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.