It's Your Turn to Hold a Microphone: Recommended Songs to Sing At Karaoke
I used to regularly sing karaoke. This means, among other things, I have fond memories of the nights when a gracious crowd clapped for me after I failed miserably at performing a song I thought I knew better than I did. Eventually I learned the songs I preferred and which I could sing reasonably well. I have a lower voice, and inevitably many songs by female artists with higher voices—such as Allison Kraus and Charlotte Church—were avoided because they were too high to sing decently. Having grown up listening to the oldies station with my dad, it’s not surprising that I sang many older songs.
This list was compiled based on whether the song is fairly easy and enjoyable to sing, and, less importantly, if this song was typically a crowd pleaser. Certain nights some songs went over better than others, and for this reason I don’t want to give anyone the impression that all crowds will welcome the songs the crowds I performed for did.
These songs are merely suggestions. It’s possible none of them will appeal to you. You may also have already performed one of these songs and it didn’t go well because of factors outside your control—sound as malfunctioning song equipment.
This list contains many of my “safe” karaoke options. Other nights I branched out and tried questionable things such as rapping—this was during Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True”—as well as my failed attempt to sing Ben Harper’s “Steal My Kisses.” I also once tried to sing “Somebody To Love” by Queen, and this wasn’t my best effort ever—even if I enjoyed singing it.
I strongly recommend you make sure that you know a song before you sing it at karaoke. Typically you can find song lyrics online as well as music videos with song lyrics on YouTube. Rarely did I go into any song completely cold—meaning without any previous knowledge of the song—and this is why I take this position. I’ll start by suggesting duets and then suggest songs which are typically performed solo.
One of my favorite duets to sing is “Love Shack” by The B52s. This song doesn’t require great vocal talent. In addition, it offers crowd-pleasing moments such as when the female singer nearly shouts “tin roof…rusted” before returning to the chorus.
Another duet I recommend is “Summer Nights” from the musical “Grease.” This is a popular karaoke duet, and is possibly not as interesting or challenging as lesser-performed duets. I’ve observed that people tend to sing along whenever anyone sings “Summer Nights.” Overall I am encouraged when people sing along while I am performing, though I recognize this may not be true for everyone.
The final duet I recommend is Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This song has a nice tempo and is easy to sing along with. It’s also shorter than “Some Nights” or “Love Shack,” and therefore the performance is over sooner.
A note on song length: I’ve sung songs as short as Glenn Miller’s “King of the Road” and as long as Don McClean’s “American Pie,” and so I’ve experienced what it’s like to be in front of the crowd for just over two minutes compared to significantly longer. Most of the suggestions in this article are shorter than five minutes, and quite a few of them are less than four or even three minutes. This isn’t because I insist on singing shorter songs; it is merely because many of my favorite songs to sing at karaoke happen to be shorter.
Would you rather sing a short song, average length song, or longer song at karaoke?
One of my all-time favorite songs to sing is “Desperado” by The Eagles. This is a slow song, and for this reason I like to sing it at the beginning of the night before the crowd gets rowdier. It is also a low song, and one of my friends whose voice is higher than mine experienced difficulty singing it. Nonetheless, it is simple and very satisfying to perform.
If I am in the mood for something a little faster, “Never Been To Spain” by Three Dog Night may fit the bill. This is a song I take creative liberties with; in other words, I’ve replaced the state name Oklahoma with the state I am from and so forth. On a related note, I once replaced the name John from “The Piano Man” with the name of the bartender working the evening I performed this. I’m not the only person who made such changes, and I find this adds to the fun of singing and listening to karaoke.
Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” is another song I’ve enjoyed singing. This song, while not as vocally challenging as “Somebody To Love,” nonetheless offers opportunities for improvisation during moments such as when you are supposed to sing “hey hey” or “wooh.”
“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga is a song worth singing if you are feeling sassier than normal. I like the speed of this song, and I also enjoy the fact you can act somewhat angry while you are singing. Also, this is a song crowds often love, and this helps me act edgier than normal.
An innovative cover of "Bad Romance"
KT Tunsell’s “Black Horse and A Cherry Tree” is a little more challenging because it requires fast singing; however, this song suits my vocal range almost perfectly. This song, akin to “Bad Romance,” is best performed with some sass.
If I am in a particularly spunky mood, it’s hard to go wrong with Pat Benetar’s “Heartbreaker.” This song is easy to follow, and I’ve found it is often one the crowd will sing along with.
For those nights when I want to sing something a little slower and more soulful, John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” is an excellent choice. This song doesn’t require complicated sound effects or repetitions sounds as you would find in songs such as “Me And Bobby McGee.” If I have sung several songs in one night, this would be a helpful song to close with because it is accessible without being boring.
Typically I don’t sing too many older country songs; one exception to this is “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. This is a sweet, brief tune which I find my vocal range has little issue with. I’ve also found I can learn a lot about the crowd by how they respond when they see this song come up on the screen.
Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” is a fast-paced song which requires a little attitude if you want to pull this off. Depending on the crowd, this can be a popular song. I’ve watched others—mostly men—sing this song, and it seems to suit those with voices significantly lower than mine.
Finally, I think Billy Joel’s “For The Longest Time” is an energetic and straightforward song to sing. In my experience this is virtually always a crowd pleaser, and surely one reason I’ve enjoyed it as much as I have is because audience members have sung along with me.
This list is not comprehensive. It is based on my biases toward older songs and the fact I have a lower voice. Regardless, I hope I’ve recommend a song or two you might consider singing the next time you sing karaoke.