Music is a universal language, and as such, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have some tune out there that is unequivocally their jam. Something about words set to a melody has a way of lighting fire within our souls, compelling us to cry, cheer, dance, and yes, sometimes even sing. Often, this impromptu singalong shows little regard for any pre-existing ability to, you know, actually carry a tune. Because, once in a while, you just need to rock out.
Countless rock bands — including some of the memorable male and female vocalists of all time — have inspired generations with their musical prowess, and as such, their songs have become staples of the karaoke circuit. When it’s time to let loose and express yourself over a drink or two, there’s a very special quality a song must possess to truly resonate. Sometimes, it’s a specific theme or message that gets patrons to sing along. Nevertheless, we’re running down some of the most popular songs you’re likely to hear during your next karaoke night. For the record, we’re limiting our list to one entry per artist and taking a variety of genres into account.
15. “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang
If that infectious beat doesn’t reel you in, the sheer fun of the tongue-twister chorus to this hip hop classic should do the trick. Even if it’s lengthy runtime might leave you thirsty, chances are the crowd will cheer you on through every verse. A definite crowd-pleaser.
14. “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles
Alannah Myles may not have had the lengthiest career in pop music, but this gem has certainly passed the test of time. Maybe it’s the deep growl of the vocals or its earworm of a hook. Regardless, nail the “if you please” part right, and the audience will be in the palm of your hand.
13. “Wannabe” by Spice Girls
No matter how you may feel about the Spice Girls, this inescapable track still revs up a crowd 20 years after its debut. It’s the perfect selection for a group of young ladies eager to demonstrate their unshakeable bond to everyone in the room. Plus, that “zig-a-zig-ahhhh” is just so much fun to sing, even if it means the tune will be stuck in your head.
12. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
We’re not sure if Neil Diamond had karaoke in mind when he came up with this one, but its chorus has become so embraced by audiences that it’s easy to imagine he saw its future classic status coming. Break this one out on karaoke night, and there’s no way you won’t get the entire room on your side.
11. “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Wilson
Granted, you may have to gauge your crowd before turning to this country hit. However, if you’re in the South or at a Western-themed establishment, it’s just a matter of time before you hear this one start blasting from the speakers. If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.
10. “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
The pop cultural relevance of Vanilla Ice may have cooled (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves) since the early 1990s. Yet, this so-bad-it’s-good rap song is still a guaranteed party-starter, especially for later in the night when the true silliness begins. “Stop, collaborate and listen” indeed.
9. “Baby One More Time…” by Britney Spears
Of course, the elusive Ms. Spears makes an appearance on our list. While a number of her other songs (“Toxic” or “Stronger,” for instance) could have made this list, we’re still going with her unforgettable debut hit. Loaded with nostalgia and just the right mix of sex appeal and coy innocence, it’s a nostalgia trip your crowd can’t deny.
8. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
Sometimes in karaoke, it’s time for a little bit of stress relief. So, if you need to blow off a little steam, why not channel that pent-up rage in Alanis Morissette’s epic breakup anthem? After all, there’s a good reason her Jagged Little Pill album was one of the biggest sellers of the 1990s.
7. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard
This song might immediately recall the hair band era of the 1980s, but at a certain point in the night, it’s the ideal go-for-broke anthem to get your adoring fans up on their feet. Just prepare yourself for the awesomeness of Def Leppard’s defining hit.
6. “Summer Nights” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
On a date for karaoke night? This is the definitive go-to male/female karaoke duet. Buoyed by the universal love of Grease and the inimitable charm of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, it’s sweet and flirtatious in all the right places, and the audience will be begging you to “tell [them] more.”
5. “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood
Every karaoke night needs a good “woman scorned” jam. This Carrie Underwood country pop hit — while among the youngest entries on our list — has quickly catapulted to the top of that group. Even if you don’t have the vocal power to mimic Underwood’s delivery, pure passion can help take you home with this one.
4. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
The late great Whitney Houston has given us so many classic karaoke tunes to choose from. However, this record-breaking smash from The Bodyguard soundtrack easily outshines tunes like “Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know” with both its climactic belting moment and its sheer chart-topping status.
3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
It takes a certain kind of gutsiness to take on the distinctive vocal talent of Freddie Mercury, and yet, that hasn’t stopped tons of karaoke performers from delving into the archives of Queen’s epic catalog. “We Will Rock You” nearly took this spot, but the sweeping nature of “Bohemian Rhapsody” wins this day.
2. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
If it wasn’t for a certain rock band (more on them in a second), we would likely give Bon Jovi the karaoke crown. In fact, of all the artists in contention for this list, settling on which song by this band would make our list was the closest race. Ultimately, though, the sing-along hook of this one edged out its competitors.
1. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey
You didn’t seriously think we would make it through this list without a little Journey, did you? Everything about the band seems ready-made for karaoke, and though any number of the band’s songs could have topped our list, there’s no denying the anthemic power and crowd-pleasing quality of this one. Go ahead and sing along. We won’t tell.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
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