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How to choose the perfect karaoke song


We recently received news out of Japan that the inventor of the karaoke machine died. Shigeichi Negishi was 100 years old. He prototyped and released the world's first commercially available karaoke machine in 1967. It was branded the Sparco Box. And today we are honoring the cultural footprint of that invention, because even if you say you hate karaoke, you have probably gotten behind the mic at some point and belted out your favourite song to a crowd of friends and strangers. In case you were wondering, in my karaoke days, I often went with "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins.


PHIL COLLINS: (Singing) Now take a look at me now.

DETROW: Now, choosing the perfect karaoke song - and I would argue that one is pretty close - it could be daunting. So we are bringing you a snippet of a classic episode of the NPR Podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. Aisha Harris sat down with NPR Music's Stephen Thompson to discuss their top three karaoke picks.


STEPHEN THOMPSON: There are two kinds of karaoke singers. There is the karaoke singer for whom karaoke equals open mic night and it's your opportunity to sing a song you sing well as best you possibly can. And then there are people who go into karaoke like it's a party, where your job is to kind of keep the party rolling and moving. And so it kind of leads me in to the first song I picked for this segment.


GARTH BROOKS: (Singing) I got friends in low places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away...

THOMPSON: This is Garth Brooks, of course, from his album "No Fences." As you can hear, the song is constructed to be sung along with. It is a song that knows that there is a beer sloshing around in one of your hands, and that makes "Friends In Low Places" kind of a perfect karaoke song.

AISHA HARRIS: That is a great choice, Stephen, and it's funny that you broke it down into two different types of karaoke singers because I have a theater background, a musical theater background. And I like to sing. I like to belt out the songs that make my voice sound good. So for me, what makes a good karaoke song is, yes, something that others can sing along to. And then your ability to not just sing the song but also perform and have the theatrics, which is why my pick is like a mixture of ballad - you have to sing it, you have to belt it out - but also, you need to perform that song. You need to act it out and convey the lyrics. Let's hear a little bit of that song.


CELINE DION: (Singing) When you touch me like this, when you hold me like that. It was gone with the wind, but it's all coming...

HARRIS: Oh, man.

THOMPSON: I wish listeners at home could just see how much your head moved.

HARRIS: Yes. I love this song. Of course, this is Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back To Me Now." It's a Meatloaf song but with Celine Dion instead. And it is just amazing. Stephen, what is your final pick for our recommended karaoke songs?

THOMPSON: This song is a belter, but it also falls into the category of karaoke for newbies. It's a duet. And you're going to know where I'm going with this the second we hear one second of the song.


LADY GAGA: (Singing) I'm off the deep end. Watch as I dive in. I'll never meet the ground.


HARRIS: I love it. That, of course, is Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper duetting on "Shallow" from "A Star Is Born."

THOMPSON: This song eases the karaoke newbie in by having that person perform the Bradley Cooper part, which is basically a range of about an 80th of an octave. I like karaoke that makes room for wallflowers, and I think that this song does that.

DETROW: That's Pop Culture Happy Hour's Stephen Thompson and Aisha Harris. You can listen to their full karaoke episode and all the other installments of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.