5 Inviolable Rules of Civilized Karaoke (in public bars)

(for more karaoke-related stuff, please visit melancholyball.com and https://www.facebook.com/melancholyball)

1. Do not sing "Don't Stop Believing" or "Bohemian Rhapsody."*
Often seems like a good idea. Is not. If you feel you must sing Journey, make the journey home. If you are feeling Queenish, may I suggest "Fat Bottom Girls" (the guitar groove is sexy, irrespective of actual singing) or "Somebody To Love" (its rolling 12/8 meter will evoke "Piano Man" sentimentality without actually being "Piano Man," and its lyric describes what most people in bars are thinking anyway).

2. If you must rap, do not use the n-word.
This is a 3-shot foul. Doesn't matter how street you think you are. But, one occasionally wants to do "Hypnotize," so. Have a word prepared. "People" or "brother" are usually acceptable. Or a sharp intake of breath.** Or, I'm told, "ninja" also works.

3. Know whether your song is Sexy, Heartached, or Obscure.
Karaoke culture reveals that there are only 3 genres of song: Sexy Songs, Songs of Heartache and Loss, and Songs That No One Has Heard Of. Of course, that last category includes much wonderful, deathless, genius music. For the purposes of karaoke, doesn't matter.

  • Sexy Songs can be rock, soul, hiphop, country, whatever; they make you want to dance and drink and flirt and get good and naughty naughty. These songs are often stupid. But they are necessary. "Umbrella." "La Isla Bonita." "Mr. Brightside." "Poison." "Beast of Burden." "Always Be My Baby."
  • Songs of Heartache and Loss create the other desired emotional color of a healthy karaoke bar. The feeling of Love: unrequited and blue, sentimental and warm, momentary and true, often involving a key change up for the last chorus. "Alone." "At This Moment." "No Woman No Cry." "Fake Plastic Trees." "Rocket Man."
  • Songs That No One Has Heard Of: again, this category encompasses Most Good Music In The Universe. The catch is, you have to sing an "obscure" song very very well in order to endear it to mass virgin ears. Otherwise, you are being purely self-indulgent, and more or less wasting everyone's drinking time. The personal attachment you have to the [deep album track]/[quirky one-hit wonder] is Strictly Only In Your Head, unless you can somehow sell the song as sexy or heartachey. "Birdhouse In Your Soul." "Red Rain." Most Bowie. Any Of The Other Songs By A-Ha, Of Which There Are A Surprising Number.

Hybrid songs, which fall into 2 of the above categories, do exist. Generally they are mid-tempo snare-heavy tunes with a pretty chorus. Songs that are both Sexy and Heartachey: "Beast of Burden." "Como Al Flor." "Man in the Mirror." Macklemore's "Same Love." The song that is all at once Sexy, Heartbreaking, and You Haven't Heard Of It Before? Very rare, and many far greater musicians than me are always searching for it. The closest one I can think of is Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place," but it's not quite obscure enough, just very obscure in karaoke books.

4. If there is a choice, don't pick the version with the video. 
Karaoke videos are a beautiful and unsung (so to speak) sub-genre of short film that often take place in the 80's, or in Kuala Lumpur, or both. However, they are usually accompanied by an 80s-era dinky MIDI-based instrumental track, as opposed to the more faithful instrumental tracks which have words only and a snare drum sound that more closely emulates the song you were looking for. Screw it man, it's all about the music.

5. Do ask members of the opposite sex, or whatever your favorite sex is, to sing a tune with you.
It's fun and mostly harmless. And it's a way of opening up interaction in a bar where people are feeling self-conscious and solipsistic. But be able to sing the song that you suggest. Or failing that, make sure the suggested song is at a high grade of Sexy or Heartachey, preferably familiar enough that you can stumble through it no matter what happens. "Up Where We Belong." "Super Bass." "Under Pressure." "A Whole New World." 

*(Other Songs That You Should Reconsider Singing Because Everybody Does Them: "Total Eclipse Of The Heart." "Sweet Caroline." "I Want It That Way." "Friends In Low Places." "Hotel California." "Closing Time." "China Girl." "A Whole New World.")

**Unless you're a black person, in which case it's different.


Anonymous said...

Nice rules Dom. We miss singing with you.
-Aiyana & Mark

Anonymous said...

Nice rules Dom. We miss singing with you.
-Aiyana & Mark

Anonymous said...

Nice rules Dom. We miss singing with you.
-Aiyana & Mark

dm said...

I miss singing with all six of you! Happy New Year!

Unknown said...

I totally agree with the 86 song list!

Dominique G said...

I completely disagree with number 4. The videos are so horrible that they must be seen. Miss you.