It seems safe to say that there’s no right way to karaoke. It’s really all about what you’re comfortable drunkenly belting out in front of a bar full of strangers. There are only a few hard and fast rules. Don’t pick a song that’s super long. Don’t pick a completely obscure song that no one gives a shit about. Know your audience. (Manowar, for instance, is fine at Kill ‘Em All Karaoke at Brooklyn’s metal bar, St. Vitus, but probably nowhere else.) The same guidelines that work for giving a good best man speech generally apply here, up to and including the admonition not to puke in the middle of your performance.
“Anything, Anything,” Dramarama
When considering New Jersey’s chief musical exports, thoughts tend to automatically go to Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi. (When it comes to karaoke, doubly so.) One of the lesser lights of the Garden State is Dramarama, a band that formed in Wayne in 1981. The band’s most notable song, “Anything, Anything,” is as catchy a pop anthem as you could ever want. Please note: It’s not necessary or even advisable to ingest Quaaludes beforehand.
Key lyric: “I’ll give you candy, give you diamonds, give you pills/ Give you anything you want/ Hundred dollar bills”
“Take On Me,” A-Ha
“Take On Me” is as popular a sing-a-long song as you could hope to find, popular at weddings and probably funerals, but it’s not a tune to be undertaken lightly. Unless you’re Steve Perry, trying to hit the high notes could leave your audience covering their ears and running for the exits.
Key lyric: “Take on me (take on me)/ Take me on (take on me)/ I’ll be gone in a day or two”
“High Enough,” Damn Yankees
Ted Nugent is a douche, but let’s give credit where it’s due. Ripping a guitar solo under a hail of police gunfire while wearing a zebra-print cape, wrap-around shades demands acknowledgment.
Key lyric: “I just made one mistake/ I didn’t know what to say when you called me baby”
“Protect Ya Neck,” Wu-Tang Clan
The sons of Shaolin made headlines recently by announcing the release of a single copy of their new record, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. As there will be only one copy in existence; they plan on touring with the artifact and charging people for the privilege of listening. You know what people won’t pay to hear? You, doing your best Raekwon impression.
Key lyric: “Crazy flamboyant for the rap enjoyment/ My clan increase like black unemployment”
“Man in Motion,” John Parr
It’s no secret that most of the best karaoke songs came out in the ’80s. Even the worst of them measure up. Take the theme song from the 1985 brat pack feature St. Elmo’s Fire, for instance. John Parr’s “Man in Motion” is pretty unremarkable for the era, truth be told. But in that golden age of big hair and Emilio Estevez, even the mediocrities should rightly be considered karaoke classics.
Key lyric: “I can see a new horizon, underneath the blazin’ sky/ I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher”
“Last Caress,” The Misfits
There is no way this list is going to not include something involving Glenn Danzig. And all respect to “Mother,” but “Last Caress” is a short and sweet punch in the mouth, and nothing says “party” like a song about rape and infanticide.
Key lyric: “Well I got something to say/ I killed your baby today/ And it doesn’t matter much to me/ As long as it’s dead”
“Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams
Bryan Adams gets a bad rap, but this Canadian national treasure has done nothing but deliver the goods for the past 30 years. This is the dude who is, more than anyone, responsible for my first non-platonic physical contact with a girl. No one—no one—could resist dancing during the Robin Hood song. “Summer of ’69,” Adams’s anthemic ode to his own teenaged awesomeness, is no less iconic and a just little less solemn.
Key lyric: “Standin’ on your mama’s porch/ You told me that you’d wait forever/ Oh, and when you held my hand. I knew that it was now or never/ Those were the best days of my life”
“Wind of Change,” Scorpions
Until recently, I honestly thought the opening lines of this song were in French. Finding out the truth was a jarring experience, on par with learning that Santa isn’t real or watching the Red Wedding on mushrooms. “Wind of Change” is all about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism. More importantly, legend has it that if we sing this one hard enough, Vladimir Putin will slowly retreat to his Siberian cave and not trouble the world for a thousand years.
Key lyric: “I follow the Moskva/ Down to Gorky Park/ Listening to the wind of change [Sung off-key in nonsense French]”
“The King of Wishful Thinking,” Go West
This video features a mariachi band, a fake pope, hockey players and I think an elephant, all for no fucking reason. That about sums up my musical influences.
Key lyric: “I’ll get over you, I know I will/ I’ll pretend my ship’s not sinking/ And I’ll tell myself, I’m over you/ Because I’m the king of wishful thinking”
“Save the Best For Last,” Vanessa Williams
Girls are always impressed when guys do the unexpected. Instead of singing some lame Aerosmith hit or muddling your way through “Under the Bridge,” why not abuse a beautiful love song not traditionally associated with inebriated male crooners?
Key lyric: “And now we’re standing face-to-face/ Isn’t the world a crazy place?/ Just when I thought our chance had passed/ You go and save the best for last”