10 Best and Worst Karaoke Songs to Sing
I'll admit it. It's embarrassing, but my friends and I are karaoke junkies. It wasn't always this way. We would karaoke every now and then, for something different to do. Now, we crave it. We make lists of songs to sing and get excited when we come up with a good new one. If the crowd or other singers are lame, we purposely sing annoying songs to spite them. We are officially karaoke nerds.
Why do we even like karaoke? It's such a weird thing to do. We go to a bar to listen to (usually tone deaf) amateurs singing songs they shouldn't be singing, and we shamefully mutilate a few ourselves. Karaoke's been around in Asia since the 1970s--no big surprise that Japan is credited for starting it--but it's a fairly new form of entertainment here in the US. And we still love it. Serious karaoke fanatics buy a karaoke system and have karaoke parties in their basements. Others seek out karaoke bars and private karaoke rooms. I've done it all, and each venue has its own appeal.
Now that I've been to my fare share of Southern California karaoke establishments, I've got a good handle on what songs work and what songs don't. Whether you're new to karaoke or you're an old veteran, this list might give you some ideas for your next karaoke outing. Instead of lazily listing good and bad songs, I've decided to give you categories with many songs in each. Enjoy the show!
It's only fair to have proof.
1) The cherished (80s) rock songs - I stuck 80s in there because there are so many good ones from that era. Bon Jovi, Guns n' Roses (though be careful with GnR cause some of their songs are LOOONG), and hair bands like Poison or Def Leppard are great karaoke fun. Who doesn't like to hear "Pour Some Sugar on Me" in a bar? These work so well because we hardly hear these songs anywhere else these days.
People actually like this!
2) The silly, yet fun pop songs - These work well because they're songs people secretly enjoy--and you might be surprised what people secretly enjoy. "Living La Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin was one that we tried for obnoxiousness, that the crowd actually really enjoyed. Other good ones are Ace of Base "The Sign," Spice Girls "Wannabe," George Michael "Faith," "Lady Marmalade" (for true singers) and if you're feeling really brave...try Wham "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go."
3) The successful duets - Duets are tough. Most people avoid them, but there are a few that everyone loves. "Love Shack" by the B52s and "Summer Nights" from Grease will never lead you astray.
4) Journey - Everybody loves Journey. Even if you won't admit it, you love Journey. HOWEVER, and I stress this, don't try to sing Journey if you can't hit those notes or if you're tone deaf. The crowd will drown you out if you can't sing, but Journey is much more karaoke fun if the person up there can actually sing. The obvious ones are "Don't Stop Believing" and "Faithfully," but I've also seen some great renditions of "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)." Pick a song, any song. They're all bomb.
5) The songs everybody knows but forgot about - Bringing a song back that used to be popular is always fun. "Semi Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind, old Elton John like "Crocodile Rock," or songs like Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" can work well because people go, Oh yeah, I remember this song!! They make good karaoke songs for the nostalgia factor.
6) The girl anthems - Here you've got your female empowerment songs, and a few that are just awesome. Try some Tragic Kingdom-era No Doubt, Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" (which is vastly becoming a crowd favorite and is the only acceptable "country" song to sing).
- Side category: The 80s girl anthem - Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," anything by Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, or if you really can't think of anything else to sing, Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n Roll."
7) The old school hits - These are the old dude favorites. But no matter your age, these songs are always good. Kicking it old school is always appreciated - Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, or "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" are a few faves.
8) The left field crowd pleasers - If you can sing for real and you're feeling crazy.... try some crowd pleasers most people wouldn't think to sing for karaoke. Like "Let's Get it On" by Marvin Gaye. Or some James Brown. Something that requires crooning or massive singing skills.
9) The dancing songs - These are the songs that are going to make people get up and dance. ABBA is great for this. Britney can also work, but it depends on the song. "Baby Got Back" is also a dancing gem, but make sure you know the words.
10) Anything singalongable - This covers any songs that people like to sing to. Weezer is a crowd pleaser, Madonna and Billy Idol too. People always enjoy "Sweet Home Alabama" too. Even though it's overdone, it's a fun singalongable song.
1) The songs EVERYBODY sings - If I never hear "Sweet Caroline," "Margaritaville" or "Brown Eyed Girl" ever again, it would be too soon.
2) The songs nobody knows - If your friends go "Huh?" when you mention an artist or song, it's probably not a good one for karaoke. Why it's even in the book is beyond me. People will be bored if they don't know the song you're singing. Old dudes are infamous for pulling these out.
3) Anything country - Period. Don't do it. Nobody cares. [Edit: This applies in California (where I live), but not in most of the US, as has been pointed out many times by commenters. This also does not apply to any country that you hear on MTV.]
4) No more slow songs - The biggest problem with slow songs is that they're painfully long. An old guy favorite in this category is Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." Anything with a similar tempo should be avoided, especially if it's 8 minutes long.
5) No more sad songs - Anything about dying or death or songs that make people cry should not be brought into a karaoke platform. Once, a girl sang "I Will Remember You" by Sarah McLachlan and then immediately went into "Goodbye to You" by Michelle Branch as her next choice. If you're depressed, don't sing karaoke.
6) The awkwardly sexual song - While "Baby Got Back" is fun*, don't think sexual songs fly with karaoke crowds. Once you get into "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang or "I'll Make Love to You" by Boyz II Men, people start to feel uncomfortable (we actually sang the latter once...it was AWKWARD). Another one to avoid is "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd. It's not funny- just awkward.
* This song is best sung when everybody's had a few drinks in them.
7) The rap songs, by someone who can't rap - This doesn't happen very often (most people know better), but I've seen it. Basically: White girls should not try to sing Snoop Dogg. I say this based on the fact that most white girls cannot rap. Also, white guys, don't think that you can rap Eminem songs just because he's a fellow white guy. Here's a good rule for all: Unless someone has told you, "Hey you're good at rapping!" you should probably not rap.
And you thought you'd never have to hear this song again. BWAHAHA
8) Songs that are plain annoying - My favorite in this category is LEN's "Steal My Sunshine." Not gonna lie- I got up with a friend and did this one. When the song title came on the screen, the audience GROANED. Groaned. No joke. Stay away from songs people just don't like. Aqua's "Barbie Girl" would be another groan-inducing one. And this is just personal opinion, but Creed and Nickelback also go in this category for me. Creed makes me want to stab my eyes out.
Side thought: By the way, we all know Michael Jackson died recently. But that does not mean you have to sing his songs every time you karaoke. I'm already sick of hearing them. At the last karaoke bar I went to, a huge group got up and did "Beat It", but they didn't even sing! They just stood up there and danced... believe me, nobody appreciates your tribute.
9) The 10 minute long song - I'm talking to you, "Bohemian Rapsody" and "Thriller." It sounds like a good idea because people like these songs, but trust me...by 7 minutes, people are bored. Sure they'll sing along for a while. But these songs are Just. Too. Long. And absolutely no "Freebird" or "Hotel California" either!!
10) Songs with very little lyrics or long instrumental sections - Usually the only time this happens is after the 10th sake bomb, but it's a good reminder to know what you're singing before you put it in. Songs like "Tequila!" should never be karaoke'd. This also applies for songs like "Paradise City" by GnR...it's got a forever and ever instrumental section right in the middle, making it a weird song for karaoke. "Love is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar...same thing. Listen to your karaoke songs before you hit the bar.
- Also: Songs with seriously repetitive lyrics like "Total Eclipse of the Heart" get old real fast too.
Some Great Southern California Karaoke Bars:
Now it's your turn. I know I've left some out, so...
What's your favorite and least favorite karaoke song?
Hey, I made another best & worst list just for you!
10 More Best and Worst Karaoke Songs to Sing