I used to live in Japan and sang karaoke all the time. True story. In fact, where I lived in rural Japan, it was the only thing to do on a night out.
I’ve seen people absolutely crush a song and get a round of applause at the end. On the flip side, I’ve seen people make a poor song choice and have to abandon it halfway through. Not pretty.
So here’s my pick of the best karaoke songs of all time, with some recommendations on whether you should attempt it or not. They’re all karaoke classics that have stood the test of time and haven’t aged one bit (okay, some of them might have, but that just adds to the fun!).
Table of Contents
- ‘Please Please Me’ – The Beatles
- ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – Queen
- ‘My Way’ – Frank Sinatra
- ‘It’s Raining Men’ – The Weather Girls
- ‘Sweet Caroline’ – Neil Diamond
- ‘Shallow’ – Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
- ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ – Guns N’ Roses
- ‘Respect’ – Erasure
- ‘Hotel California’ – The Eagles
- ‘Islands In The Stream’ – Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
- ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ – Diana Ross
- ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’ – The Fugees
- ‘You’ve Lost the Loving Feeling’ – The Righteous Brothers
- ‘Love Shack’ – The B52s
- ‘Wonderwall’ – Oasis
- ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – Whitney Houston
- ‘Fairytale of New York’ – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl
- ‘Purple Rain’ – Prince
- ‘Hey Jude’ – The Beatles
- ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ – Vanilla Ice
- ‘Losing My Religion’ – R.E.M.
- ‘Angels’ – Robbie Williams
- ‘Africa’ – Toto
- ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ – The Rolling Stones
- ‘Mr Brightside’ – The Killers
- ‘Be My Baby’ – The Ronettes
- ‘Hello’ – Adele
- ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)’ – Beastie Boys
- ‘Dancing In The Dark’ – Bruce Springsteen
- ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ – Rick Astley
- ‘Rehab’ – Amy Winehouse
- ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ – Def Leppard
- ‘Stand by Me’ – Ben E. King
- ‘Dancing Queen’ – Abba
- ‘Despacito’ – Luis Fonzi and Daddy Yankee
- ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ – Cyndi Lauper
- ‘Wannabe’ – Spice Girls
- ‘Say It Ain’t So’ – Weezer
- ‘Time Of My Life’ – Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
- ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ – Journey
- ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ – The Rolling Stones
- ‘Jolene’ – Dolly Parton
- ‘Rapper’s Delight’ – The Sugar Hill Gang
- ‘I Will Survive’ – Gloria Gaynor
- ‘Home’ – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
‘Please Please Me’ – The Beatles
“Last night I said these words to my girl.”
‘Please Please Me’ is John Lennon doing his best Roy Orbison impression. It’s a great opening number for a night of karaoke, as it’s short, fun and everybody knows it.
The ‘come on’ lines are particularly good for getting the crowd geed-up.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – Queen
“Mama, I just killed a man.”
If you take on Bohemian Rhapsody at a packed karaoke bar, I salute you. It’s not for the feign-hearted.
Pull it off with aplomb, and you can sit back for the rest of the night with a smug look on your face. You’ve just conquered Mount Everest. Everything else is child’s play. Mess it up, and you’d better get your coat.
‘My Way’ – Frank Sinatra
“And now, the end is near.”
One of the most popular Karaoke songs ever. Just be careful not to sing it in The Philippines, as it’s got a reputation for causing fights among drunken karaoke bar revelers (it’s something about ‘the bravado’ that winds people up).
In fact, many bars have banned it!
‘It’s Raining Men’ – The Weather Girls
‘It’s Raining Men’ became a bit of an anthem in gay dance clubs in the 80s. It’s sung by two overweight disco divas who were schooled in gospel music, so you’ll need a decent voice to do this one justice.
On the other hand, if you’re comfortable going high and have the vocal range to do it, then go crazy!
‘Sweet Caroline’ – Neil Diamond
“Hands, touching hands.”
This is one of the most popular karaoke songs of all time. So it’s almost expected to be played at some point during the night. It’s an easy one to slur your way through too, so good towards the end of the night to get the whole room singing.
So be prepared for some interlocking of arms.
‘Shallow’ – Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
“Tell me somethin’, girl.”
If you’re looking for a duet, this one should definitely be on your list. Written by British-American producer Mark Ronson and Lady Gaga, it was recorded for the 2018 remake of the movie A Star is Born.
Give it a couple of listens first though, as it requires a decent vocal performance.
‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ – Guns N’ Roses
“Oh, where do we go now?”
Another one that might make eyes roll when people first hear the opening riff but don’t let that put you off. As soon as you get to the “oh, oh, oh ohs,” you’ll have the audience eating out the palm of your hands.
Extra points if you do some ‘air guitar’ during the solos.
‘Respect’ – Erasure
“That you gimme no.”
This feel-good 80s song is a classic tale of unrequited love. He’s head over heels for someone, but the feeling isn’t mutual. If you’re a fan of the TV show Scrubs, you’ll recognize it as the song the surgeons perform surgery to.
‘Hotel California’ – The Eagles
“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
Another crowd-pleaser if the average age of your audience is 40 years old or higher. It’s a song about the excesses of American culture. ‘Living it up’ can cost you your life.
Its ‘white man reggae vibe’ will loosen everyone up though, that’s for sure.
‘Islands In The Stream’ – Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
“Sail away with me to another world, and we rely on each other, ah-ah.”
One of the best karaoke duets, ‘Islands in the Stream’ is a solid karaoke classic. Here’s a joke to crack after you’ve just sung your heart out: What do you call Dolly Parton lying down in a bathtub?
The answer is in the name of the song :p
‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ – Diana Ross
“Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough.”
Ready for some soul? Well, here’s a great song about overcoming obstacles. It’s precisely the kind of rabble-rousing song that always goes down well on a karaoke night (‘I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor is another fine example).
You’ll have to wait almost four minutes for the chorus, though – but when it finally comes…wow.
By the way, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell also did an equally good version of this song.
‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’ – The Fugees
“I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style.”
The Fugees version of this classic Roberta Flack song is a popular karaoke choice. But be careful. You’ll have to be quite an accomplished singer to risk it.
According to The Karaoke Informer, “with a minimal background track, virtually every girl loses the melody.”
‘You’ve Lost the Loving Feeling’ – The Righteous Brothers
“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips.”
Often considered one of the best records ever made, ‘You’ve Lost the Loving Feeling’ is also a stunning choice for karaoke bars.
The low baritone voice at the beginning builds things up nicely, and the chorus (with the ‘baby, baby, BABY!) bit will have your audience on its knees.
‘Love Shack’ – The B52s
“The love shack is a little old place where we can get together.”
You’re in a karaoke bar, then how about a song about a bar? Love shack was a bar in Athens, Georgia (called the ‘Hawaiian Ha-Le’ ) where the band hung out. It sounded like a lot of fun. Make sure you’re ready for the breakdown near the end of the song. The music stops, and you say, “You’re what?”.
If you’re finding The B52s are bringing down the house, also try ‘Rock Lobster.’ It’s a good one too.
‘Wonderwall’ – Oasis
“There are many things that I, would like to say to you, but I don’t know how.”
It’s supposedly about Noel Gallagher’s ex-wife Meg Mathews who he later divorced. Not so wonder-ful after all.
‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – Whitney Houston
“Hey don’tcha wanna dance with me baby, with somebody who loves me.”
This is a high-stakes choice. Smash it, and you’ll be untouchable for the rest of the night. Butcher it, and you won’t get the mic again. Just make sure you’ve warmed up your vocal pipes, as there are some seriously high notes to contend with and a key change to keep you on your toes.
It was also the first dance at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.
‘Fairytale of New York’ – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl
“It was Christmas Eve babe, in the drunk tank.”
Show me someone who doesn’t like this song, and I’ll show you someone who has no taste in music. A bit harsh? Nah, not really. There is some brilliant interplay between Shane McGowan and the much-missed Kirsty MacColl, so if you’re going to try it, pay attention.
It’s arguably the best song for a yuletide xmas sesh too.
‘Purple Rain’ – Prince
“I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain.”
It’s important to change up the pace during a karaoke session. Like a good concert, it’s good to have a nice mix of fast and slow songs, so you don’t tire out people’s eardrums. Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ is a perfect slow number that pretty much everyone adores.
Extra points if you manage to turn up the delay effect on the mic.
‘Hey Jude’ – The Beatles
“The movement you need is on your shoulder.”
The brilliant ‘Hey Jude’ is another no-brainer. Just be careful with the start, as it starts with a vocal-only ‘Hey…’ then the piano comes in.
Leave it too late, and you’ll be struggling for the rest of the song.
‘Ice, Ice Baby’ – Vanilla Ice
“Alright stop, collaborate and listen.”
If hip hop is more your thing, there’s always ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ – the song credited for helping hip hop find a mainstream audience.
With a bassline from Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure,’ it still packs quite a punch.
‘Losing My Religion’ – R.E.M.
“Every whisper, of every waking hour.”
‘Losing My Religion’ is about unrequited love, not religion as some people think. But that doesn’t matter. It makes for a superb karaoke track, and it’s dead easy to sing for most people.
Extra points for attempting Michael Stipe’s goofy dance.
‘Angels’ – Robbie Williams
“And through it all she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection.”
A massive karaoke favorite (and sadly one that crops up a fair bit at funerals), showman Robbie William’s ‘Angels’ builds up perfectly.
By the time the chorus hits, it’s unusual for anyone not to be singing along.
‘Africa’ – Toto
“It’s gonna take a lot to drag take me away from you.”
Another ’80s classic here with an absolute killer chorus. It’s anyone’s guess what the lyrics are about, though. There seems to be a girl involved (who, as rumors had it, was actress Rosanna Arquette) and a guy who can’t make up his mind whether to leave Africa or not.
It’s a belter of a song, though, that has aged surprisingly well.
‘Sympathy For The Devil’ – The Rolling Stones
“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.”
I applaud anyone who attempts this song; it’s such a good number. If you have a receptive crowd, you can urge them to join in on the ‘woah, woahs.’ Take care with the ‘tell me baby, what’s my name’ bits (they’re pretty high!).
Extra points for doing the shuffling-feet Jagger dance.
‘Mr Brightside’ – The Killers
“Open up my eager eyes, ’cause I’m Mr. Brightside.”
It’s fast this one, so make sure you’re familiar with it before you try it; listening to you steam roller through the lines won’t win you any fans.
Extra points if this prompts you to phone a cab once you’re done singing it.
‘Be My Baby’ – The Ronettes
“For every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three.”
This one isn’t on your average best karaoke songs playlist, and you won’t hear it sung that often. That’s all the more reason for trying it. It’s a brilliant song about a girl trying to convince a guy to give her a chance.
If you have any fans of the 80s movie Dirty Dancing, you’ll instantly make their day (the song appears in the film, with the late, great Patrick Swayze).
‘Hello’ – Adele
“I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.”
Adele has an epic voice, so you’ll need to pull out a stellar vocal performance for this one. The verses are simple enough to sing, but the chorus is a different fettle of kish. You could easily break down mid-chorus if you’re not careful.
Worth some practice beforehand!
‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)’ – Beastie Boys
“You wake up late for school, man you don’t want to go.”
To more serious matters now (yes, partying should be taken very seriously!). This is the one to break out when you want the party to go up a notch or two.
The song is an invitation for everyone to start partying hard. It’s something you fought for, right? Now, enjoy it!
‘Dancing In The Dark’ – Bruce Springsteen
“I get up in the evening and I ain’t got nothing to say.”
An 80s banger here and a real foot tapper. In the words, Springsteen hates his dead-end job (shift work too, ouch) and is looking for a spark to light his fire.
So for anyone who’s having a tough time at work (that’s probably most of your audience), they should be joining in with this Springsteen anthem.
‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ – Rick Astley
“I just wanna tell you how I’m feeling”
Ok, if you really must. The thing is, Rick Astley is a charming bloke and a pretty good singer, but this song has been soooo overplayed it’s unreal. It’s been done to death.
I’m sure Mr. Astley doesn’t mind the royalties he still gets from it, though.
‘Rehab’ – Amy Winehouse
“He’s tried to make me go to rehab, I won’t go, go, go.”
Winehouse’s all-too-short life was blighted with trips in and out of rehab. She explains she’d rather be home listening to the music of soul legends Ray Charles (“I’d rather be at home with Ray”) and Donny Hathaway (“There’s nothing you can teach me that I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway”).
Her song ‘Valerie’ is another corker you should try.
‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ – Def Leppard
“So c’mon, take a bottle, shake it up.”
If soft rock is more your thing, I won’t judge you. Mine is not to judge, just to write (but seriously dude, isn’t it time to move on?!).
It’s still a popular song, no doubt. But better if you have an 80s style hairpiece you can wear while you belt it out.
‘Stand by Me’ – Ben E. King
“When the night has come, and the land is dark.”
You can’t go wrong with this choice. This gospel hymn was written by a church minister in 1905 and was popularised by Ben E. King in the early 60s. It’s popular at weddings of course.
In fact, it was sung before Harry and Megs exchanged their vows at Windsor Castle.
‘Dancing Queen’ – Abba
“Night is young and the music’s high.”
Here’s one to pull out early in the night with its reference to “the night is young.” It works just well as the grand finale, with everyone huddled around the mic slurring their words.
Even the harshest anti-Abba critic will find it hard to stop their foot tapping along to its disco beat. If not, then more Sambuca shots are required.
‘Despacito’ – Luis Fonzi and Daddy Yankee
“Sí, sabes que ya llevo un rato mirándote.”
It’s good to mix in a bit of Latin stuff too. This reggaetón classic is the modern-day ‘Macarena.’ Everybody knows it (even if they don’t know who it’s by), and its infectious groove will conquer all the nay-sayers.
If your audience is feeling the Latin love after this one, try ‘Havana’ by Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug. It’s another banger.
‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ – Cyndi Lauper
“Oh girls, they want to have fun.”
This girl-power anthem was a massive hit in the ’80s. At the time, MTV was full of ‘picture perfect’ women that few could relate to. In contrast, Lauper looked like she’d just rolled out of bed.
This song invites all the girls in the room to huddle round the mic and ‘stick it to the guys.’
‘Wannabe’ – Spice Girls
“I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want.”
This ‘ girl-power ‘ song is the best-selling single by an all-female group about putting friendship ahead of romance (“friendship never ends”).
Extra points if there are five of you and you each take on a spice girl character.
‘Say It Ain’t So’ – Weezer
“Say it ain’t so, my love is a life taker.”
If indie music is your thing, you’re probably sat in a corner feeling mildly uncomfortable while you watch others destroy songs you don’t even like. If you’ve been dragged along and feel obliged to sing something (but you flat refuse to join in on ‘Jolene’), this Weezer track might bail you out.
You’ll feel like you’ve ‘done your bit’ while keeping an ounce of self-respect. It’s a win-win. Now for next time, make your excuses early.
‘Time Of My Life’ – Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
“Just remember, you’re the one thing I can’t get enough of.”
Are you looking for a good ‘me and you’ song? Then here’s your song. It’s from the final scene of the hit ’80s movie Dirty Dancing. Play it back to back with ‘Be My Baby’ by The Ronettes (see above) and you’ll have fans of the movie reeling with excitement.
For her, she might for a moment imagine she’s dating Patrick Swayze if the lights are low enough.
‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ – Journey
“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world.”
Ok, no one is going to win any originality awards by picking this song (it became super popular in the US after its appearance in the final episode of The Sopranos).
Like ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, the payload comes at the end – the chorus is a staggering 3:20 into the song. But good things come to those who wait.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ – The Rolling Stones
“He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information.”
Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night with the guitar riff and line “Can’t get no satisfaction” in his head. He recorded it, then went back to sleep (he left the tape running, and his snoring was also recorded).
If you get behind this one, nobody should be dropping off. We’re all a little dissatisfied these days, aren’t we? Lockdowns, climate change, corrupt governments. Yup.
‘Jolene’ – Dolly Parton
“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.”
The second Dolly Parton number on the list (the other is ‘Islands in the Stream’), such is the popularity of Parton whenever a karaoke mic is involved. However, whereas ‘Islands’ is an excellent Parton duet, Jolene is where it’s at if you’re singing solo.
If you feel particularly protective about your man, then this song will have added resonance, as it’s a ‘hands-off my man song’ (but honestly, if your man is that susceptible to Jolene’s advances, he might need the heave-ho. Just sayin’).
‘Rapper’s Delight’ – The Sugar Hill Gang
“Check it out, I’m the C-A-S-A, the N-O-V-A, and the rest is F-L-Y.”
Warning: do not attempt it unless you know it inside out, or you’ll be up the stream without a paddle. It’s long, complicated, and requires vocal dexterity.
If you’re in the midst of someone who nails it word for word, know that you’re in the presence of karaoke royalty. You can’t ‘chance’ you’re way through it like you can many other songs on this list.
‘I Will Survive’ – Gloria Gaynor
“At first I was afraid, I was petrified.”
Gloria Gaynor’s female-empowerment anthem ‘I Will Survive’ is easily one of the most popular karaoke songs ever. Just the opening line should give people goosebumps.
For a girl power medley, pair this with ‘Wannabe’ and ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.
‘Home’ – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
“Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my ma and pa, not that way that I do love you.”
Not a lotta people know this one, as Michael Caine would say. It’s a great duet that sounds like it’s straight out of a western with all that whistling. It’s also a gorgeous song that reminds us home is a person, not a thing.
Extra points if you manage to nail the whistling and not look like the mailman.
More Karaoke Songs (if you needed more!)
- ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson
- ‘Always On My Mind’ – Elvis Presley
- ‘Let’s Dance’ – David Bowie
- ‘I Love Rock n’ Roll’ – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
- ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ – Elton john and Kiki Dee
- ‘Since U Been Gone’ – Kelly Clarkson
- ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- ‘Summer Nights’ – Olivia Newton John
- ‘Uptown Girl’ – Billy Joel
- ‘Hey Ya’ – Outkast
- ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ – Bonnie Tyler
- ‘I Want It That Way’ – Backstreet Boys
- ‘Parklike’ – Blur
- ‘Man, I Feel Like a Woman’ – Shania Twain
- ‘In Da Club’ – 50 Cent
- ‘Love Story’ – Taylor Swift
- ‘…Baby One More Time’ – Britney Spears
- ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ – Billy Ray Cyrus
- ‘We Can’t Stop’ – Miley Cyrus
- ‘Always Be My Baby’ – Mariah Carey
- ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ – Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder
- ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ – Alicia Keys
- ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ – Nancy Sinatra
- ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson
- ‘Torn’ – Natalie Imbruglia
- ‘Jenny From the Block’ – Jennifer Lopez
- ‘Genie In a Bottle’ – Christina Aguilera