Awhile back, a friend of mine said to me that they were amazed at how I can get up and sing karaoke. They are a pretty outgoing person, but for some reason, singing in front of a group is just not something they think they could do. For what it’s worth, I’m convinced that the secret to a successful karaoke night is having about 3-5 songs in your wheelhouse that you know you can do. How you know you can do them is up to you – but my advice is always to practice before you get up in front of a room full of strangers. The corollary to this is don’t assume that just because you’ve sung along to it on the radio for 20 years means you can sing it solo with just the instrumental track backing you up. Take it from one who knows.
So here are a handful of my “know I can do them and do them well” songs that I usually start with whenever we go do karaoke, which is never often enough. I need more karaoke friends, seriously.
1 – Merle Haggard / Mama Tried
Something about “turning 21 in prison doing life without parole” makes this song so damn much fun to sing. It’s also, at 2:14, super short so it’s almost over before it starts. Maybe not that great if the rotation is really big, but it’s easy to sing and totally in my range.
2 – Glen Campbell / Rhinestone Cowboy
Maybe this song is only easy for me to sing because I’ve been singing it since I could talk. You can ask my mom and dad – they’ll attest to it. It gets a little bit out of my range, but forces me to sing from my stomach which is good. All I can say is the last time I did this song, I totally owned it.
3 – Roger Miller / King of the Road
I love the version that Rufus Wainwright and Teddy Thompson do of this song on the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, but it’s not substantially different from the Roger Miller original. It’s also one that requires no vocal acrobatics and stays in my range. I’m starting to think that for a song to be something I can sing, it has to be at least as old as I am.
4 – Rupert Holmes / Escape (The Piña Colada Song)
This was the most recent one that I sang at karaoke and realized that I really could do it quite well. Like “Rhinestone Cowboy” you have to sing from you stomach, especially on the choruses. The verses are easier to fake your way through, but once you hit the first “If you like piña coladas…” Thisis a really fun song to sing, a total 70s song and one that is unfairly maligned.
Now for a couple I really really want to try, but would take some significant practice.
Savage Garden / I Want You
I think this is highest on my “wish I could do it” karaoke bucket list. But it has LOTS of problems. The first problem is the largely unintelligible lyrics. The second problem is that said unintelligible lyrics are sung by Darren Hayes in such a rapid fire progression that you can barely breathe. The third problem is that Darren Hayes’ voice is significantly higher than mine, although it likely wouldn’t require me to use falsetto like other Savage Garden songs might.
Scissor Sisters / Take Your Mama
Speaking of falsetto, mine would have to be perfection before I could attempt this one. It’d also have to be my first song of the night, as my voice gets worse as the night wears on.
Mayer Hawthorne / The Walk
Yet another artist whose use of falsetto makes it nearly impossible to do one of his songs for karaoke. I’m also seriously hindered by the fact that I have never seen any of his songs in any karaoke book ever. Watching this video makes me wish Hawthorne would bring back his hipster glasses.