The Karaoke Quotient

The Karaoke Quotient

A formula for calculating how appropriate a pop song is for karaoke. Find our what your favorite song’s Karaoke Quotient is–and if it might the best karaoke song of all time.

I got my hands on a “top requested songs” list during my last karaoke outing and ran the top eight songs through the formula. I also added a couple other karaoke favorits (“Piano Man,” “Sweet Caroline”) for good measure, plus the aforementioned “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as an example of the great song that is really bad for karaoke.

Now, the results for those 11 songs:

Now, I’m not saying that “Piano Man” is actually the best karaoke song of all time, but it is the song that came out the best among those that I had time to punch into the formula. Not surprisingly, “Sweet Child” was the worst.

I know you’re probably wondering what values I gave to all of these songs that resulted in their KQs, but rather than droning on about them in the article, I direct you to this Google Spreadsheet with all of the gory details.

But why stop at just perusing the data for these 11 songs? If you’re a Google Docs user, here’s how you can take it from here:

  • Save your own version of this spreadsheet by going to File –> Make a Copy…
  • Tweak the weighting factors at the top of the sheet (but make sure they all add up to 10)
  • Tweak the values for ideal song length & age

Or if you’re happy with the formula as I’ve created it, add your own songs and help me find the best karaoke song in the world. Plug ’em into the formula and post the results in the comments. Bonus points if you field test them.

Lastly, in conclusion, even if you don’t tweak the spreadsheet or make your own formula calculations, please, do us all a favor and choose your karaoke songs wisely. The principles I outlined above shouldn’t be limited to a formula; they should go out into the world, into all of those seedy karaoke joints out there. Ideally a smoky room, with the smell of wine and cheap perfume, of course.

38 Comments on “The Karaoke Quotient”

  1. Karaoke Guy #

    I don’t need a spreadsheet or a formula, because the greatest karaoke song of all-time is Paradise by the Dashboard Light. You can deduct as many points as you want for it being “too long” but you’d be wrong to do so.

    #2 is Love Shack.


  2. lee OTI Staff #

    @Karaoke Guy: you remind me of an issue that I wasn’t able to fully cover in the post or in the formula. A lot of songs have truncated karaoke versions that cut out most if not all of thos insanely long instrumental solos or other weird breaks. “Sweet Child ‘O Mine,” my convenient whipping boy for bad karaoke song, is usually cut significantly in karaoke versions. Same with “Paradise;” most times I’ve sung it the baseball break is entirely cut out. But sometimes it’s not, and the play-by-play words are typically not shown on screen. In those cases, if the singer can’t ad-lib it, the song gets real boring.

    I have a ton of other caveats and thoughts that I’ll be posting later in the day…meanwhile, can someone plug in “Paradise” into the formula, perhaps both with and without the baseball segment as the “solo”?

    Also…I mostly agree with you on “Paradise” being the best karaoke song of all time, if you have a duet companion who can hold up his/her end of the deal.


  3. Anton Sirius #

    I leave the bar when anyone sings any Meatloaf song. And I don’t do private room karaoke with anyone who would dare bust out the fat man.


  4. Conlaen #

    I’m intrigued, though will have to make some adjustments as the Billboard Hot 100 is not quite representative for Europe, or in my specific case: Belgium (or Holland). Easily solved by taking a similar hit list service.

    Not quite sure how, if at all, to distinguish English from Dutch or French songs. Depending on the audience in the room, a given song may have better results if the song in question is in native tongue.


  5. Gab #

    @Anton: So if offered a million dollars to sing, “I’d Do Anything for Love,” your answer would be, “I won’t do that,” yeah?

    Sorry, I had to.


  6. Karaoke Guy #

    The worst karaoke trunctation I’ve ever run into is Prince’s When Doves Cry. They cut out the entire last minute, which was the only part I really wanted to sing. The rest of the song is pretty boring.

    I recently had an unexpected karaoke hit at my regular place when I sang John Mellencamp’s Small Town, except replacing every instance of those two words with “Wal Mart”


  7. Timothy J Swann #

    Yep, weighted score is 0.83! Which as one of my most favourite songs, shows just how this formula can give awesome song =/= awesome karaoke.


  8. Valatan #

    ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease is a vastly better Karaoke song than Paridise by the Dashboard lights–all its advantages, none of its pathologies.


  9. Valatan #

    And here is the worst Karaoke song ever. You’re welcome.


  10. Chris #

    I think by using VH1 to determine your nostalgia factor may have impacted the results. After all, these are the people that did an “I Love the 2000s” Ironic nostalgia lovefest before the decade was even over.

    The best karaoke song is Guns N’ Roses version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” but only if you try and mimic Axl Rose’s audio mugging.


  11. Caroline #

    I plugged in the numbers for my favorite song to sing at karaoke, “Centerfold.” The total score, with weighting, was 8.41. Nice to have math supporting my choices!


  12. Timothy J Swann #

    Oh, worst ever would have to be something from Godspeed You! Black Emperor.. but I thought I would give a song I sing along to often a try.


  13. Akilah #

    I won a karaoke contest (with a cash prize) doing “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer. So, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the best karaoke song ever.

    (My biggest competition was a seasoned karaoke dude who did “PIano Man,” so take that as you will.)


  14. Rob "Il Duca" Loggins #

    Anyone who sings the following in a busy Karaoke bar should be thrown out. (Slow night, fine, busy night, no F-en WAY!)

    1.) Bohemian Rhapsody
    2.) Anything by Meatloaf
    3.) Anything by Gordon Lightfoot
    4.) Anything by Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston
    5.) Anything by the B-52’s
    6.) The only Journey or Bon Jovi sung should be a “B-Side”

    And remember, just because you heard it on Glee, or watched some crappy musical does not mean it is a song worth singing.
    When you pick a karaoke song, it should be unique and not overdone. If you hear the song sung everytime you are at Karaoke, SIGN UP FOR SOMETHING ELSE! That song is TIRED!

    And try, for the love of all things Karaoke, to not be a drunken idiot screaming into the mike! Karaoke is for fun, not destroying the speakers and driving people out of the bar!

    -Rob “Il Duca” Loggins
    San Francisco Karaoke Mafia


  15. RiderIon #

    I would argue that “Sweet Child o’ Mine”‘s length can be dilute or negated by the singer’s ability to mimic Axl Rose’s dancing from the music video.


  16. Jamas Enright #

    Wonder how “November Rain” would rate then? ;)

    But I do ask, related to the “original key” proviso, what impact is there of singing a song for the other gender? Could men pull off a Madonna song? (Yes, one could cite Glee here, but try without the benefit of Autotune.) Could women sing Johnny Cash?

    Oh, and how long before Autotune infects Karaoke to the point of making all songs sound the same?


  17. lee OTI Staff #

    @Rob “Il Duca” Loggins:

    You bring up very good points, and that’s one of the important caveats that I really wanted to get out there in the article but couldn’t.

    This formula doesn’t take into account 2 important things: 1) how “played out” a song is and 2) the situation’s context/audience. Those are just way too variable and hard to quantify, so this formula really reflects karaoke quality in its ideal, unspoilt, “neutral” state.

    Once you introduce things such as how cliche a song is for karaoke, whether you’re at a bar with strangers or in a room with friends, and how late in the session it is, things can go totally haywire.

    Depending on who I’m out with, “Piano Man” can be either the perfect song choice or a total dud (e.g. “instant skip.” Either way, if it’s within the first 2/3 of the evening before people have had enough booze, it’s kinda blah.

    So putting all those things aside, and granted, those are some really important things, this formula tells you a given song’s *potential* for karaoke greatness. The rest is left to execution and reading the context/audience appropriately.


  18. lee OTI Staff #

    @Meat Loaf haters:

    Why all of the hating on Meat Loaf at karaoke? Is it that it’s generally not sung well, or that you think they’re bad songs to begin with?


  19. Gab #

    @Rob: I’d contest that at least half of the artists you say should be forbidden are kind of staple karaoke song-makers and would probably score pretty well on Lee’s scale if their songs were plugged into the formula.

    @Lee: So when you go a-karaoki-ing, is there a “winner” each time? And if so, do they earn more than just bragging rights?

    I *won* my own prize at a contest (sort of… it was a station at a video game museum with one of the Playstation karaoke games, and I got the high score in the morning and it was still the high score at closing) with “Take on Me” once, but I still doubt it’s a generically Good karaoke song because of those high notes.

    But that makes me wonder if a variable for situational success were to be added, how much different songs would flop around. I mean, a song I and my friends may sing together sometimes and thus would enjoy immensely may not be so hot to everybody else. So I get bonus points for singing it *with them* there, but if not, it doesn’t get any.


  20. BryanJose #

    I never fail to bring down the house with one of two songs. If I’m singing solo I’ll do Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl” and if I’m doing a duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. Admittedly I’m not a great singer but I do make up for it in stage presence.

    Also the best karaoke I’ve ever seen was a brother/sister duo doing “Rock Lobster” about 5 years ago. It was crazy, the sister was running around the bar with a wireless mic and the brother was doing all kinds of rock posturing. Oh, and it was sung well too.


  21. Randal L. Schwartz #

    In the mid-90’s, the KJs were pretty good about keeping the rotation going. Sure, they might have sang one song per rotation in the slow part, but they deferred to the crowd as the night got busy.

    Today, we have completely idiot KJs who:
    (a) let the same song be sung more than once in a night (Karaoke Forbidden!)
    (b) sing a song of their own every rotation, regardless if there’s 15 singers up
    (c) don’t count duets when deciding whether someone also gets a solo turn (since when can Jill sing a song, then Jack sing a song, then Jill and Jack sing a duet, all before I get my next turn?)
    (d) play stupid dance-song breaks! we’re not there to dance (unless it’s to a good singer)… we’re there to do Karaoke, idiot!

    Anyway, Karaoke has definitely gone downhill in the US in the past 10-15 years. Thanks for your analysis, as always.


  22. Anton Sirius #


    Not only would I say no, I’d deny getting the joke.

    The weird part is, I can handle other Steinman songs, like Total Eclipse of the Heart, just fine. But Meatloaf though… gah. The bombast… it burns…


  23. Anton Sirius #


    I find Meat Loaf is rarely sung well, and even if it is done ‘justice’ it tends to be an incredibly long and boring song to listen to. I mean, unless you have a nostalgic investment in the song, Paradise, Bat Out of Hell etc are just cheesy messes musically. Two Out of Three, at least, clocks in at under six minutes, but no one ever does that one…

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sing. I’m planning on trying Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ the Night Away for the first time tonight.


  24. Anton Sirius #


    Come to Toronto some time… there are still a ton of great nights & hosts up here. The scene is alive and well.


  25. Anton Sirius #

    Wait, no, one more post, since I’m now spamming the thread I might as well go whole hog…

    I’m very much of the ‘keep trying something new’ school of thought when it comes to what I sing, rather than the ‘few songs I do well’ school, so the idea of finding a ‘formula’ for what will be pleasing to the average karaoke crowd is definitely appealing. I will be digging into the formula when I have a chance, lee.

    Just for a representative sample, I’ll plug in all the songs I did in May (list below) and compare what the formula spits out to what I observed from behind the mic. Should be interesting.

    #1 Crush – Garbage
    19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones
    Down By the River – Neil Young
    Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town – Pearl Jam
    Head Like a Hole – Nine Inch Nails
    Heartbreaker – Pat Benatar
    In the Meantime – Spacehog
    Instant Karma – John Lennon
    Jump – Van Halen
    Just – Radiohead
    Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
    Little Green Bag – George Baker Selection
    My Iron Lung – Radiohead
    Night Moves – Bob Seger
    Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye
    Starlight – Muse
    Tainted Love – Soft Cell
    This Boy’s In Love – Presets
    True – Spandau Ballet
    Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers


  26. cat #

    @Valatan Thank you. :)


  27. mlawski OTI Staff #

    I wonder if certain songs should get bonus points for being recently featured ironically in a sitcom or on the Internet. For example, True (by Spandau Ballet) should probably get bonus points because it was featured on Modern Family earlier this season, to humorous effect. (On the other hand, the song itself wasn’t the main punchline; the name “Spandau Ballet” was. “Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark” was also mentioned in this episode for the same reason.)


  28. Joe #

    I agree with “I Want It That Way” scoring so highly. I hated boy bands with a passion when they were big, but I think that song succeeds more than any other I’ve ever seen attempted, regardless of setting.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Total Elipse of the Heart, which can be done earnestly (which is hilarious), mock-earnestly (still hilarious), or even “Metalhead having an emotional breakdown, complete with cursing” (maybe the funniest thing you will ever see in your life, if done right).

    And as for difficulty, I know it probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but my go-to song is Prince’s “Kiss,” complete with falsetto. The most dangerous thing about this one isn’t the falsetto, but rather the “Wendy and Lisa Parade” dance sequence in the middle of the song. You have to have something prepared for that, or it’s fatal.


  29. Joe #

    Oh, and the single worst karaoke song ever is Picture by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, because EVERYONE IS FUCKING SICK OF IT. Let it go, people.


  30. Mark #

    Should you get extra points for songs with audience-participation-potential? You know, something with a call/response or a chorus that people generally like to join in on? That might be one of the intangibles for ‘Piano Man’, and certainly adds to any rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’ (well, when you’re singing it in Boston, at least).

    Personally, I like to do ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ (I can usually get a girl to come up and jig while I air-fiddle the instrumentals), and then pick the girliest song on the playlist to do in my faux-Isaac Hayes voice, because humor provides easier entertainment value than real singing talent (i.e., people are generally more willing to laugh than nod their heads and say “wow, they’re actually pretty good”).


  31. Maddy #

    I have a friend who kills it with “Ghostbusters,” and I’ve personally had great success with “I Touch Myself.” I imagine both would rank highly on this scale. “Ghostbusters” has the added benefit of audience participation. (“I Touch Myself” kinda does, too, because most people just can’t help singing along with it.)


  32. Karaoke Guy #

    Originality is key. One time I sang Tubthumping and acted progressively more drunk as the song went on, to the point that by the end of it I was staggering and could barely form a coherent sentence. It killed. Also, and I was a bit nervous about this one, I sang I Kissed a Girl in the most flaming homosexual voice I could, and it also killed.


  33. Brimstone #

    i love Meat Loaf
    i can’t really sing, so i tend to just do really punked out, yelly versions of songs. Ramones are good for this. or Sid Vicious style My Way
    or Subterranean Homesick Blues, ’cause i know all the words. that is kinda boring tho
    killed it at a pub with Livin On A Prayer last weekend… got everyone to sing along on the choruses


  34. JoeyT #

    For some reason, I frequent karaoke bars a lot, but never sing. Super stage fright.
    But, I fucking hate Ice Ice Baby. I plugged it into the formula, it got a -43.5.


  35. CriminalMind #

    There are several things mentioned in this thread that hit the nail on the head. But there were a few I simply have to address:

    Randall: A good karaoke host entertains the crowd using several means. I can’t let a night go by without doing “Stupify” by Disturbed, because the crowd requests it every time I’m out. In fact, I get several requests to do songs in a night, and if filling those requests entertains the crowd, then so be it. Therefore, I am not about to take myself out of the rotation. It won’t kill you to wait another 4 minutes if the rest of the bar is having a blast.

    James Enright: Men can sing Madonna without pitch correction. I sing “Crazy For You” whenever I’m challenged to do a gender-bender.

    Il Duca: “Bohemian Rhapsody” will ALWAYS get the crowd going, no matter what. It’s a sing-along song that gets the entire bar involved, and that builds a bond karaoke hosts crave. Full or not, it doesn’t deserve to be on your list of don’ts.

    Karaoke Guy: I liked your story about Tubthumping. While Dr Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother” is a rather boring song to hear when out at a bar, I do it in a way similar to yours – I start up sort of melancholy, and get progressively worse by the end of it until I’m wailing away in actual tears. Then at the end of the song I give the crowd a smile and skip off the stage. It creates an entertainment factor people enjoy. I do the same with Genesis’s “Mama”, and by the end of it, I’m curled up on stage in the fetal position screaming “DON’T GO!”…


  36. DN #

    Horrifying comments. CriminalMind has scarred me.


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