The PopWatch Confessional (Vol. 5)

Bonjovi_lKaraoke. It’s a polarizing word. But in the anonymity of the PopWatch Confessional, where no one knows it’s you they’re judging, can’t we all just admit that we love it and help each other choose a good song?

It’s been nearly two years since I last karaoked. During my 30th birthday weekend in the Poconos, which also included murder-mystery dinner theater, adventure mini-golf, and a mimosa-and-Dunkin’ Donuts tailgate at a NASCAR race. (Seriously, I hate me too.) I’m feeling the urge again, but I think it’s time to retire my signature song, Bon Jovi’s "Wanted: Dead or Alive." Not everyone needs to give it up, mind you — let’s not talk crazy here — but I do. The amount of hostility I feel toward people who do the Richie "want-ed"/"want-ed-ed-ed" parts during the first chorus — when he doesn’t — isn’t healthy.
So, keeping in mind the time we’ll all need to master new material before National Karaoke Week (April 22 – 28), let’s retrieve those memories you’ve tried so hard to repress and talk about the songs that killed and the songs that should have killed but didn’t. General tips (like no one wants to sit through your 8 1/2-minute rendition of "American Pie," I promise) are also welcome. I’ll start:

- Celine Dion’s "It’s All Coming Back to Me Now": It’s the only acceptable Celine song. And only if you’re willing to sell it like she does and make every note an event (kinda like a shouting match). "There were moments of gold/ And there were flashes of light/ There were things we’d never do again/ But then they’d always seemed right/ There were nights of endless pleasure/ It was more than any laws allow…" (Wait for it. Wait for it.) "Ba-by, ba-by, ba-by…"

addCredit(“Paul Rider/Retna”)

- The Cranberries’ "Zombie":Accents are always good. As is imitating Dolores O’Riordan’s uniqueinflections, which I now realize won’t translate in print, but since Ijust spent like 20 minutes transcribing them… "What’s in your heee-ad/ In your he-e-e-ad/ Zom-om-bay, Zom-om-bay/Zom-om-bay(ah)-ay(ah)-ay(ah)-ay(ha)/ Oh(oh), Oh(oh), Oh(oh), Oh(oh),Oh(oh), Oh(oh), Oh(oh)/ Hey-ey-ahhhhh, yah, yah, yah."

- Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s "It Takes Two": The second that beat drops, everyone bounces.

- Reba McEntire’s "Fancy":Story songs can be dangerous, but not when they involve prostitution.And come with built-in background vocals. "Yes, she was!"

- Missy Elliott’s "Work It": Works best if done by a male. Like my EW cubemate Gilbert Cruz, whose performance of it is legendary. [Editor’sNote: Trust her, it is STUNNING. He put his thang down, flipped it, ANDreversed it at my own 30th-birthday karaoke party back in June. –Dawnie Walton]

- Pat Benatar’s "We Belong" and "Love Is a Battlefied": I’d like to say I’ll retire these, as well, but who am I kidding?

- Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline":A good judge of the crowd (do they do the "So good, So good, So good"part?), but if you’re a lady, be careful not to do this before yourvoice is warmed up. Neil goes deep.

- Any hair metal song: Know your range. This tip comes courtesy ofEW hair metal expert Dan Snierson, who originally tried to tell me thathe doesn’t really karaoke… but then rattled off all the songs thathave burned him: Ratt’s "Round-n-Round", Van Halen’s "Panama", Def Leppard’s "Photograph", and Skid Row’s "I Remember You"to name a few. He suggests hair metal selections come with a pre-song"recommended range" vocal test, so we can avoid those mid-song "It’stoo late. I’m in it. I’m f—ed” moments.

Your turn.

Comments (114 total) Add your comment
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  • Ep Sato

    Funny, but at my last Kareoke, I sang It takes 2. Sure enough, the crowd got into it, as did the kareoke lady! They played the real song after my rendition was done.
    Anything by Sinatra is always a hit, but the key to good kareoke is that you have to know the actual song from front to back. Too many times kareoke is wasted on drunks who only know the chorus but who spent the rest of the song looking lost.
    So my advice for any kareokiers is to pick a song you know by heart, no matter how bad or cheesy it may be. Even if it’s twinkle twinkle little star, it’ll sound better than a cool song you don’t know the words to. I made the mistake of doing Jamiroquai’s “Space Cowboy” without knowing all of the mini rants in the song and made myself look rilly foolish…

  • DK

    My favorites to bust out are “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (the Reba version), Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” (but only if you have a duet partner who is just as much of a ham as you are), and Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About.” “Proud Mary” is always good for a handful of people, to get the crowd going. And then, around 2 a.m., a little “Desperado” can help mellow people out for closing time.

  • E-dub

    If you’re fearless, and you have a partner who is willing sell it within an inch of its life, you can always bring down the house with Total Eclipse of the Heart.

  • K

    My friends and I did “Love Shack” once and it brought the house down. People love to hate that song…my best friend specifically requested that it NOT be played at her wedding reception, they played it anyway, and EVERYONE got out there and shook it.

  • Anonymous

    My two tips are (1) pick a loud song, preferably one that requires belting, because karaoke places rarely have good sound balance and it is hard to hear yourself, (2) slow ballads are death in group settings and (3) know the song well.
    Along with “Wanted”, I love “Blaze of Glory”, “Sweet Child of Mine”, “Here I Go Again”, and “Sister Christian”.

  • Anonymous

    Ep Sato: true true!! i’ve never karaoked in front of a group before, but have always been tempted to. and your advice is right on. thanks!

  • mark in nyc

    If you want to get the crowd on your side…these two songs are the best for karaoke.
    The Devil Went Down to Georgia
    Minnie the Moocher
    Bad Song
    Mony Mony…goes on forever!

  • adam

    If you don’t sing that well, but want to have a raucous good time, the only choice is “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” it’s 50% talking really quickly, 50% air-fiddling and square-dancing. Best when done as a duet, so you’ve got a dancing partner.

  • Nick@AwardsAvenue

    Having been a Karaoke goer for almost 10 years now, I have to say the big rule everyone needs to follow is that NO ONE wants to hear you sing a sappy balled. Karaoke is supposed to be fun, but if I have to sit through someone moping through “All By Myself” one more time, I’m going to pull the plug on the speakers!

  • Kathryn

    My secret weapon, “Candy” by Mandy Moore. It doesn’t take any talent and you get do the spoken word interlude. Anything by Cher is good if you are feeling sassy(drunk). I just did “1, 2 Step” the other day and that was mucho fun. Word of advice for all, please stay away from Smashing Pumpkins(you know who you are).

  • redgie

    my karaoke picks – I WILL SURVIVE, and I TOUCH MYSELF. classics!!!

  • drs

    If you get nervous in front of large crowds, don’t do a song with too many words sung very quickly. I can barely breathe when i get up in front of people, but in an effort to be brave i tried a few months ago. “9 to 5″ was not my friend that night.

  • Heather

    Based on experience, nothing is more fun than being in the crowd when someone is singing “Family Tradition” by Hank Williams Jr. Especially if the crowd has some redneck heritage (and I say “redneck” with love) and some alcohol in them.

  • John

    “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles always seems to go over. Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” usually gets people to slow dance, and it’s not too hard to sing!
    Regarding the pitch thing on hair metal songs: Some karaoke programs have a “pitch change” feature, where the pitch and key of the song can be lowered for those of us who aren’t David Coverdale in real life–which is good thing, I think.
    “Footloose” by a Mr. Ken Loggins is tried and true for me–everytime I sing it, people get on the dance floor! However, watching the portly gentleman on “American Idol” sing it left a bad taste in mouth…I’m not going to do it for awhile.
    Here’s a list of other songs I’ve had success with. Try them sometime–they’re almost all guaranteed to go over–just be aware of your vocal limits before you tackle some of these babies!
    Build Me Up Buttercup-The Foundations
    Mony Mony-Billy Idol
    Can’t Get Enough-Bad Company
    Johnny B Goode-C. Berry
    The Joker-Steve Miller
    Summer of ’69-B. Adams

  • Brandon

    My ex-girlfriend and I used to do “Beauty and the Beast.” It was our standby. She’d start off all sweet and tentative like, then I’d come in on the second verse and get my voice all Peabo-licious and whatnot, and by the time we were harmonizing at the end, we were killin’ em, yo. (At least, we guessed so — both of us liked to sing with our eyes closed.)
    But after about a year, the performance began to lose its panache. Maybe it was a case of too much (or not enough) booze, but we just didn’t make the magic anymore. And finally, we broke up. And do I believe the events were related? Of course I do.
    So my advice is: Don’t Karaoke with anybody you’re in a relationship with unless you’re sure you guys are rock-solid. Nothing can expose the cracks faster than the glaring light of a karaoke glitter ball.

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