A Go-To Karaoke Song

Karaoke is a dangerous game. Strategy is as important as song. Before you enter a karaoke den, know your strengths and build an arsenal.
Photo: Courtesy Focus Features

Bill Murray in Lost In Translation

There are two schools of thought regarding karaoke. One holds that it’s a spontaneous bout of sing-a-long whimsy and that, in this spirit, having premeditated and practiced a karaoke song somehow profanes the entire project. You might sound good, but that’s beside the point. The opposing theory is more results-oriented. However much time you spent singing into a hairbrush to get you there, it’s the performance of the song that is of ultimate importance. And while the first approach may feel more… authentic, one too many nights of off-key screeching to Neneh Cherry and eardrum-piercing renditions of Islands in the Stream and you’ll settle on the second point of view. So choose your song and choose it wisely.

First, pick a tune that is well-known but not too well-known. Ideally, there should be a reasonable expectation that your selection will be on the list of even the most backwater karaoke den, but you don’t want to be the guy who re-sings a song already sung. Thus, something like Hall & Oates’ Abandoned Luncheonette is good, while Private Eyes is bad (I Can’t Go For That would, of course, be fatal, and not just because of the high part in the middle). Under the Bridge should be replaced with Give It Away.

Second, don’t be a downer. Tears in Heaven is a lovely, lovely song, but it’s not going to win you any friends at a karaoke bar. (Or anywhere, really.) Ditto Hallelujah.

Third, don’t showboat. You may well have been the second-coolest guy in Yale’s Whiffenpoofs, or the go-to soloist in the all-male troupe out of Indiana University, Straight No Chaser: that’s great, well done. But there’s no room for excess virtuosity in karaoke, so keep your melisma to yourself (unless you’re covering Mariah, in which case—good luck with that). Just sing in key, with feeling.

Before you make your selection, some final words of caution. No rap, unless you can really pull it off (and even then, consider whether the song contains words that might spoil the evening, were you to shout them at a female companion from the stage). And no Total Eclipse of the Heart. Ever.

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  1. Dan says:

    Abandoned Luncheonette? Not only is that some seriously obscure shit, but good luck finding a karaoke bar that has it. I don’t know any karaoke bars that are run by record store clerks.

  2. Kevin says:

    Just like heaven by the Cure?

  3. Joshua David Stein says:

    Abandoned Luncheonette is the title track on their platinum album. Obscure? Perhaps. Seriously obscure? Not a chance.

  4. Ray says:

    I’m always down for some Tears for Fears or The Smiths

  5. Stewart says:

    Yeah…Dan’s right. I thought I knew my fair amount of H&O, but even after pulling it up and listening to it I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it…title track or not.

  6. John says:

    There’s only one song I’ll do at karaoke – Ice, Ice, Baby – everyone knows it, but hardly anyone knows all the words, and it gets people going pretty nicely.

  7. Jeremiah says:

    Giving your heart to a performance of nearly anything from “Some Girls” by the Rolling Stones is sure to please the crowd. It definitely gets women going…

  8. null says:

    As a capable and trained singer, I would protest that showboating is actually always the correct thing to do, so long as you got the pipes. To those who don’t have pretty sounding voices, don’t forget that having good control can more than make up for it (see: Tom Petty).

  9. Charlie says:

    As someone that isn’t a trained capable singer but has been to a few karaoke (more like kare-off-key, am I right people? haha…ehhh) nights I disagree. The guys and gals that showboat kill the room. No one wants to follow them, and they end up monopolizing the stage.

    If you have a good voice and want to show it off join a local theater or a band.

  10. Scott says:

    I’m not in full agreement with the “no showboating” – I think one can overcome lack of voice quality with a good stage show. Cracking out a bit of fist pumping and air guitar during White Wedding tends to move the show along pretty well.

  11. Andrew+ says:

    Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo” is my go to. It’s always a good way to start off a night of karaoke and get everyone into it.

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