Do you love karaoke? Great. Here are 10 songs picked especially for you!
“Purple Rain” by Prince
Now that our patron saint of frilly-bloused, pan-erotic, disco-rock-sex-funk has sadly shuffled off this mortal coil, his signature slow jam can serve as much as tribute as a “let’s-slow-things-down” showpiece in your karaoke rep.
If it’s not too lofty to put that pressure on what is, let’s face it, a mostly frivolous activity, a karaoke run at “Purple Rain” might even lift some spirits. Sung in a gracious middle key, rather than Prince’s frequent falsetto squeal, it should allow you to bare your soul without any embarrassing high-register mishaps.
“Like a Prayer” by Madonna
Madonna takes sex to church in the title track of her 1988 album. Even stripped of its cross-burning video, the song is plenty inflammatory enough in its conflation of religious fervor and fellatio. (“When you call my name it’s like a little prayer, I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there.”) Whatever mix of piety and lust you bring to your own version, the important thing is to get the whole room to sing and clap along as your choir at the end, as you preach the passion of Madge.
“Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
Nothing gets a room all worked up like Marvin Gaye’s quintessential call to, and for, action. The arrangement throws some curve balls, eschewing a traditional verse-chorus structure in favor of a relaxed jam where
Marvin can let loose with sultry riffs and primal howls, but a brave performer can use that to their advantage. Impress by inhabiting every provocative coo and rasp as they were recorded, or throw caution where your three sheets are and take off in your own direction. Either way your chances of leaving the bar alone just decreased 100%.
“Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates
While the Philadelphia duo has been retroactively, ironically embraced for their perceived cheesiness, the strength of Hall & Oates’s diamond-sharp songwriting remains unassailable. The group’s successful blend of R&B, soul and new wave, plus a knack for lithe, buoyant melodies led to massive commercial and critical success during the ’70s and ’80s.
They racked up six number-one singles during their glory days, giving us a lot to choose from, but the insistent, bouncy groove, smooth-as-silk harmonies and indispensable hand claps make “Private Eyes” the clear favorite.
“I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys
Lurking behind the shimmery Nordic production of this megahit is a great soul ballad. The lyrics are famously nonsensical, owing to Swedish producer and songwriter Max Martin’s tenuous grasp of English, but poetry’s beside the point when you’ve got one of pop music’s catchiest choruses.
Kevin Richardson – BSB’s “The Old One” – perceptively nailed the song’s appeal with his assessment: “There are a lot of songs out there that don’t make sense, but make you feel good when you sing along to them, and that’s one of them.” Couldn’t think of a better karaoke endorsement than that.
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
There’s something about an Americana ode to blue-collar youth that makes for a surefire karaoke classic, and no one knows this better than the Boss. Released in 1975, this song was his first charting single, the one that laid the foundation for decades of battered blue jeans and working-class anthems. And all these years later, a well delivered “Tramps like us, Baby we were born to run” will still slay a crowd.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston
Whitney’s 1987 smash remains an invigorating blast of lovelorn pop glory, her powerful, agile voice soaring effortlessly over spritely synths and funk-syncopated guitar. The whole thing makes the achingly lonely search for a dance floor soulmate sound like the best Friday night ever. Of course, nobody’s alone at karaoke. Especially if you nail that third-act key change.
“Love Shack” by the B-52’s
There is a great tradition in pop of pairing seductive female voices with weird dudes who just talk. It dates back to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, and Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, running to its acrobatic and strange extreme with the Sugarcubes. I suppose you could throw “Drunk in Love” in that category, too.
The B-52s are the ultimate example of this. All those who can’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow, you should thank your drunky stars for the karaoke salvation of Fred Schneider. You might need a couple ringers on stage to help with the Kate and Cindy parts of this 1989 chorus, but they’ll never steal the spotlight from your sassy barking.
“Fuck You” by CeeLo Green
You don’t have to be reeling from a recent split in order to enjoy the most jubilant, most profane breakup song of all time. CeeLo’s breezy neo-Motown rebuke of a money-crazed ex netted him and cowriter Bruno Mars a Grammy and much well-deserved critical praise.
Their ditty sails easily over a sea of gleeful horns and doo-wop backing vocals, emphasizing CeeLo’s quirky sense of humor and a clear, unabashed love of dropping those f-bombs. Heartbreak never sounded so carefree.
“Happy” by Pharrell Williams
There are about 80 unique words in the lyrics to Pharrell’s feel-good smash, but it feels like about 10. Let’s be honest, when you pick this ditty, you’re looking for minimal effort and maximum crowd-pleasing. It’s the macarena for your mouth. It’s a fart joke as elevator disco. Have you whiffed Pharrell’s Comme des Garçons fragrance? It probably smells like pizza and naps.
Wrap a heavy coat around your head, jump up there, clap and sing, “Because I’m happy!” about 56 times. Walk off stage a lazy champion.