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Listeria / For the Love of God: Top Ten Songs To Be Stricken, Strucken and Stracked from Karaoke Playlists Worldwide

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 7, 2007

Just change the stupid lock already

It’s hard to think of any musical art form that gets disrespected as much as karaoke. Not that it deserves that much more respect than it gets–it’s basically the most masturbatory musical experience humanly possible, and as performance art, it ranks only slightly higher than watching someone at an arcade playing Dance Dance Revolution. But c’mon, when done right, it can be at least fairly enjoyable to watch, and for people like me with a humongous appreciation of pop history but no real musical talent to back it up, it’s fucking intoxicating to do. So I think at least a slight reverence should be in order.

Obviously, very few people agree with me about this, since the great majority of the karaoke-going populous seem utterly determined to suck dry whatever life the form could possibly possess. Your average karaoke playlist will have literally thousands of songs to choose from, songs of nearly any genre and from nearly any time period, with nearly all vocal predilections–mood, range, style, tempo–accounted for. Yet whenever you go to a karaoke bar, it seems like most people are only choosing the same 20-30 songs to perform–crowd-pleasing safeties guaranteed to get a room going, but actually sapping the room’s energy until people need as many shots in ’em to listen as they do to perform.

What’s the deal? There’s no way that all these people are stepping into a karaoke bar for the first time, surely most of them have probably heard tequilla-drenched renditions of these “classics” twice as many times as I have. And yeah, I’m aware that when you’re drunk, obscurity usually isn’t the most appealing quality in a pop song, but even the songs that sound the best while inebriated have to get somewhat boring after a while. Anyway, I’m not suggesting that karaoke playlists start adding McLusky and !!! to their playlists (awesome though that would be)–I’m just asking people to dig a little deeper. Instead of choosing something from No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom for the millionth time, why not go for “Simple Kind of Life,” or “It’s My Life,” or even “Underneath It All”? How about Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” instead of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”? You know, Boston’s first album had at least a half-dozen classics on it–do you have to choose “More Than a Feeling”?

Anyway, you get the point. Here are the ten most egregious examples of deathly karaoke overuse–may we never have to hear them by anyone but the original artists ever again. And even then, probably not for a few dozen years.

10. Pat Benatar – “Love is a Battlefield” This one hurts me to say a little, for two reasons. The first is that not only is LIAB a great song–one of the most urgent songs about young love ever created, and totally deserving of its overexposure in pop culture–but it’s a great karaoke song, one condusive to wonderful vocal histrionics and, if the performer has a half-decent understanding of early-80s music videos, some great Benatarian dance moves as well. The second is that I’m well aware that for females not interested in doing sappy love songs or show tunes, the # of tough-chick karaoke choices is relatively limited–it’s pretty much either Stefani, Harry, Hynde or Benatar.

But I’m afraid I still have to call it on this one. The overkaraokeing (or OK’ing, as it will now be referred to) of “Love is a Battlefield” is threatening to spill over into my real-world appreciation of the song, and that’s when you know that it’s time to draw the line. Sorry, ladies, but good news is Pat still has about a dozen karaoke-indusive classics still on the market–how about giving “Invincible” a try next time out?

Suggested Substitute: Y’know, I never hear any girls trying their hands at a Garbage tune. “Vow” and “Special” could do the trick about as well as this one, I think.

9. AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long” There’s two strikes against this one to begin with because Brian Johnson’s voice is so hard to imitate, and only males with a certain vocal register can approximate his gravelly screech without lapsing into falsetto or just sounding like an idiot–personally, I wouldn’t dare attempt it. Yet, there’s no shortage of rank amateur karaokeians that have no problem stepping up to the mic to give YSMANL their earth-quaking, wall-shaking best. Bad move the first time, bad move the hundredth time. Best to leave this one to the pros down under.

Suggested Substitute: Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” is a better choice in the same vein, since Aerosmith harmonies give you plenty of vocal registers to choose from, and Tyler’s squeaking never sounded particularly masculine to begin with.

8. Anything off Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill Admittedly, this might be a personal thing, since as a child whose pop education began in the year 1996, I still have enough listens of Alanis’s hits backlogged to last me another century–and most of them aren’t even any good to begin with. But even aside from that, I don’t think it’s ever really a good look to be imitating Alanis–most girls sound cringe-worthy miring “You Oughta Know,” boring attempting “Hand in My Pocket,” and just kind of stupid warbling “Ironic.” Alanis’s level of mid-90s success will be forever inexplicable, intentionally bringing up bad memories of her reign at the top makes even less sense.

Acceptable Exception: “All I Really Want.” By far the best (and, naturally, most forgotten) of Alanis’s hits, if you had to go JLP, this more complex number would be a much-appreciated dig.

7. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” The only thing really preventing this song from being much higher on this list is how confusing I find its OKed status to be. “Sweet Caroline” song isn’t a particularly good song, nor is it a song I even remember hearing more than a handful of times in my pre-college years. I guess it’s a baseball / Boston thing, but now it appears to be not only the sole Neil Diamond song anyone remembers, but the only pre-80s song a great majority of karaokers have in their repertoire. I appreciate the audience participation factor (“so good! so good! so good!,” etc.) and all, but I still think we’re ready to put this song to bed for another 30 years.

Suggested Substitute: Diamond’s “America” has the same AP factor (“TODAY!“), and is probably twice as cheesy. Time to move on, Red Sox Nation.

6. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” They have other songs, you know.

Suggested Substitutes: “Lights,” “Lovin, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” “Stone in Love,” “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” “Any Way You Want It,” “Who’s Crying Now?,” “The Girl Can’t Help it,” “Still They Ride,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Faithfully,” hell even fucking “Open Arms” would be preferable at this point.

5. Anything off Guns n Roses’ Appetite for Destruction Classic album, no question, and yeah, I know we’re all going nuts waiting for Chinese Democracy and everything, but, well…I don’t ever want to hear some of these songs again, and karaoke certainly plays a large part of that. To be fair, so does too much radio play, and so does “Sweet Child o Mine” being the first song everyone always chooses when playing Guitar Hero II, but those I feel are a little more understandable. And besides, random OKer, I’ve seen (videos of) Axl Rose, and you sir are no Axl Rose. C’mon, you’re not even trying to sashay. And where the fuck’s your bandana?

Acceptable Exception: If you can find a karaoke place somewhere that actually has “Out Ta Get Me,” far be it from me to deprive you from doing your best “I’m fukkin’ innocent, maaaaaannnn!!!” shriek. Otherwise, you’re better off looking for a later number–“Patience” and “Don’t Cry” work, or “November Rain” and “Civil War” if you have some time to kill.

4. Anything from RENT. I don’t even know where to start with this one. My long-standing fear of theater people (not you legitimate dramatistes out there, but the ones who kicked me out of the TV lounge the summer I spent at BU to watch The Birdcage, and who spent the entire final day of the program hugging and sobbing) tends to manifest at the slightest hint of showtunery, and the ones in RENT–unmelodic, melodramatic, and fairly nonsensical out of context–afflict me worst of all. Far be it from me to deprive an entire social sub-group of their musical bread & butter, but if you’re gonna choose a showtune, can you at least switch up the show every now and then?

Suggested Substitute: Uh, I dunno…I was in The Music Man when I was 8, you kids know anything from that?

3. Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” Get a group of 100 white people under the age of 35 together, and sure enough, at least one of them will think that doing “Baby Got Back” at karaoke is the funniest thing ever. My personal hatred of the song aside–I’ve often quoted it as my least favorite song of all time–it tends to coax the most obnoxious, annoying assholes out of the audience, the kind of people that even the good Sir himself (a surprisingly smart, well-spoken dude) would probably be disgusted at handing over his legacy to. My first time doing public karaoke was one of my first nights in college, and some guy did both this and Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch.” It’s people like him that kept me from doing karaoke until then, and it’s a miracle it didn’t put me off doing it for the rest of my life.

Suggested Substitute: Like you guys never heard Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rumpshaker” before?

2. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” Talk about an originally-decent song utterly demolished by pop culture. Who knows what it was about Gloria Gaynor’s trademark hit that allowed film directors, wedding DJs and OKers to believe that it was totally impervious to overexposure (no song is), but the saturation this song has achieved after nearly 30 years of lazy, lazy producers of entertainment is truly sickening. State law should require karaoke bar stages to have a trapdoor immediately activated by the phrase “At first I was afra–WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!” The only thing keeping it from pole position here is the fact that I feel like OKers are starting to back off the song a little, and I don’t think I’ve heard it in a movie in at least six months. It’s a start.

Suggested Substitute: Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” anyone? A preferable choice in every aspect, let’s see some paradigm-shifting here.

1. The Big Singles off Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. As if I needed another reason to hate Pete Wentz, I saw him interviewed at the “remixed footage” of this year’s Video Music Awards, talking about some DJ sets he supposedly does or something. When the VJ asked him what he played to gets the crowds going, Wentz said he had three secret weapons that never failed–Justin Timberlake’s “My Love,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and Bon Jovi. When the VJ showed incredulity that Wentz would actually play Bon Jovi, Wentz smiled smugly and said something like “I’ll play the worst crap, you wouldn’t even believe it.” So not only does he resort to playing such an obvious crowdpleaser, not only does he seem to think that doing so is some ingenious DJing strategy no one’s ever thought of before, but he actually has the audacity to act like he’s somehow better than the modern day Jersey Boys. Pete Fucking Wentz.

This is appropos of most 20-somethings’ recent attitude towards Bon Jovi. Somehow, somewhere along the line, it was unanimously decided that Bon Jovi’s three biggest anthems–“Wanted Dead or Alive,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer”–should represent the sum total of a drunken Saturday night’s faux-nostalgia (Wentz was 7 in 1986, I’d wager most OKers of this song were even younger) for Generation Y, or Z, or whatever gen we’re on right now. Of course, come Sunday morning, you’d never dream of popping in their album as you do your laundry or whatever–it’s not actually good music or anything, but the next weekend, when you’re on your fourth Jack & Coke and someone hands you a microphone, you just better HOLD ON TO WHAT WE GOT, IT DOESN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF WE MAKE IT OR NOT

Bullshit. Bon Jovi wrote at least three of the best pop/rock songs of the late 80s, and if you don’t appreciate that under the sober morning light, STOP FUCKING RUINING THEM FOR THE REST OF US THE NIGHT BEFORE. And even if you do legitimately enjoy Bon Jovi or their 80s rock brethren, please find some other way to prove it to the rest of us–even if it just means doing something off of New Jersey or Keep the Faith, that’s cool, just not any of these three songs. I know they’re great karaoke songs, and all, and when I’m not feeling quite so self-righteous, I’ll sing along to ’em too. But just back off enough to give them a chance to survive the patronizing irony of our generation, lest hearing them becomes induces even more cringes than “I Will Survive”.

Suggested Substitute: I might give “Bed of Roses” a workout my next time out. Crazy underrated, that one.

10 Responses to “Listeria / For the Love of God: Top Ten Songs To Be Stricken, Strucken and Stracked from Karaoke Playlists Worldwide”

  1. Al1 said

    “I Have Friends in Low Places” – Garth Brooks

  2. Mitchell Stirling said

    I went to a near empty bar last month which had the largest selection of Karaoke songs to choose from, I mean maybe 10,000. Such brilliant songs to sing to on the list included Calvin Harris’ “Girls” and Mylo’s “Drop The Pressure”

  3. Good idea for a list, and perfect for someone with your expertise to tackle. I did something similar recently, a list of songs I never want to hear from a jukebox again. Link: http://www.columbusalive.com/?sec=search&story=columbusalive/2007/0816/m-jukebox.html

  4. Joe said

    Every time I’ve been to karaoke, one out of three girls will do a Shania Twain song. The hidden shame of the Midwest: these girls who own ten CDs and know all the words to “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and “You’re Still the One.” There’s so many more of them than you can imagine.

  5. John said

    Nice work. I’d have added the requisite guy-girl duet on “Summer Love” from Grease. Every fucking time.

  6. Ria said

    Great list. I’ve always thought Alanis’s “All I Really Want” was ridiculously underrated.

    Many thanks for giving me another reason to hate that Wentz asshole. I’m gonna go blast “In & Out Of Love” now.

  7. Victor said

    I think I know where the inspiration for this list came from.

    You also forgot the karaoke klassic: the B-52’s “Love Shack”

  8. […] At my weekly karaoke bar outing with fellow College Bowlers / Empty Orchestera Vocalists, a trend has started to emerge: every single week, a different drunk, blonde girl tries her hand at Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.” At first I was heavily in favor of this trend–always cool to me to see a new-ish song emerge as a future classic, and it was a welcome change of pace from the still great but fairly tired “Since U Been Gone.” But with every week, the song becomes less and less novel, and it becomes more and more likely to soon join the ranks of the karaoke damned. […]

  9. […] on Rock Band II, reminding me that a week from today, not only will the Jovi anthem remain the most over-played song in karaoke history,  it’ll also be the Rock Band go-to for anyone that doesn’t know what an asshole I can […]

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