Ooooh, another karaoke virgin! What fun!
You'll want to pay particular attention to Nos. 2 and 3 on my list of tips for n00bs. Getting to know your vocal range and practicing your songs before you pop your karaoke cherry will be key to not bleeding. No one likes an inexperienced gusher, you know.
There are, of course, many songs that suit most people's voices while feeding the drunk audience's frenzy for fresh meat. To be successful and get crowd approval your first time out, I'd look into Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me," or (sigh) Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young." I recommend that last one hesitantly, only because I hear it nearly every week. Still, it gets the job done for a newbie.
You're flipping through the massive, laminated karaoke bible and discover that this book is truly a gift from the gods -- it has a whole column of Radiohead songs. You're longing to sing a nice round of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" instead of "Creep," but you're keenly aware that it's not the band's definitive anthem. What do you do? Go for the biggest hit, or hit it big with a surprising selection from Radiohead's repertoire? (Aside: Shouldn't the crowd be exposed to "Street Spirit" anyway?) -- Paranoid Android
First off, I love you for even asking this question -- and not just because I love Radiohead. The choice between performing a band's best-known song and an obscure one isn't easy for music nerds or karaoke opportunists. When a rare song appears in a tune book, karaoke nuts naturally want to perform it. After all, you might never see the title anywhere else or have the chance to sing it again. But how do you balance your supreme music cred with audience engagement and approval?
Easy: You do both songs.
Kick off your karaoke set by performing "Creep." Most people will enjoy one of the '90s definitive songs and your expert caterwauling when singing the "Run...run...run...ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuun" part. You'll need that acceptance when, after following that with two non-threatening crowd pleasers, you surprise folks with "Street Spirit." Sure, the audience may look at you a little slack-jawed, but they'll surely come away with an appreciation for Radiohead's lesser-known cuts as well as for your ballsy song choice. And if it doesn't pan out, just sing some damn Mellencamp during the next round to get the crowd back into your corner.
But seriously, you'll endear yourself to your karaoke host, who rarely gets to hear treats like "Street Spirit." Perform it well enough, and she may even break her "don't date the customers" rule for you.
As a Friday-night karaoke host at a South County bar, Allison Babka receives her share of drunken song dedications, occasionally makes people cry and even has been glorified by a singing psychic. She's considering adding "Call Me Maybe" to her personal karaoke repertoire, and she hates herself for it. Bug her with karaoke nonsense on Twitter at @ambabka, and use #rftkaraoke.