think the trick is to gauge the age of the audience & sing something that they’ll take over a couple of bars in. Journey in younger groups for instance, goes down a storm every time :)