Emerald recommends the best and worst songs for karaoke
Bartenders have heard it all, and they’re getting tired of it. You don’t have Freddie Mercury’s pipes. You don’t have Adele’s gospel charm. No more “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Please, enough “Rolling in the Deep.”
This week, the Emerald recommends the best and worst songs that you can sing at a karaoke bar.
Listen to our Spotify playlist of Dos and Don’ts for karaoke songs below.
“Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane This is one of the more excellent choices you can make at a karaoke bar, cemented by Jim Carrey’s lisp and throat-rattling delivery in the 1996 movie The Cable Guy. It’s a quick three minutes; the words are easy to remember; and you can go ballistic from beginning to end and no one will be bothered. It’s perfect.–Emerson Malone
“Mr. Brightside” by The Killers Yes, everybody has been singing this at every karaoke bar around the globe since 2004, but nobody is complaining. Why? (1) There’s hardly any straining vocal work here, and (b) because it’s the least objectionable song ever written, even if “my stomach is sick” doesn’t really rhyme with “she’s touching his chest.”–Emerson Malone
“Tubthumping” by Chumabwumba This is likely the most prototypical karaoke song, which has been on heavy rotation since its 1997 debut, but is also a very safe choice. Chumbawumba secured its place in the hall of fame of perfect karaoke songs by showing that you can make an astonishing earworm hit by just sing-speaking. Perfect for the tone deaf, as the backing vocals “Oh danny boy” will be taken care of by the karaoke machine. Everybody likes “Tubthumping.” Everybody. –Emerson Malone
“A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles Every karaoke star hates standing around while the instrumental break rolls on. What are you supposed to do up there? Dance? Apologize? If guitar solos and extended intros are the bane of your existence, look no further than the Beatles. Part of what makes the early Beatles so fabulous is how much they cram into songs that last less than three – and often less than two – minutes, so you’ll probably be singing the whole time. Anything from their first four albums will suffice. “A Hard Day’s Night” is my personal recommendation because dear God, that bridge. Invite a friend up to harmonize if you want. –Daniel Bromfield
“Hakuna Matata” by Elton John & Tim Rice Pretty much any Disney Renaissance song will do – Mulan’s “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” is more or less the “Stairway To Heaven” of our generation – but this Lion King classic is a pleasant curveball. Those who know the words will sing along. Those who don’t can always chuckle about the fact that you’re singing from the perspective of a flatulent warthog. It’s also not a terribly technically difficult song, and it’s one you can (literally) ham it up on. Don’t forget: “When I was a young wart-hooooooog!” –Daniel Bromfield
“What I Got” by Sublime This one’s a crowdpleaser, and it’s easy (and fun) to sing. Bradley Nowell sings maybe five notes on the original, but what makes “What I Got” so fun is how his voice cycles through different modes: the Beatlesque pop crooning of the verse, the terse dancehall toasting of the prechorus, and, of course, the chorus itself. Also, you get to sing the line “I got a Dalmatian, and I can still get high.” I recommend you intimately familiarize yourself with this song first. Though the notes are easy, some of the rhythms during the rap part are a tad on the tricky side. If you nail them, you’ll be the star of the bar. –Daniel Bromfield
“Every 1’s a Winner” by Hot Chocolate This is the band’s best song for karaoke (as opposed to the British soul group’s biggest hit, “You Sexy Thing”) because you can safely make eye contact while singing without creeping out the other bar patrons. –Emerson Malone
“Sister Christian” by Night Ranger Local karaoke bars have a duty to play this one as often as possible. Supposedly, singer and drummer Kelly Keagy wrote this song after visiting his little sister Christy, who was living in Eugene. Its dynamite (and unintelligible) chorus, “Motoring / what’s your price for flight / for finding Mr. Right?” pulls from local lingo, wherein “motoring” refers to driving around, picking up girls. This slow-burner power ballad will have anyone in proximity sparking their lighters in solidarity. –Emerson Malone
“Lose Yourself” by Eminem Just so you know: no one wants to watch you mumble Eminem lyrics and stare at the ground. Ninety percent of karaoke singers who try this song will lose rhythm and make a buffoon of themselves. Please do not rap Eminem at any karaoke night. You’d have better luck selecting “Method Man” by Wu-Tang Clan (and that’s including the intro with Method Man himself concocting various grisly torture plans). –Emerson Malone
“Africa” by Toto There are some sounds that will permanently offend your ears: the slow, squealing halt of a car with worn-out break pads, the high-pitched whine of a dental drill, the slow swan song of a fire alarm that’s low on batteries, marbles rubbing together and the beer-confident patron who thinks they can power through the verses of “It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from youuuuuu!” This song is a practical joke for the karaoke circuit, since the first verses are sung in a standard tenor before soaring to its soprano chorus: “I bless the rains down in Aaaafricaaaa!” –Emerson Malone
“Morning Bell” by Radiohead You might be tempted to get somber for a few minutes and select a Radiohead track to bellow in the bar. (Because why choose “Creep” when you can lose friends and alienate everyone with a deep cut from Kid A?) Hopefully better judgment prevails; hopefully someone pulls the plug on the whole machine before you start to scream, “Cut the kids in haaalf!” –Emerson Malone
“Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap With the exception of the intro and outro, Fetty Wap either sings or raps his guts out throughout this song. Yes, it’s a great drunk song, and it’s got one of the great hip hop vocal performances of the decade. But you need eight lungs to get through this thing in karaoke. I’d recommend another Fetty joint, maybe “My Way.” But what makes Fetty Wap so frustrating at karaoke is how finely he toes the line between caterwauling and all-out emotive singing. Here’s a good litmus test: if you’re too scared to do Adele, you probably shouldn’t try Fetty. –Daniel Bromfield
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