Brian Grubb: Martin, I am going to start with a conclusion and then work my way backward to prove it. That conclusion is this: Karaoke is sports.
My case rests on three factors:
1) Like sports, karaoke is done in front of a crowd.
2) If eSports are sports, karaoke is sports.
3) Karaoke is sports.
Martin Rickman: Karaoke is a skill that can be developed over time. You can compete at karaoke. You can be objectively good or bad at it. It is done in front of people. You get an adrenaline rush. It’s absolutely sports. I’ll take it one further and say I’m stunned there isn’t a World’s Best Karaoke Star show on TV. I’m not talking The Voice or even the lip syncing thing. I’m saying, get people who are normal everyday folks, have them crush it on stage using regular old karaoke machines and let the world decide. That’s something I’d watch.
BG: Who wouldn’t? Which brings me to this: Today, for our weekly(-ish) sports chat, I propose we select three tracks each and make the case for why they are some of the best karaoke songs to sing. If you have no objections to any of this, I hereby turn it over to you for the first selection.
MR: “Stay” by Lisa Loeb
This is the best karaoke song. It doesn’t take a lot of range. It has everything you hope a good karaoke song needs – everybody knows it, the breakdowns are good, the beginning starts slow, and the song builds, and it’s Lisa Loeb. This is the song I will open with, and it’s a real test for the crowd. If the crowd is on board, I can open up my full karaoke repertoire. If they’re lame, I can leave or go with safer songs if I’m stuck there and I need to sing more.
BG: “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley
A good karaoke song should have a low level of difficulty and be infectious enough to get the crowd into it. “Suspicious Minds” fits these perfectly. First of all, even the worst singer in the world sounds competent doing an Elvis impression, because even awful Elvis impressions sound okay. Listen to the song now and do one yourself. It’s fun. The best Elvis song to do it for is his version of “Blue Christmas” because he Elvises out about 16 syllables from the line “I’ll have a blue Christmas,” but for karaoke purposes, “Suspicious Minds” is the jam.
And second, hoo boy, is it ever infectious. If you play your cards right you can even get the crowd to do your backup singing. Point the mic toward them for the “…with suspicious minds!” part. If they bite, you’ve got ’em.
MR: “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind
Okay, I’m showing a bit of a pattern, but you gotta play to your audience, and my audience is a bunch of 21-35 year olds who are out doing karaoke. And that means 3EB is going to hit them right where it counts. “Semi-Charmed Life” has the quick cadence, an opportunity to go falsetto, a catchy chorus, and chances to jump off stage and get the crowd involved. I’ve had people screaming the lyrics at me while I’m down in a pit, and I’ve never felt more like I could perform on a cruise ship than at that moment. And that, I think, is the end goal and dream of everyone doing karaoke.
BG: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” by Elton John and George Michael
Look, this is not actually a great karaoke song, but I am taking it anyway because performing it gives you the opportunity to do something hilarious. And I will gladly sacrifice quality for comedy. It’s basically my whole ethos. Here’s what you do…
Perform the first couple verses normal, doing your best. Let the audience get comfortable. Lull them to sleep a bit. But then, just before the 3:00 mark of the song, right as George Michael’s part of the duet is ending, you gesture to the front door and shout “LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, MR. ELTON JOHN” exactly like he does in the video. If you’ve done it right and the stars align in your favor, at least one person will turn and look, like they actually expect world famous musician Elton John to walk into the bar to perform his part of the song. Then you say “That guy looked!” and just laugh and laugh.
Or, if you have like $500,000 to burn, you can try to pay Elton John to actually show up. That works, too. I guess.
MR: “Fix You” by Coldplay
Okay this isn’t a very good karaoke song, and it definitely wouldn’t be a good one for me to sing. But this gives me an opportunity to tell a story about the best karaoke I’ve ever seen in person. I was in Wilmington, North Carolina at a place we always used to go called The Browncoat (yes, it was a Firefly reference). It was a theater that put on local shows, but they’d also do karaoke like every night on top of that, so you’d also sometimes get set pieces still on the stage. And the audience had chairs to sit in if they decided to really just enjoy the karaoke. The DJ at the time was a friend of ours, so we always made our way to the top of the list and could throw out as many songs as we wanted. Or have like six people on stage at once.
One particular night a bunch of friends did “We Are The World” even though nobody really knew the words. Another evening we sang “Come To My Window” because the stage had a kitchen complete with window, so there was a lot of theatrics. One night I sang “The Boy Is Mine” with a girl I’d never met before, and we hammed it up to a bunch of applause.
Consistently this guy, who we later found out was a trucker who came in to sing on weekends, always sang Michael Jackson – perfectly – at least two or three times over the course of a night. But the best karaoke I ever saw was when this guy sang “Fix You.” The song is fine, most Coldplay songs are, but the way he performed it took it over the top. He pretended to do it as a duet, as both Miss Piggy and Kermit from The Muppet Show. And he nailed both parts. It was incredible. I was supposed to be next, and I couldn’t even do my song. I just had to say “PASS” and move on. So for my third karaoke jam, I’m bringing that guy in for a celebrity show and bringing down the house.
Or I’ll just sing “Creep” by Radiohead or something.
BG: “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie
I mean, this is just a fun song.