As can be expected from an ex-violinist who was in every music group in high school, in addition to speech & debate club, it’s no secret that I like to perform. Trouble is, working in insurance doesn’t afford me that opportunity very much, unless you count meetings with agents as “performance,” which I do, but for different reasons than you might think. Anyway, to fill this gap in my life, I’m wont to head out to a karaoke night or two. Most of the places I go have great song lists with a lot of popular songs, but they inevitably miss many of my less well-known favorites. So, karaoke DJs out there, I submit the following ten songs for your approval:
Alanis Morissette: “So Unsexy”
Every so often, a song comes along that perfectly sums up the way you’re feeling at any given moment. That happened when I first heard this song. The way Alanis talks about letting other people’s judgments affect her self-esteem and then remembering not to abandon herself almost exactly describes a certain period in my life. Add in that the song is fairly easy to sing and plays to a crowd well, and you’ve got a great karaoke tune.
Alter Bridge: “All Ends Well”
As much as I love Myles Kennedy, the songs he sings in Alter Bridge frequently leap from the lower to the higher registers of his voice, which is awesome if you have a four-octave vocal range like him. But for the rest of us mere mortals, that makes it hard to sing on karaoke. This song, though, mostly stays within the typical baritone/upper tenor space, that many men (and many women, if they go up an octave or two) can hit fairly easily even if they have a narrower range.
Bowling for Soup: “High School Never Ends”
The best karaoke songs are easy to sing, catchy, and get people moving. This 2006 hit from Bowling for Soup checks all those boxes. Unfortunately, the band had started to fade from mainstream consciousness when they released this song, so many fans of the band aren’t aware of it. The lyrics are pretty relatable too.
Carbon Leaf: “Miss Hollywood”
I’ve always had a soft spot for Carbon Leaf, not only because I share a home state with them. Barry Privett has one of the squeaky-cleanest voices you’ll find in pop/rock music, which means Carbon Leaf’s songs are going to be pretty easy to sing. The lyrics also remind me of all those 80s songs about stuck-up women, only toned down considerably to focus more on melody.
Dave Matthews Band: “Fool to Think”
I can usually find my other favorite DMB songs (“Ants Marching” and “Grey Street”) on karaoke machines, but this one flew a little more under the radar and thus escaped popular attention. By far my favorite part of this song is the chorus, with the guitar cycling back and forth in stepwise motion between a few different notes in a scale as “Was I a fool to think…” starts. You then get a moment to go all power ballad at the high note when you get to “I swear you did…” Would be great to perform.
I Fight Dragons: “Another Week”
The bouncy feel of this one would help it play well to a crowd. I can also envision people clapping along to the main beat in the chorus, since it’s a fairly straightforward 4/4 time signature. It’s another one where the lyrics are relatable too. Side note: Is there a reason I keep picking the “sad/angry lover” type songs for this list? Does that say something about me?
Jubilee Riots: “One Last Drink”
If I was a karaoke DJ, I would put this on my machine yesterday if I could get a hold of a karaoke version. It’s energetic, it’s happy, it’s danceable, it’s easy to sing… I could go on. It’s the perfect party song and perfect song to get a crowd moving. This song to me perfectly encapsulates what a good karaoke song should be. Problem is, Jubilee Riots (formerly known as Enter the Haggis), haven’t really been able to crack the mainstream, probably because their Celtic roots rock style only appeals to a niche audience. But at least they’ve got one college a cappella group spreading the word for them.
Sabrina Carpenter: “White Flag”
If you’re looking for the next Miley Cyrus, but without the awful hair, tattoos, and general dysfunction, check out Sabrina Carpenter (aka Maya Hart). I don’t know what it is about this song in particular that always makes me want to sing it. Maybe it’s the hypnotic guitar intro or Sabrina’s well-executed alto. She has more upbeat and danceable songs than this one, but I think “White Flag” is probably the easiest to sing and most straightforward. Also, it doesn’t ooze with sugar-sweet teen pop sensibilities (though to be fair, most of her songs don’t).
Vertical Horizon: “Half-Light”
This one is good for many of the same reasons “Another Week” is. It’s got that bouncy quality to it, but in a very different way. While it’s not really happy or upbeat, it’s got a nervous and slightly aggressive energy that I think a good singer could capture. Vertical Horizon is at their best when they don’t try to do too much, just come right at you with great lyrics and a good beat.
Yellowcard: “With You Around”
This is as close to a power ballad as Yellowcard gets, and those kind of songs generally play well on a karaoke stage. The drums also frequently play a half-note rhythm that’s perfect to clap along to. Interestingly, when I sing this song, I usually change the lyrics around to fit my own life, replacing “California” with “Virginia” and making a couple of other subtle changes. That opportunity for improvisation is one of the many reasons I enjoy karaoke.