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Vulture Asks: What Is Your Go-To Drunken Karaoke Song?

Photo: Jessica Miglio/HBO

Two weeks ago on Girls, before getting down on Hannah’s ratty sofa, Marnie and Elijah karaoke-jammed out to “Building a Mystery.” The 1997 song was a surprising choice (has anyone ever heard anyone sing this, or any other Sarah McLachlan song, at a karaoke night?) but probably age-appropriate to this gang, most of whom are in their mid-twenties. Over at The Atlantic, some writers wondered out loud whether or not karaoke was something that millennials actually do. While we can’t speak for a generation, we here at Vulture can tell you that we’re as pro-karaoke as can be. Even former staffers continue to spread the karaoke gospel. When our writers and editors were polled as to their favorite drunken karaoke song, they revealed the following. Please weigh in with your selections/embarrassing stories in the comments section below.

I only nervously first tried karaoke two years ago, when I was invited to join a group of friends in a private room. Considering that the organizer was Brian Raftery, author of the definitive book on karaoke, I figured it was a safe place. I mostly observed, uncomfortable with soloing until I’d had many, many beers; I finally popped my cherry-oke with a tune dug out of my junior-high metal memories, Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone.” (Quite the disappointment for Kelly Clarkson lovers when this title pops up and then — BAM! — it turns out to be eighties pop metal. But catchy!) And at that moment, I discovered the pure nostalgic joy that singing the long-forgotten songs of your youth can bring. This ecstatic revelation peaked when I pulled a ludicrously overblown song out of my synaptic ass: Chris De Burgh’s “Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” from 1982. It has it all: a warbly vibrato, a goofy Lord of the Rings–like fantasy tale that invites much mystical hand-waving, a slow build that crests in a herniating higher-octave chorus that I can reach about 45 percent of the time, and, as a bonus, a lyric that goes into echo — “people calling out his name (name, name, name … ).” And, most crucially, it’s a largely forgotten pick that’s announcement usually has about 70 percent of the room first saying, “What the hell is this?” but ends with everyone wanting to know how they functioned in life without an unpaid ferryman. Please, people, can we give this tune the “Don’t Stop Believin’” second life it deserves? Or at the very least use it as the closing credits to the next Hobbit movie? —Josh Wolk

If it’s early in the night, I sing “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind; however, admittedly, it features far too many words for later-in-the-evening-Jesse. So, I instead usually sing “The Freshman” as a duet. Well, sing is the wrong word. We scream it. You know the way the dude sings, “Thinks about her now and how he never really wept,” with all that gravel-voice? We apply that to every word, especially face. And boy, when that “Hey yeah!” part comes, we bring the given house down. (Or at least we do in our minds.) I won’t be held responsible, karaoke bar. —Jesse David Fox

If getting drunk made my mouth move faster, I would go with Eminem’s “Superman.” But it doesn’t, so I go with Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop,” which is slower and also has the benefit of being less sexist. Yes, in those few minutes, my weakness is “MEN!” But ultimately I’m just chillin’ and mindin’ my business, so what’s it to you if I wanna shoop? Also, here’s a shoop-y tip: Find the hottest guy in the room and look him straight-up in the face as you deliver that greatest of reverse-objectification rap lines: “I wanna know … How does it hang?” That’s liberation. —Patti Greco

Idiotically banned at Penn State games over the summer (something about “touching me, touching you”), “Sweet Caroline” is still my karaoke closer. Some think it a shopworn cliché, but that is to miss the point entirely: That’s like telling a golden retriever that it’s passé to break into a flat-out sprint after a thrown tennis ball. It’s not what you’re doing; it’s how you feel while you’re doing it. Neil Diamond calls it “probably the biggest, most important song of my career,” and he’s right — but not because it was a No. 1 record that sold more than 2 million copies and revived his flagging career. It’s because of how we feel when we sing it. Hopeful, optimistic, and, especially, grateful to whomever we are (or were) in love with for helping reverse the pessimism and loneliness that are endemic to modern life. It’s also physically a blast to sing. When you reach the lyric “Iiiiii’ve been incliiiiiiiiined,” the last word forces your jaw to open like a wolf baying in the wild. Belt it out with abandon, and I dare you not to feel like the most powerful and poignant singer ever to hold a mike. —Claude Brodesser-Akner

“Total Eclipse of the Heart,” because of two main reasons: (1) It’s, like, the greatest song ever, and (2) it’s a surprisingly versatile song — perfect for whether you’re an advanced karaoke sensei (as Bonnie Tyler sings surprisingly fast) or a newbie who can’t really sing (because you can just be the guy singing, “Turn arooound”). Additionally, there has never been a time when I haven’t thought back to this song’s music video (what with its bizarre boarding-school-set, karate-fueled erotic fantasies) and thought to myself, Wait, no, that can’t have been the actual music video? Surely I was just drunk when I saw it. All 257 times. The only trick is that this one often requires a partner, especially if you’re on the can’t-really-sing side of the equation. If you can’t find a partner and are worried that “Total Eclipse” might be too epic an undertaking, then my advice would be to pick a Pogues song. Because if you’re drunk and can’t sing, you’re basically already Shane MacGowan. —Bilge Ebiri

For a good long while, I built my karaoke nights up to Missy Elliot’s “Work It.” I blame my former co-worker Neil Drumming (a one-time music critic, Drumming is now a filmmaker — his feature debut, Big Words, played at Slamdance this week), who tricked my drunken ass into doing the song one night at a bar in New York’s Koreatown. Or maybe it was his wife. Whoever chose it for me, I see the humor — a bespectacled Puerto Rican man sing-rapping about putting the pussy on ya and getting his hair did. Hilarious! The first time, it was mortifying. Every time since, it’s absolutely killed. But my greatest discovery comes courtesy of a group of publishing ladies I fell in with a few years ago. Every two months or so, we’d convene and sing and end the night with what must be one of the greatest drunken karaoke night-enders in all of Christendom — George Michael’s “Freedom! ‘90.” Be warned, you do need one person who can decently sing the verses, because the rhythm’s faster and trickier than you recall. But when you hit that chorus, whether you’re in a private room or in an open bar, there’s not a person alive who can hold back from screaming, “Freedom!” along with you. It’s like holding court before an entire room of drunken, off-tune William Wallace’s, and it’s always glorious. —Gilbert Cruz

Vulture Asks: What Is Your Drunken Karaoke Song?