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MusicThe 45 best karaoke songs ever made

The 45 best karaoke songs ever made

You might have the most impressive pipes in the whole of your city. You might sound like a strangled cat when you sing, especially after a few drinks. But whatever your range and ability, you will take to the stage for one of these karaoke songs. And it will be brilliant. 

Choosing the right song is crucial. If you can’t sing in tune, perhaps opt for a rap. If you want to show off that high range, potentially opt for a bit of Whitney. In our list of the best karaoke songs ever, we’ve got everyone from Madonna to Lizzo, and from Toto to Frank Sinatra. Take a shot and warm up those vocal chords, people. These are the best karaoke songs ever. 

Contributors: Nick Levine, Adam Feldman, Matthew Singer, Ella Doyle, Amy Houghton and Ed Cunningham. 

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Best karaoke songs, ranked

‘Like a Prayer’ by Madonna

Image: Warner Bros.

1. ‘Like a Prayer’ by Madonna

This sacreligious banger by the queen of pop herself pulls in captivated listeners from the word go. ‘Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone’, you croon, your voice a stream of light piercing through the darkest night. Heads turn, crowds gather, then BOOM: off pops that unignorable beat as the ‘80s anthem’s swinging melody swells into action. The best part is when you close in on that absolutely slamming breakdown – the crescendo where your choristers rise up like an army of heavenly warriors behind you. Nothing can stop you now, you have risen.Henrietta TaylorContributing writer

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‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra

Photograph: Apple Music

2. ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra

No, I can’t hit the notes… but who can? Big Frank’s ‘My Way’ is a tectonic but tender reflection on his life, loves and career. And it’s perfect for belting out in horrifically sweaty, spittle-spurting fashion. If you don’t want to embarrass yourself too much, the trick is to start out singing the opening notes and verses as low as possible. Then, by the time you get around to throwing out those final, glorious choruses, you’re not left squeaking. Regrets… I’ve had a few.Ed CunninghamNews Editor, Time Out UK and Time Out London

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‘Juice’ by Lizzo

Photograph: Apple Music

3. ‘Juice’ by Lizzo

Easy on the vocal cords but heavy on the self-love, Lizzo’s ‘Juice’ is a proper girl’s night anthem. With its funk-pop feel and infectiously self-assured lyrics like ‘baby, I’m the whole damn meal’ and ‘I’m like Chardonnay, get better over time’ if you start off a little shy on the mic, this song will soon get the confidence oozing out of you. As the queen of self-empowerment, you’d be committing a personal offence against Lizzo if you don’t belt ‘Juice’ out with 11/10 effort. Amy HoughtonContributing writer

‘Purple Rain’ by Prince

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Amazon

4. ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince

Now that our patron saint of frilly-bloused, pan-erotic, disco-rock-sex-funk has sadly shuffled off this mortal coil, his signature slow jam can serve as much as tribute as a “let’s-slow-things-down” showpiece in your karaoke rep. If it’s not too lofty to put that pressure on what is—let’s face it—a mostly frivolous activity, a karaoke run at ‘Purple Rain’  might even lift some spirits. Sung in a gracious middle key (Eb, as the preview screen helpfully reminds you) rather than Prince’s frequent falsetto squeal, it should allow you to bare your soul without any embarrassing high-register mishaps.

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‘Since U Been Gone’  by Kelly Clarkson

Photograph: Shutterstock

5. ‘Since U Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson

The simple chord progression and the restrained vocals in the beginning of Clarkson’s 2004 hit make for one of the greatest buildups to a powerhouse chorus is pop music. Sing this in front of a room full of strangers and the whole lot will be scream-belting, ‘But since you’ve been gone, I can breathe for the first time!’ Don’t worry though—you’ll likely get your chance to shine solo again come the verses. 

‘I Want It That Way’  by the Backstreet Boys

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Jive Records

6. ‘I Want It That Way’ by the Backstreet Boys

Lurking behind the shimmery Nordic production of this megahit is a great soul ballad. The lyrics are famously nonsensical, owing to Swedish producer and songwriter Max Martin’s tenuous grasp of English, but poetry’s beside the point when you’ve got one of pop music’s catchiest choruses. Kevin Richardson—BSB’s ‘The Old One’ —perceptively nailed the song’s appeal with his assessment: “There are a lot of songs out there that don’t make sense, but make you feel good when you sing along to them, and that’s one of them.” Couldn’t think of a better karaoke endorsement than that.

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’I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Arista

7. ’I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston

Whitney’s 1987 smash remains an invigorating blast of lovelorn pop glory, her powerful, agile voice soaring effortlessly over spritely synths and funk-syncopated guitar. The whole thing makes the achingly lonely search for a dance floor soulmate sound like the best Friday night ever. Of course, nobody’s alone at karaoke. Especially if you nail that third-act key change.

‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Polydor Records

8. ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor

Sometimes you need to get in front of a group of strangers and make it clear that, no matter what challenges or misfortune the world throws in your path, you’re going to persevere. In those situations, you can’t go wrong with disco diva Gloria Gaynor’s iconic breakup anthem, which brought empowerment to the dance floor when the track debuted in 1978. Settle for ’90s alt-rockers Cake’s cover of this tune if you must, but Gaynor’s original version is infinitely more groovy.

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‘Love Shack’ by the B-52s

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Reprise

9. ‘Love Shack’ by the B-52s

The B-52s’ 1989 signature hit – sorry, ‘Rock Lobster’ – works fabulously at karaoke because it’s kind of an audience participation number. After you deliver Cindy Wilson’s classic ‘your what?’ line, the entire room can yell back: ‘Tin roof… rusted!’ But really, ‘Love Shack’ is so much fun to sing and listen to that the whole shack will be shimmying long before then. 

‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ by Journey

Columbia

10. ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ by Journey

At this point, saying that this fist-pumping, heart-swelling arena rock anthem is a good karaoke jam is like pointing out that ‘Happy Birthday’ is an ideal song to sing on someone’s birthday. It’s so obvious – and overdone – it’s probably not even worth including on a list like this, lest it inspire yet another full-bar singalong for the 9,425,567th time. But that’s the whole point: karaoke is a communal experience, and no matter how hard your eyes may roll whenever you hear that melodramatic keyboard intro, by the time your faux Steve Perry reaches the part about ‘strangers waitin’ up and down the boulevard’, you’ll have fully given in, along with everyone else in the pub. Really, it’s the song karaoke was made for. Believe that.

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‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E. King

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Atco Records / Atlantic Records

11. ‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E. King

No karaoke outing is complete without a teary moment, and here’s yours, courtesy of the 1961 classic ‘Stand by Me’ which has been covered more than 400 times (no, we’re not including your karaoke version in that count). Written by Ben E. King with song gods Leiber and Stoller, the song has its roots in a gospel standard called ‘Lord Stand by Me’ and certainly its reach goes beyond regular pop romance—as evidenced by its inclusion in the 1986 right of passage movie Stand by Me. Watch, listen, sing, cry—oh, and enjoy.

‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ by Eurythmics

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Dell9300/Eurythmics

12. ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ by Eurythmics

Who are we to disagree with the power of one of Annie Lennox’s most prominent new wave anthems, written with musical partner Dave Stewart in the wake of the demise of their former band, The Tourists. There’s a decent chance that you already know the repetitive lyrics to this ’80s bop built around a pair of intersecting synthesizer riffs, so hold your head up and sing this karaoke song loud.

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‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen

Photograph: Shutterstock

13. ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen

There’s something about an Americana ode to blue-collar youth that makes for a surefire karaoke classic, and no one knows this better than the Boss. Released in 1975, this song was his first charting single, the one that laid the foundation for decades of battered blue jeans and working-class anthems. And all these years later, a well delivered ‘Tramps like us / Baby we were born to run’  will still slay a crowd. 

‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/SnapSnap/Jack3mani.filed.wordpress.com

14. ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse

Right off the bat, you get the chorus: ‘They tried to make me go to rehab!’ It’s fantastic when pop songs do that, no dillydallying, no buildup. The audience will know immediately what you are singing, and they will respond, ‘No, no, no!’ Of course, you must sing this karaoke song completely blitzed out of your mind. Sobriety is to this tune what satanists are to gospel. If you don’t fall off the stage by that final ‘I won’t go,’ spilling into a cocktail table, ending the night in stains, you did it wrong.

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‘Killing Me Softly’ by The Fugees

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Ruff House

15. ‘Killing Me Softly’ by The Fugees

A hip-hop-inflected cover of Roberta Flack’s interpretation of a ballad by ’70s singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman (inspired by her experience at concert headlined by ‘American Pike’ troubadour Don McLean), this hit by the Fugees works best as a karaoke song if you’ve got a whole lot of confidence or a killer set of pipes. Backed only by a sparse drum beat, you’ll be able to put your own spin on Lauryn Hill’s silky vocal melodies— and don’t be afraid to designate a hype man to take care of the ‘one time, two time’ asides or to help belt out the chorus.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Queen Productions, Ltd

16. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen

The high pomp of opera and the gutter circumstance of rock & roll tangle memorably in Queen’s classic 1975 art-rock epic. No one can sing like Freddie Mercury, of course, but the motley nature of the song—which segues from plaintive ballad and quasiclassical choral harmonies to guitar-driven rebel yell—means that pretty much anything goes, from melodramatic group sing-along (‘Bismillah! No, we will not let you go!’ ‘Let him go!’) to Wayne’s World–style head-thrashing.

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‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’’ by Nancy Sinatra

Photograph: Supplied/Phillip Booth

17. ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’’ by Nancy Sinatra

Sassy ladies (and hey, gents too), your moment has arrived! This sultry, defiant ’60s pop staple is among the crowning jewels of Sinatra’s glittering collaborations with songwriter Lee Hazlewood and works best in performance when its singer is backed up by a troupe of go-go dancers. Bribe your friends.

‘Faith’ by George Michael

18. ‘Faith’ by George Michael

As soon as this song’s iconic, Bo Diddley-inspired riff kicks in, you’ll have the karaoke crowd in the palm of your hands. Channelling the soulful vocal style of the late, great George Michael isn’t going to be easy, so make sure you throw everything into the climactic ‘baby!’. And if you want to shake your ass like GM in the video, hey, who is anyone to judge? 

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‘Say It Ain’t So’ by Weezer

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/From the Garage

19. ‘Say It Ain’t So’ by Weezer

Okay, so this song made its name on its monster guitar riff. But with its esoteric, affecting lyrics and Rivers Cuomo’s bellowed ‘say it ain’t so, whoa, whoa,’ it’s simply made to be one of the best karaoke songs. The only problem you’ll have is figuring out where to stash the mike as you furiously air-guitar.

‘Ice, Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice

Streamy Awards/Flickr

20. ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice

Every human should be able to recite at least one couplet from this 1990 global smash, do so without shame. Yes, the song is so stupid in so many ways, but it’s also a stone-cold specimen of pristine pop. Theres that perfect bassline, swiped from ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen and David Bowie, Ice’s ludicrous braggadocio (‘Quick to the point to the point no fakin’ / Cookin’ MCs like a pound of bacon’) and, of course, that dance routine with those pants. Word to your mother.

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‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronettes

21. ‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronettes

Nearly every list of the best songs ever recorded has ‘Be My Baby’ somewhere near the top, and deservedly so. Ronnie Spector was rock & roll’s first bad girl, so pay your respects by putting this gem in the karaoke song queue. Phil Spector’s studio magic made the song a pop touchstone, but Ronnie’s spunky charm makes it a karaoke classic.

‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)’ by Beastie Boys

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Def Jam/Columbia/David Gamboli

22. ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)’ by Beastie Boys

There are few requirements involved in performing the Beastie Boys’ brazen ode to youthful rebellion. You must be awake. You must be able to read. The barrier to entry is low for this karaoke song, making it one of your easiest and best options for some sophomoric fun. It’s also highly recommended to have a gaggle of friends on stage all yelling with you into one microphone. But really, in the spirit of the song, there are no rules. If someone tries to tell you otherwise, throw a pie in their face.

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‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ by Aretha Franklin

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Atlantic Records / Columbia Records / Screen Gems

23. ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ by Aretha Franklin

Just the sound of those opening piano chords is enough to send anyone with ears into a swoon, such is the singular beauty of this 1967 Goffin and King classic. The question is, do you have the pipes—or the chutzpah—to take it on? Aretha’s spine-tinglingly sung point here is that her man makes her feel like a red-blooded, musky, perfect-as-she-is woman, and she wants to bust open her heart to tell you this glorious truth. Sing it like a queen, or not at all.

‘Regulate’ by Warren G featuring Nate Dogg

Death Row/Interscope

24. ‘Regulate’ by Warren G featuring Nate Dogg

For a certain generation of rap fans – and even non-fans who just watched a lot of MTV back in the ‘90s and absorbed it subconsciously – the words to this West Coast gangsta classic live in the same part of the brain that also contains the lyrics to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme, Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ and several childhood nursery rhymes. That is to say, most everyone can recite every single line from memory, from the snippet of Young Guns dialogue at the beginning to the ‘chords…strings…we brings…melody’ part at the end. It’s also one of the best karaoke duets, although you’ll certainly have to roshambo for the Nate Dogg role. 

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‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ by Wham!

© DR

25. ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ by Wham!

This Motown-inspired pop banger has more energy than a labrador puppy. That makes it a guaranteed karaoke crowd-pleaser even if music snobs might try to tell you it’s ‘a bit cheesy’. They’re wrong, obviously, and do not let his put you off. If you’re not much of a singer, just play Andrew to your singing partner’s George and deliver a Grammy-winning performance on air tambourine. 

‘Islands in the Stream’ by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

© Piper Ferguson

26. ‘Islands in the Stream’ by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

Written by the Bee Gees, this chart-topping 1983 duet has become a karaoke staple. Even if your singing voice lacks even a trace of country grit, it’s a song you can’t really go wrong with, not least because everyone in the room will be singing along by the time you reach the chorus. Best performed in a cowboy hat with a hint of a line-dancing shuffle. 

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‘Tears of a Clown’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/FuriousFreddy

27. ‘Tears of a Clown’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

When that opening calliope riff hits, everyone in the bar will know you’ve just cued up Smokey’s timeless ode to weepy bedroom solitude. To sell it, you’ll need to summon the gods of skyscraper-topping Motown vocals (the original was recorded at the famed label’s studio A) so why not take a tip from the pros. Legendary Apollo Theater performers like Robinson would rub a lucky tree stump before heading out on the stage. Find the nearest arboreal equivalent (most likely some formica paneling) and go for it.

‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline

28. ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline

When everyone else is screaming out pop hits like cans of spray cheese gone amok, class up the joint with Patsy Cline’s mournful country classic, written for her by Willie Nelson in 1961. The simple melody doesn’t require vocal pyrotechnics, so this is good choice for less showy singers. And the slow, steady tempo gives you plenty of room to croon, back-phrase and otherwise make the song yours.

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‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-A-Lot

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/MindsEyeTHPS/American Recordings/Universal Music Group

29. ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-A-Lot

Like the Nostrodamus of butts, Sir Mix-a-Lot foresaw a future in which we’d all be as obsessed with ass as he is. Nicki Minaj sampled him heavily for ‘Anaconda’, J. Lo and Iggy Azalea gifted the world with a track simply titled ‘Booty,’ and Kim Kardashian is a person who exists. No karaoke night is complete without a salute to the song that started it all.

‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ by the Righteous Brothers

30. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ by the Righteous Brothers

When it comes to musical moments in Top Gun, the greatest is undeniably Kenny Loggins’s ‘Playing with the Boys’ set against the homoerotic gloss of a beach volleyball game, but Cruise and Goose crooning the Righteous Brothers in a bar is probably more remembered. That scene is the genesis for every impulse to dial up this doo-wop in a karaoke parlour, because a 1986 fighter-jet movie remains more relevant than blue-eyed balladry produced by Phil Spector half a century ago. It’s cheesy and effective, like Cruise himself. But heed the warning of Goose: ‘She’s lost that loving feeling? I hate it when she does that.’

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‘Drunk in Love’ by Jay-Z and Beyonce

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/Adabow/Columbia Records

31. ‘Drunk in Love’ by Jay-Z and Beyonce

Sure, it’s a duet, but really you know who’s wearing the pants (or at least, tiny underpants) here: This is Yoncé’s joint, from its trap beats and shuddering subterranean bassline to the singer’s febrile, sometimes cartoonish vocals (‘grainin’ on that wood’ ). Select this song for karaoke, and be prepared to go the distance with its delivery: not recommended for work parties. 

‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ by Def Leppard

Foto: Cortesía Def Lepparad

32. ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ by Def Leppard

‘Gunter glieben glauten globen!’ Huh? That’s Rock of Ages, you say? Look, all Def Leppard smashes are the same, sex-craved kaiju with kick drums like empty cargo ships and blue balls falsetto, glossed up in producer Mutt Lange’s Wall of Hairspray sound. You can gunter glieben glauten globen over any damn one you please. As you stand there onstage, looking around the bar for packets of sugar to dump on your head for dramatic effect, the heretofore unrealized inanity of the lyrics really sinks in. The song rhymes ‘tramp’ with ‘video vamp’. Who’s pouring sugar on whom, and what exactly is a ‘radar phone’? Shut off your brain and air guitar.

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‘Africa’ by Toto

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/PhilipTerryGraham/Columbia Records

33. ‘Africa’ by Toto

Let’s face it: There’s no way you can hit those high notes on the chorus, and no one—and we mean no one—has any idea what vocalist David Paich is carrying on about. But man, is that fake-tribal verse smooth, and man, is that chorus melody sweet. This is one of those karaoke songs that gets the whole room singing along or at the very least trying its best.

‘A Little Respect’ by Erasure

Foto: Cortesía Erasure

34. ‘A Little Respect’ by Erasure

This synth-pop classic is nothing short of transcendent: an LGBTQ+ anthem, absolutely, but also a banger covered by ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ band Wheatus and memorably used in ‘Scrubs’. Few of us can hit Andy Bell’s skyscraping notes; few of us can resist trying to do so anyway. And yes, you do deserve ‘A Little Respect’ just for stepping up to the mike. 

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‘Party in the U.S.A.’ by Miley Cyrus

Photographer: cousindaniel.com

35. ‘Party in the U.S.A.’ by Miley Cyrus

Poke fun at her dorky Hannah Montana days or the infamous bedazzled weed leotard all you like—there’s no denying that Miley Cyrus has given the world some bonafide karaoke classics (or Bangerz, if you will). Before you break into one of her most memorable tracks, you’ll probably want to wait until everyone at the bar is at least a couple drinks in, just to ensure that everyone is movin’ their hips and shakin’ their heads (like, yeah) when you all start belting out the chorus.

‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ by Guns N’ Roses

FOTO: Geffen

36. ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ by Guns N’ Roses

‘Sweet Child o’ Mine,’ this iconic band’s only U.S. No. 1 single, is a 10-point routine for Axl Rose imitators. It starts with your nuts in a bunch, full-on banshee Axl, before letting you really chew into his Brit imitation and serious busker mode on ‘Where do we go now?’ bridge, which of course climaxes into a glass-shattering falsetto shriek. Place that order for lemon and honey tea beforehand.

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‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie

37. ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie

If you’re pretty confident in your upper register, this shimmering disco classic is an excellent choice at karaoke. If you’re, well, a little less steady on those high notes, you can still make ‘Heart of Glass’ work for you. Just channel Debbie Harry’s quintessential NYC cool as best as you can before really letting rip on a bridge that no one can mess up: ‘Da-da-da, da-dum-da-dum-da, da-dum-da-da-da…’ 

‘The Boy is Mine’ by Brandy and Monica

38. ‘The Boy is Mine’ by Brandy and Monica

This super slinky 1998 number was guaranteed to be a hit for its singers—pitched as an ‘answer song’ to MJ and Paul McCartney’s 1982 duet ‘The Girl Is Mine’, it played off the supposed rivalry between the two female R&B stars. But that’s beside the point when you hear the song, which still sounds crisper and cooler than an icicle at a club in an igloo—and guarantees any karaoke singer the opportunity to channel his or her belligerent feelings into the musical expression of eyebrows raised and arms folded: ‘I’m sorry that you seem to be confused.’ Snap.

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‘Hold On’ by Wilson Phillips

Robert Catto, Photographer

39. ‘Hold On’ by Wilson Phillips

Did you know that in 1990, ‘Hold On’ bumped Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ off the top spot of the Billboard charts? Did you know that Wilson Phillips’ debut album sold more than 10 million copies? Did you know that ‘Hold On’ is actually a perfect, if weirdly nauseating, karaoke song? Of course you did! And very likely you loved every minute of the trio’s cameo in the 2011 movie Bridesmaids, too. Time to re-create the magic.

‘Someone Like You’ by Adele

Photograph: Richard Isaac/REX/Shutterstock

40. ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele

Still pining for your ex when friends drag you to karaoke night? There’s only one song for you. Save it for when you’re four drinks in and ready to make the crowd deeply uncomfortable. Don’t worry if you don’t have Adele’s vocal chops—the tears streaming down your face will distract everyone from the high notes you’re mangling.

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‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ by Snoop Dogg

Photograph: Josh Telles

41. ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ by Snoop Dogg

Can you twerk? Are you willing to try? If you answered no, please pass the mike to someone bolder or more inebriated. Covering Snoop’s ode to glutes is as much an embarrassing dance routine as a karaoke number: ‘Get low.’ ‘Scrub the ground.’ Pharrell’s beat, which sounds like bacon fat on a skillet and pulling lollipops out of a mouth, is equally lascivious. Best not to try this one out at the wedding party in front of the grand-in-laws. But among your friends? You’re going home lucky. Or with wet pants.

‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast

Photograph: Courtesy Discogs.com

42. ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast

If singing isn’t your strongest suit—but you’re fantastic at jumping around and getting everybody pumped—then fire up this early aughts favorite. Better plan ahead though if you want to match the tune in your best André ‘Ice Cold’ 3000 green get-up.

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‘Creep’ by Radiohead

Photograph: Rozette Rago Radiohead

43. ‘Creep’ by Radiohead

There’s a cheap gimmick for scoring a pop hit: cursing in the chorus. The radio stations may have to bleep out the words, but we love belting out those f-bombs in cars and bars. It worked wonders for Cee Lo’s ‘Fuck You’ and Gwen Stefani’s ‘Hollaback Girl.’ Likewise, would Radiohead ever have been able to become Radiohead without that angsty refrain of ‘you’re so fucking special’ in 1994? Probably not. However, Jonny Greenwood’s radical guitar interjection—chunk-unk!—turned the power chord into expletive and proved these guys were smarter than the text.

‘Say My Name’ Destiny’s Child

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikipedia/MatthewWaller

44. ‘Say My Name’ Destiny’s Child

For an R&B song boasting amazing female vocalists (including, you know, Beyoncé), ‘Say My Name’ doesn’t require all that big a singing range. What it does need, however, is some pretty fast talking. To impress the rest of the bar, make sure you got the lyrics on lock—or maybe the support of your personal Kelly Rowland, Letoya Luckett and LaTavia Robertson.

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‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones

Fotografia: Øderud

45. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones

That riff, a cross between a sitar and a revving dirt bike, is the most recognizable thing about the song. For such a ubiquitous hit, the lyrics continually surprise beyond the titular chorus. So much so that when Cat Power covered the tune in 2000, slicing off the refrain, it was a strange new poem about the anxiety of commercials and subliminal advertising. This from the first rock band to develop a brand logo, a pair of juicy red lips.

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