My Karaoke No-Fly List
Songs Either Overrated or Overplayed
I love karaoke.
You could say that I am like a duck in water in regards to it. No, not the Asian type karaoke where you rent out a room and croon to close friends and try to decipher the remote iconography that is in a different language, but more of our Western style karaoke where we perform in front of audiences that in a utopia also includes people who aren’t other singers and where there is the KJ running the show. A KJ (karaoke jockey) who provides order to chaos, brings energy and personality to the show, a good sound system, and whenever possible, a large variety of quality backup tracks.
With those things, the singer, who has their chance at the spotlight, just has to bring it, whatever “it” is. And for that, two things come into play. The first one is actual voice range and skill, and the second is song choice. I want to talk about the second.
To Sing...or Not to Sing.
If you do a Google search on “Go-To karaoke songs” you will see a lot of lists. I have a similar list, and it’s not for the go-to songs, but the “no fly” list. As luck (good or otherwise) would have it, these lists have some crossover. These are songs that are heard constantly. They aren’t necessarily bad songs, but way too on-point for karaoke because everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, sings them.
Friends In Low Places • Garth Brooks
This is purely for drunken audience participation, and rarely is it sung well. As fortune would have it, I recently shared this as the top song on my karaoke no-fly list to a KJ who served it up to me at the end of the night thinking that I would refuse to sing it.
I sang it.
I think he was mildly irritated that I wasn’t angry or belligerent about it. My no-fly list is for songs I would choose never to inflict on others. The KJ, on the other hand, can override me at any time and it’s only three minutes of my life that I’ll never get back. Extra negative points if the person singing the song asks for the extended version of the song.
Sweet Caroline • Neil Diamond
Half the time I hear this song, the words are slurred, and the song is shouted. This is probably the second most often sung song of karaoke since it arrived on this continent. This is the McDonalds of Karaoke songs, over 3 billion sung.
I confess, two weeks ago, when my voice was shot and I was in the throes of hoarseness, I too sang this song. Even in my hoarse state the audience participation was there. People can’t help but shout in a Pavlovian manner “Dah Dah Dah” after “Sweet Caroline!”
Margaritaville • Jimmy Buffett
This song is pretty worn out. Again, another easy song to sing, and easier if you’ve had a couple Margaritas, or so you think. I actually heard a decent version of this song sung as a duet after I told two of my friends who sing karaoke about my no-fly list. They are the exception to the rule. Hey let’s sing a song no one has ever sung in karaoke—how about Margaritaville?—said no one, ever.
Bohemian Rhapsody • Queen
In a utopia this would be a great song. It would be awesome to hear someone with chops similar to Freddy Mercury. But as KJ’s have told me, this song is rarely sung by a single person. Usually, it’s a group of people, and you can just stop right there because it’s never a good sign when a group of people stand up to sing a song unless they are wearing matching suits.
There’s no harmony, there’s no nuance and vocal dynamics, it’s just a bunch of drunk people fighting over who will dominate the microphone while we, the audience, tolerate the song. I’d rather hear one person with a limited range do that song than five people who can “cover” it because there was no discussion beforehand who would take which part of the song. Yeah, it's not going to end well.
Killing Me Softly • Roberta Flack (Just kidding, no one ever does this version) Fugees
This is a good song. The original was good times. If you’re going to do the Fugees version, shouldn’t there be a guy up there doing the guy part? There rarely is. The problem I have with it is I hear it at least once a week if not more (yes I go to more than one karaoke venue a week).
The only thing that keeps me amused is I remember when I hear this song Hugh Grant in the movie About A Boy where he performs it with a kid and performs an act of kindness to save the child from years of bullying. That’s what I think of when I hear this song, not the people singing it.
Call Tyrone • Erykah Badu
Please, no one call Tyrone. Hang up the phone, and whatever you do ladies, don’t get involved with a boyfriend who has an enabling friend like Tyrone. Just don’t do it. I never liked this song, and a friend of mine calls these type of songs about guys that are just bad news as “burning bed” songs. The country versions of the songs are sung by Miranda Lambert, GunPowder and Lead and Carrie Underwood, Before He Cheats. And yeah, those are also on my “no fly” list. They will not, however, get their own spot on my list, but will be relegated to the sub heading here.
The sad thing about this song is that somewhere there is Tyrone’s buddy, and he probably brags to his friends that the song is about him. Here’s an idea, if a guy really is that bad, don’t write a song about him, just leave his lame ass. Also, I have another issue with it. Maybe Tyrone’s friend wasn’t so bad after all because the first thing you say is your mad because he doesn’t buy you anything. Is that what you think a guy is, a wallet with feet? Imagine if as a guy I started off my song with “You never buy me anything.”
I Love Rock & Roll • Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Some say Still Rock & Roll To Me by Billy Joel is the worst song about Rock & Roll, but I think it’s this one. First of all, when this song came out, Jukeboxes took quarters, not dimes, so it already made it obsolete. Secondly, it’s just a dumb song. I’d rather hear the Waitresses sing “I know what Boys Like” than this song.
Piano Man • Billy Joel
I love Billy Joel, I grew up on Billy Joel. But I don’t want to hear Piano Man sung in karaoke because I often hear Piano Man sung in karaoke. One of the reasons is that very few people do justice to his songs. I am an elitist snob when it comes to Billy Joel thinking that I am one of the few people that pulls it off. So, in that way, it is personal. But objectively, I have to say, it’s hard to hear others do Piano Man. I usually will hear it done one octave down once the higher part begins.
Usually those that sing this song either do the lower or higher part correctly. Very few sing both parts the way they ought to be sung. So if you can't, then please, don't.
Don’t Stop Believin’ • Journey
J Lo, the nickname of one of the managers at a local venue I go to, sings this song well, so I am hesitant to put it down. But very few people, and even fewer guys, do well with this one. I’ve seen some guys actually come up and invite another person to “do the high parts” of the song. Pro Tip: If you can’t sing the high part of the song, don’t sing the song, or if you are skilled enough, ask for it in a lower key.
And it’s not just about singing in the higher register, it’s singing with power in the higher register. Another thing, and again, this makes me sound like a sanctimonious elitist jerk, but part of what makes Journey great is the raspiness of the voice of Steve Perry. Very few women have that Janice Joplin/Joan Osborne rasp to their voice and so it, in a sense, ruins the song.
Man Eater • Hall & Oates
I don’t like this song. There are a couple other songs that I don’t like from the simple reason that it’s not a good song. And with Sara Smiles and other Hall & Oates songs out there, why would you bother with this one?
Turn The Page • Bob Seger
I get it your on your own again. Nothing speaks to the ramblin’ man like the call of the open road. But the refrain is almost familiar now as to be cliche. It makes me wish for the days when Old Time Rock & Roll ruled the karaoke day.
House Of The Rising Sun • The Animals
Another song sung way too often. The problem here is similar to Piano Man and that is the jump in octaves. The people that can sing the low part have a hard time tackling the high part, and vice versa. Add to that the fact that it starts getting redundant after awhile and…it gets old after awhile.
Creep • Radiohead
I think there is no mystery here, we’re all creeps and weirdos so spare us the song. I thought of doing this song as well until I heard so many other creeps and weirdos do this song. This is one of those anthems of individuality that collectively we all as individuals sing.
The only true creeps and weirdos are the ones that lack the self awareness to realize they are the ones who are the truly creepy, and it’s doubtful they read articles about karaoke. Also, they are too creepy to actually take the time to sing this song.
Family Tradition • Hank Williams Jr.
This song, like Sweet Caroline, is all about audience participation. This, to me, translates into pandering. I would like to think that we can get onboard with not pandering to the audience by performing songs that are all "audience participation." If my objective was to pick songs that required audience participlation, maybe I should pick the Hokey Pokey. Or maybe I could blow everyone away with an impromptu game of "Simon Says."
Karaoke. by it's very nature, is going to be full of songs that at one time were popular. There are songs that are chosen a lot because they showcase voices and certain dynamics. My advice is that since there are a lot of songs out there, enjoy them. Choose the song less chosen, sing something that you like, but that others might not think is aces in their book. Don't go for the low hanging fruit, go for something a little more obscure or less sung. You'll do yourself a favor as well as everyone around you.