I live in Japan and karaoke is nothing short of an art form here. You have private rooms with a phone in them so you can order drinks without leaving, there are instruments in said rooms to encourage you to let your inner Stevie Nicks out and play the shit out of the tambourine, and everyone sings — even people that are ear-splittingly tone deaf. I have spent countless hours in karaoke rooms listening to and singing with all manners of music for the past year and a half and now I bring my findings to you.
The best night of karaoke should start off like sex — you need a good amount of foreplay — you can’t just start up with Sweet Caroline or Total Eclipse of the Heart — you work your way up to it, you ease your way in. You want to start the night with stuff everyone knows the words to – it gets the crowd going and builds enthusiasm for what is to come next. Steer clear of anything that is too slow, too depressing, or too weird to start out.
I recommend going back into your middle school and high school years and picking popular songs that everyone knows the words to by heart (even if they are ashamed to admit it).Here are few good songs to start your night and get the place bumping.
Best Karaoke Foreplay –
The Spice Girls – Wannabe:”Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I really, really, really wanna zigazig uh!” Whether you went to boarding school in New Hampshire, public school in PA or some weirdo hippie charter school in California – you knew and loved The Spice Girls in junior high. My friends and I went as them for Halloween in 8th grade and it was the best! And the faux rap part that Mel B. (Scary Spice) does in the middle of the song is pure gold. So slam your body down and wind it all around for this awesome song.
Salt n’Pepa – Shoop: One of the greatest songs ever and also a relatively easy song to rap (this is also good if you’re already pretty drunk). Everyone knows a LOT of words to this song and if you brought your bff with you to karaoke – you can impress everyone with how often you’ve practiced rapping to this on your road trips. Bonus points if you have a guy friend who can rap the gentleman part — it really sells the song. Also, getting to yell “Girls, what’s my weakness?!” and having the whole room shout back “MEN!” — is amazeballs.
Say My Name – Destiny’s Child: Another winner from my high school days. Remember the video with the different rooms that were different colors and DC’s outfits perfectly matched each room? Aww yeah. I think I officially joined the Beyhive with this song. Perfect for a group of gals and if you are particularly talented – you can harmonize and really impress people.
Build Me Up Buttercup The Foundations : There was a reason there is a sing-along to this song at the end of There’s Something About Mary and that reason is that it’s fucking awesome.
Livin’ On a Prayer – Bon Jovi :No one hates Bon Jovi when they’re drunk. No one hates this song and no one will hate you when you headbang and sing about Gina and Johnny. You are even allowed to play air guitar to Richie Sambora’s sweet licks. No judgement from over here.
Raspberry Beret – Prince : If you wanna kick it old school funk and impress the ladies – then whip out the man who gave us such songs as Pussy Control and Let’s Go Crazy and give everyone your best Prince impersonation. Impress us even further by showing off your falsetto and hitting those high notes.
Okay – now that we’ve gotten our juices going (karaoke juices — gross you guys!) it’s time to kick it into high gear. Songs to sing along to, to intensely and embarrassingly emote to, etc.
I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing – Aerosmith: Remember when Armageddon was THE movie of the summer? And Michael Clarke Duncan was still alive (too soon?)? And Owen Wilson was a relatively unknown actor? And Aerosmith had the biggest hit song of the year? Yeah? Me too. It was great. The picture below is of a whole group of people from all over the US who all feel the same way. Look at the vocal straining, the eyes being closed, the fists being balled up. This song brings these emotions to the table and brings us back to a time when Ben Affleck was part of Bennifer and not a director of Oscar nominated movies.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston: I have never met anyone who does not want to sing along to this when it comes on at karaoke. Bonus points if the person singing it can actually sing.
Anything by Cher – (shhh — it’s the inner queen in me — it can’t be helped)
Friends in Low Places – Garth Brooks : Maybe it’s my rural central PA upbringing but this one makes me want to put my arms around everyone and sway in a drunken circle as we sing along to this with our best country twangs.
Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill or Changes – Tupac: These two songs are late night jams that will get everyone rapping along. First – was there ever a more magical album in high school than The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (the answer is NO!). Second – TUPAC..nuff said.
Say It Ain’t So – Weezer : This is a great choice because instead of a guy in a backwards baseball cap and a hoodie playing this on his guitar on someone’s front porch at 3am when you’re walking home from the bar in college – YOU get to sing this without looking like a douche canoe.
Other classics that I won’t give lip service to here – You Oughta Know, Summer Nights from Grease, Love Shack, Sweet Caroline (I know it’s overplayed but I love Neil forever and always), most of the Fleetwood Mac catalog
Songs that Surprise in the Best Way – There have been a few times when a song will pop up on the screen and I think “Interesting…let’s see how this turns out” and I’ve loved it and so has everyone in the room.
Careless Whisper – WHAM! Or really anything by WHAM! or George Michael
Anything by Hall and Oates
What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes : One of my personal faves because as I could never tell if the lead singer was a man or woman I feel it’s comfortably in my low alto range. And I like screaming “I said HEY, what’s going on??”
Space Oddity – David Bowie : You can perfect your British accent as you sing this. And everyone gets to count down from 10 during the song. I like counting, what can I say?
This is How We Do It – Montell Jordan: Everyone knows the words to this but it somehow was never elevated to the karaoke status it deserves. It’s balls out awesome. Trust.
Promiscuous – Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland : The best duet I’ve ever seen was between a lady and gentleman who knew all of the words to this song and didn’t even need to look at the screen. There was also some hilariously bad dancing (think MTV’s The Grind style moves) that went along with the performance. Top notch.
500 Miles – The Proclaimers : Made even better if you can do this with a passable Scottish accent or if you actually are Scottish.
Songs That Make Me Want to Punch You in the Throat:
Anything by Evanescence
It’s All Coming Back to Me Now – Celine Dion: Yes, I have done this song and brought down the house, but if done without the proper panache and skill it turns into something truly awful. This holds true for the whole Celine Dion catalog – which is probably best avoided.
Like a Prayer – Madonna: Great song….until you realize how long it is and that you don’t have a gospel choir to back you up.
American Pie – Don McClean: You are a dick. This song is about 8 minutes long. I could have sang three Beatles songs in the same amount of time.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen: Just ugh. Not original – I actually put Don’t Stop Believin, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and Wanted Dead or Alive in this category too. Shit’s overplayed y’all.
Creep – Radiohead: I always feel like I’m being a stranger’s therapist when I hear this at karaoke. Seriously, get your shit together or go pay someone to listen to you be creepy.
Anything death metal/too slow/depressing/bad duets/people who can’t rap but choose a rap song (oh hey drunk college aged white girls)
Now You Have My Recommendations. What do you think? What are your go to karaoke jams?