1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Nothing slams the brakes on karaoke night harder and more abruptly than everybody’s favorite twenty-five minutes power ballad. It always happens just as the karaoke starts getting good. There might be a really great version of Pat Benetar’s “Heartbreaker” followed by a surprisingly pitch-perfect rendition of “Royals” by Jim from accounting. Just as the applause starts to feel somewhat genuine, some guy named Rich grabs the mic and starts whispering, “Is this the real life …” and everybody just kind of dies inside.
Better get another round everybody, because this one’s going to take a while. And by the way, nobody ever plans out what they’re going to do on stage during those sixteen-minute instrumental interludes. Yeah, banging your head around like you’re re enacting that scene from Wayne’s World is cool for about ten seconds or so, but come on, stop doing the air guitar, please, just give it a rest.
2. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
This has all of the drawbacks of “Bohemian Rhapsody” listed above – the slow, mood-crushing intro, the obnoxiously long instrumental dead zone – with the added bonus of being a truly unlistenable song. Seriously, I can’t even stand it when the studio version of “Stairway” is played on the radio.
And let’s consider range for a second, because nobody thinks of exactly how they’re going to sing “Stairway.” Those are some really high highs. And after the climax, it’s like a stairway to two octaves even higher. Are you really up for that? Do you really want to be the guy or girl standing there attempting to belt out a sinus-clearing falsetto for a quarter of an hour? I mean, if you’ve got it, go for it. But in my karaoke night experiences, you don’t got it. So pick another song.
3. Hey Jude – The Beatles
Just make sure it’s not “Hey Jude.” I guess it’s like a running theme here, but this song is just way too much build-up, slow, slow, mind-numbing build-up. While you’re up there slogging through that eternal intro, everybody else is starting to question why exactly they’re out at a bar on a Tuesday night anyway, like maybe it’s not to late to catch a cab and call it an early night.
And then you finally get to the fun part, the “Na, na, na, na-na na-na!” and if you’re lucky, everyone watching might join in for that first time around, giving you the false sense that you’ve done it, that you’ve united everybody in attendance in a shared moment through the collective power of song. But any lasting pleasure is quickly erased after everyone, yourself included, realizes that you’ve got to sing that “Na, na, na, Hey Jude!” part about thirty-seven more times. It goes on forever. Maybe it’s a cool song to trance out to by yourself at home, but don’t you feel just a little silly doing it over and over again on stage? If you’re absolutely compelled to do “Hey Jude,” just run through the end like two or three times and hand the mic back to the MC.
4. Any Rolling Stones B-sides
What I mean is, any Rolling Stones song that isn’t, “Satisfaction,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” or “Start Me Up.” Yeah, they have a few more chart-toppers than just those three, but I’m taking aim here at Bill from HR who thinks it’s a cool idea to serenade everyone with his version of “Wild Horses.” Unless you’re a huge Stones fan, nobody really knows that song. You’re going to put everyone to sleep.
It’s not fair, because the Rolling Stones have been around forever, and by the very nature of their mega-popularity, any karaoke book in the country is bound to have at least fifty different Mick Jagger tracks available for you to mangle. But just because they have that random Stones song that your dad used to listen to when he didn’t have to drive the station wagon doesn’t mean that you should sing that random Stones song that your dad used to listen to when he didn’t have to drive the station wagon.
5. Disney songs and Broadway show tunes
“Oh, you’re in musical theater? Please, come down to the bar and show us what you’ve got.” If I were the kind of guy who wrote, “… said no one ever,” jokes, well … nobody’s ever said that. You know why? Because people don’t go to karaoke bars to hear audition-worthy performances of the entire middle part of Les Miserables. Yes, you’re very talented, but come on, this is neither the time nor the place for those kind of theatrics.
It’s like, sure, there’s a stage, and a microphone, and yes, for some reason the karaoke programmers included “Ave Maria” on their song list, but this is a bar, OK, and the bartender can’t hear my order over the wail of your vibrato. It would be like hopping on stage for an open mic night at a comedy club and reciting word for word Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. You might get a few sympathy laughs, but everything’s wildly out of context. Can’t you just sing Journey like everybody else? Of course, nobody really likes that song either, but it’s about four minutes long, everybody knows the lyrics, and so on a whole, it’s a relatively painless affair. And that’s what karaoke is all about, really, that quest to be as relatively painless as possible. So next time it’s your turn to pick a song, just think, would I really want to hear someone else sing this song to me? The answer is, probably not.