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January 31, 2013 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Help me pick out an awesome song to sing at Karaoke!

Occasionally there comes a time when I must perform a karaoke song.

Last night at a work function I had to perform. I love to sing and I actually have a pretty voice, mostly alto, but I can do soprano. What I usually sing is Springsteen, in the car, at the top of my voice.

So I'm in the bar, with a Dark and Stormy in me and I decide to belt out "Born to Run". Now I negotiated the lyrics perfectly, but the tune! So FLAT!!! OMG!

I knew after the first line that I was in over my head. WHY? What made me choose a song that's notoriously hard to sing?

It dawned on me that most people have one go-to karaoke song. Something that's crowd-pleasing and that fits their voice.

Help me find that song! What song can I perfect so that if I'm ever called upon to sing again, that I can get up there, sing it decently, have folks cheer me on and not be admired for my balls, but for giving a good performance?
posted by Ruthless Bunny to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
With enough in-car practice, I've had great success with They Might Be Giant's "Birdhouse in your soul"
posted by hellojed at 1:58 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Kaw-Liga lets you belt out some really awesome notes, and it's also a song people aren't expecting to hear at karaoke. Always kills.
posted by jbickers at 2:01 PM on January 31, 2013

I've said it before, I'll say it again. There is one right answer to "what should I sing in Karaoke?" It's Louie, Louie. Not too hard to sing in terms of notes. People will forgive you is you mess up the lyrics (who would know). It's universally beloved. Why sing anything else?
posted by .kobayashi. at 2:01 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

You sound like you can do better than this, but something simple like Shout by Tears For Fears is very forgiving and crowd-pleasing.
posted by Beardman at 2:04 PM on January 31, 2013

You're So Vain is the best karaoke song. No difficult high notes, easy to sing, not too long, everyone likes it, you can make it soft and sweet or turn it into an angry-awesome barn burner.

Second best karaoke song is Folsom Prison Blues, especially if you're a relatively small lady person but can manage the very low descending notes of "And that's what tor...tures...me."
posted by peachfuzz at 2:07 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

When considering a song for karaoke it's helpful to try to remember the lyrics first without music. Not the chorus, the verses. Picture yourself singing them. Does the tune have lots of notes? Are there lots of words? Then skip it. Are there weird parts like bridges or long spoken words outros? Skip it. You're looking for anthems.

Also recently I jumped up and sang One by U2 without hearing it for like 10 years and nailed it. Anything mid-tempo, with few words in the verses and no bridges, that was released when you were about 15 is your target. Another good choice is World's Greatest by R. Kelly. Enjoy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:10 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am giving you a gift - the gift of the perfect karaoke song for people with alto voices and a little bit of attitude. This is almost guaranteed to bring the house down.

The song is "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes. I have mic-dropped after nailing this song. It's that good. (OK, I didn't actually mic drop because I respect the DJ, but I really wanted to).
posted by muddgirl at 2:11 PM on January 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

I used to work at a karaoke bar, and I think you should have a few songs, depending on the crowd. Songs that brought down the house include

Journey's Don't Stop Believing
Salt 'n' Pepa's Shoop
Public Enemy's Fight the Power (woman stood on top of the bar -- she had it memorized and didn't need the screen)
Patsy Cline's Crazy (so impressive that the owner comped the entire party, meal and all drinks)

I also recommend R. Kelly's Ignition Remix.
posted by hmo at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's always a risk factor with karaoke unless you pay close attention to the key of the song, because even something you'd think would be easy to sing could be in some strange key that makes it totally impossible. A few songs I enjoy doing at karaoke:

*"Pink" by Aerosmith
*"Get Ready" by The Temptations
*"This Kiss" by Faith Hill (although the karaoke version is usually waaay too long, beware)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2013

Tennessee Plates by John Hiatt? Changed the Locks by Lucinda Williams? Both are pretty short and are also fun to sing.
posted by wolfgirl at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2013

Librarian social events seem to feature karaoke a lot, and have noticed the same small set of songs - especially Love Shack and Hey Jude - come up repeatedly.

My personal go-to karaoke song is Elvis Presley's "Can't help falling in love", though if sufficiently inebriated (and the music is lined up) will have a crack at Cole Porter's "Night and Day" (the ending can be problematic, though).

Bruce's "I'm on fire" is good for people who prefer a shorter time on stage.
posted by Wordshore at 2:15 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, if you want stick with Bruce, and you want to make everyone cry, may I suggest Downbound Train? You can really get them on the bridge. It's a cinch for an alto.
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:16 PM on January 31, 2013

I've rocked the house with "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." That's a fun song, everybody likes it, and it's easy enough to fit within different voice ranges.
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:18 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alto female here recommending King of the Road by Roger Miller if you can manage the "I'm a maaaan of means by no means" bit.
posted by salvia at 2:18 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Madonna's Borderline. Very short range in that song.
posted by sweetkid at 2:19 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I will Survive" is a huge crowd pleaser, and a nice compromise between a song that shows a little voice, and is actually pretty easy to sing.
posted by dadici at 2:23 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Once people are in the mood Minnie the Moocher is great because most of it is spoken in a sing song style and there is a good bit of audience participation.
posted by koolkat at 2:24 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Love the 4 Non Blondes suggestion. Others that this alto has rocked: "I love rock & roll" by Joan Jett. "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield. "City by the Bay" by Journey.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 2:27 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I usually do "Me & Bobby McGee", but sometimes will pick something by Patsy Cline (do this carefully, as a lot of her lyrics are... intense to say the least) or a faster more stereotypically country Dolly Parton song (never "I Will Always Love You" - too hard). Loretta Lynn isn't a bad choice, either. Bonus points if there's yodeling.

If I am drunk, "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" will inevitably occur.
posted by Sara C. at 2:28 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

May I suggest the Commitments version of 'Mustang Sally'? Not only will it be well in your range, the crowd loves to help with the "ride, Sally, ride" part.
posted by tomboko at 2:28 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Patsy Cline's Crazy

Oh, be careful with this one. Every time I do it I feel like I sound kind of... crazy. It's just really, really plaintive. I always feel like someone might run from the bar into traffic.
posted by Sara C. at 2:30 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you can handle the tongue-twister lyrics, Blinded by the Light is killer. I also really love Stand on It, (I saw this concert in the link, and it was amazing.)
posted by Ideefixe at 2:31 PM on January 31, 2013

Part of the karaoke magic is not just when you've nailed the vocal range, but you've also perfected the phrasing. Extra points for dance moves. I'm an alto and find these songs fun and relatively easy: Backstreet Boys, I Want It That Way (as emoted by two Chinese boys); GNR, Sweet Child O' Mine (with the Axl dance).

So friends of mine (no really, I'm not this organized!) have been known to write down song titles when out at karaoke, go home to practice with lyrics videos on YouTube, and then debut in public. Since go-to songs can be generation-dependent, maybe have a home karaoke rehearsal? The only song I knew so well that I rocked it flawlessly on the first try was Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. Yep that totally gives away my age.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:35 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

go-to songs can be generation-dependent

Also, this. If you've got a number of under-25s or over-50s in your group, they will not know 4 Non Blondes and will wonder in fear what you're Hey-yey-yeying about.
posted by sweetkid at 2:39 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

One Night In Bangkok
posted by mannequito at 2:39 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a very similar range to you.

"These Boots are Made for Walking" by Nancy Sinatra is always a good one that works well.

I also usually do some 70s era Heart, who I find has become weirdly popular amongst twenty-somethings who like to cheer me on.

Oh, and "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by The Darkness, especially if you're just willing to yell a lot on key.

Probably the weirdest thing I ever did that mostly worked was Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" but I was really up in falsetto way more than I'd expected, so it was risky.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 2:43 PM on January 31, 2013

OH ALSO Talking Heads' Psycho Killer is fast becoming my new go-to karaoke song. Perfect for altos, you get to do some fun belting with the oh-Oh-OH-OOOOOOOOO, and no one ever expects it. Learn the French part cold, though, first (it's short and easy).
posted by peachfuzz at 2:59 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

My favorite song to sing karaoke is "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell. Nothing too complicated, but it's still fun. :)
posted by jillithd at 3:01 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you ever done "Jolene" by Dolly Parton? It's super fun to belt out.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 3:04 PM on January 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oooh totally seconding MoonOrb's suggestion for Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back. Humor helps bring down the house. From the same era, Biz Markie's Just A Friend is awesome because he's is no great vocalist and you can just sing extra impassioned and scratchy for the chorus. But yeah, your audience would have to been educated in the U.S. school system in the early 90s to get really excited.

You can sorta side-step the generation gap by picking a more recent hit. Lady Gaga's Bad Romance is firmly in the alto range, but definitely practice to get the required vocal swagger.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:11 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since I like you I will share my go-to karaoke song: "That Don't Impress Me Much" by Shania Twain. It's not too tough to sing, and it has a lot of personality so you can get into the performance.

Also, there is no shame in practicing, or keeping a cheat-sheet list on your phone or in your wallet.
posted by radioamy at 3:13 PM on January 31, 2013

I.O.I.O. by The Bee Gees is a fun, albeit not easy, one.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2013

Response by poster: Guys, these are all stellar suggestions! Thank you so much!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2013

Papa Don't Preach
posted by belladonna at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2013

My go-tos are Bob Dylan, James Brown, and the Ramones.

Bob Dylan, you can go completely crazy and it's just the style. Though I've noticed the only one I can count on being there is Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35, which may paint you as a stoner.

James Brown is mostly an excuse to dance, I guess you should avoid if you don't want a different avenue to embarrass yourself.

Ramones, they were always about more energy than talent, no risk of being in over your head.
posted by RobotHero at 5:02 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey Ya, by Outkast, is a shockingly good karaoke song, for just about anyone. You can sing it horribly, but as long as you hit the beats, it's awesome. It's got a good beat that gets people going, and it's got high singalong audience participation potential.
posted by smoq at 5:23 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Uhhh my go-to song tends to be The Real Slim Shady, and it's always been a crowd-pleaser, mostly because people don't really expect it coming out of a little girl >.>
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 6:34 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Patsy Cline's Crazy (so impressive that the owner comped the entire party, meal and all drinks)

Oh, be careful with this one. Every time I do it I feel like I sound kind of... crazy.

Yes, Crazy! - perfect for alto voice with easy lyrics and captivating if performed well. Try it!!
posted by ourroute at 6:49 PM on January 31, 2013

A note of caution re Eminen: rap lyrics move REALLY fast when you try to sing them by yourself! Approach carefully.
posted by dry white toast at 7:29 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like hip hop because I am useless at singing but good at remembering lyrics. Kanye West's Gold Digger is always good. I also go for Total Eclipse of the Heart quite often, but I am sure that sounds terrible - who cares though, isn't that the point?
posted by kwes at 7:39 PM on January 31, 2013

Nthing Baby Got Back, as long as you feel comfortable monologuing about asses to your coworkers for 4.5 minutes. Also you can never go wrong with Johnny Cash.

But whatever you do, be sure to sing your go-to song at home. Not "practice," really, but "revel in how awesome this song is and sing along" while alone. That's how you get comfortable with the lyrics, tempo, and notes / range. It's also how you learn to revel in how awesome the song is, so your energy while performing is infectious.

If you're ever singing your go-to song and you're not excited for it, fret not. You've been given a gift: a chance to pick a new go-to song!
posted by Tehhund at 8:03 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a fellow Springsteen fan, I always pick Living On A Prayer. It's easier to sing than a Springsteen song and if you're in a pub you can get everyone joining in on the choruses.

Otherwise it's Summer of 69.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:55 PM on January 31, 2013

I'm really confused as to why Careless Whisper hasn't been mentioned. It is my only karaoke song and it has served me well.
posted by shesbookish at 9:14 PM on January 31, 2013

Your song is your song. No one can choose it for you and there's no right answer. If you love Springsteen, start singing as much Springsteen as you can in the shower until you find one you like. The more familiar you are with a given tune, the more comfortable you'll be on stage, and the more entertaining you'll be overall.

I do recommend keeping a list on your phone of potential songs to try. Update it as you hear things on the radio, browse through your CDs, or zip through Spotify. Choosing a song during karaoke is next to impossible: there's just too much noise and beer and general frivolity to try to dig out that killer song from memory.
posted by eamondaly at 10:14 PM on January 31, 2013

Also, this. If you've got a number of under-25s or over-50s in your group, they will not know 4 Non Blondes and will wonder in fear what you're Hey-yey-yeying about.

What?! No. I'm 52, and I certainly know 4 Non Blondes.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:20 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Around here Springsteen's big 'pop' hit is Dancing In The Dark, which is pretty fun to sing. At least you were never tricked into trying to play along to Adam Raised A Cain in a kareoke contest.

There's lots of Springsteen-like singers. Why not The Killers 'All These Things I've Done'?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:21 PM on January 31, 2013

i agree with eamondaly - you gotta choose you own song, in advance, and no one can do it for you. the trick is to:

a) pick one that you like, and easily fits your vocal range.

b) practice it in your car. in the shower doesn't work cause you can move the key to wherever fits your voice best - at karaoke it'll (hopefully, should be) in the key it was recorded in, same as your car. if you pick a song not actually in your key, you'll find out in the privacy of your automobile, not in front of 100 strangers.

c) print out the lyrics and practice a bit with them in hand before you ever get near the karaoke room- even if you don't have the whole thing memorized, it'll work better in front of the screen if you've already gotten your head around them a bit.
posted by messiahwannabe at 10:48 PM on January 31, 2013

My go-to lately is "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend". That one is fun, and people eat it up. My go-to decade has always been the 80's. Some I am fond of are "Rapture" (Blondie); "Don't You Want Me" (Human League, but you'll need a partner for this one-- I prefer singing the male part); "Pretty in Pink" (Psychedelic Furs); "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (Simple Minds)... I'll do Blondie's "Heart of Glass" if I'm a bit more soprano than usual that night... Ooh, Duran Duran is good... I had one friend who did a truly inspiring version of Romeo Void's "Never Say Never" once. I always forget about that one when I'm out.

It might also be good to stop thinking of karaoke as something to Be Good At (TM). If you're trying to outperform people on a technical level, it's nowhere near as much fun. What makes a good karaoke performance is the attitude, if the person with the mic can already sing. At least in my experience.

Last time I went to karaoke I was discussing with a friend the fact that I don't think even John Linnell could make "Birdhouse in your Soul" sufficiently exciting as a karaoke song. Just something about the energy of the song-- either it's live or it's not, and there is no halfway. So that obviously wouldn't be my pick. (One of my favourite songs by my lifelong favourite band, though, so if you can do it justice at karaoke, that is *awesome*.)
posted by Because at 5:28 AM on February 1, 2013

It is my dream to do Waterloo by Abba in karaoke. Just like Muriel in Muriel's Wedding.
posted by young sister beacon at 6:08 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ain't no shame in having a go-to karaoke list. I have one (used to be just in Notes on my phone but now it's a Spotify playlist). It's good to have a mix of quieter songs and sing-along party songs and new ones and classics, so you can match the room/crowd.

Also, practice! I do karaoke regularly and get tired of my go-to songs so when I think of a new one I listen to it over and over and practice! It's how you know if there's some weird a-cappella bridge in a strange key or whatever.

That said, I am not a good singer (just okay) and don't have much range and am kinda alto but sometimes soprano I guess? To give you an idea of my range, the first suggestion here (Birdhouse in Your Soul) is WAY too low for me but singing an octave up is too high. Anyway, here's my 90s-heavy list:

Thank you - Dido
Stay - Lisa Loeb
Seether - Veruca Salt
Feed the Tree - Belly
Would? - Alice in Chains
Heart Shaped Box - Nirvana
My Hero - Foo Fighters
Laid - James
Mr. Brightside - Killers
Time After Time - Cyndi Lauper
What I Am - Edie Brickell
Anarchy in the UK - Sex Pistols
Longview - Green Day
Possum Kingdom - Toadies
(I've Had) The Time of My Life - duet, need a partner
Love Shack - duet, need a partner

You'll see some of them are pretty different. Anarchy in the UK coming from me (a 5'1" girl in a pixie cut)? More hilarious than good but people actually request I do it. Sometimes I kick a chair at the end - but make sure the venue is ok with that kind of theatrics.

Anyway I agree that karaoke is less about being good and more about selling it. Like I said, I don't have a great voice, I miss notes sometimes or forget how parts of songs go, but I am up there belting it out anyway and usually get lots of hi-fives from the crowd. Plus *I'm* having fun which is most of the point.

Oh, and err on the side of short songs, so if you do bomb you're not up there for 6 and a half minutes sweating it out. Also I just think long songs are rude. I can nail Sweet Child of Mine, for example, but that song is just too long for karaoke.
posted by misskaz at 9:36 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, after reviewing all of the very excellent suggestions and advice, I'm thinking of making Chumbawamba's Tubthumping one of my go-to songs, and Kelis's, Milkshake as another.

I had thought about doing Longview that night, but kind of chickened out. I was hoping for Prove it All Night, because I know it well, but they didn't have it. (Either way Springsteen is OUT going forward.)

I love the idea of Anarchy in the UK. I love the song, and I can scream the hell out of it!

And now...off to practice!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:49 PM on February 1, 2013

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