The Karaoke Quotient, Part 2: Is "Summer Nights" The Best Karaoke Song Of All Time?

The Karaoke Quotient, Part 2: Is “Summer Nights” The Best Karaoke Song Of All Time?

Is "Summer Nights" The Best Karaoke Song Of All Time? Tell me more, tell me more!

Based on the number of comments left on last week’s “Karaoke Quotient” article, in which I laid out a mathematical formula for determining the quality of a karaoke song, I can tell there’s a lot of people out there who are passionate about karaoke and the songs they choose to sing. Which is great, except for one thing: the whole point of the Karaoke Formula is that it’s an almost entirely dispassionate way to look at karaoke song choice. It ignores the highly choreographed routine you and your duet partner worked out for “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” It doesn’t take into account the time you brought down the house with your virtuosic air guitar finale to “One” by Metallica.

But lest we forget, the benefit to this disciplined approach to the topic is that now have some way of answering the question,

“What is the greatest karaoke song of all time?”

After introducing the formula and subjecting it to some degree of public scrutiny, I was ready to feed it a bunch more data and use it to venture an answer to this question. I took a dozen more songs (many of which came up in the comments thread of the original post), crunched the numbers, and was somewhat surprised by the result.

Are you ready for this?

Here goes. For the limited sample set of songs that I ran through the Karaoke Formula“Summer Nights” from the musical Grease achieved the highest score with a Karaoke Quotient (KQ) of 8.9.

Yikes. I can already hear legions of karaoke pros groaning and screaming in protest.

But before you down a beer and sing “I Hate Everything About You” at me, stick with me while I break down that KQ of 8.9 and see how it scored so high.

  • Length differential: “Summer Nights” is only 3 minutes 35 seconds long (you probably thought it was longer, didn’t you?), meaning it clocks in at 25 seconds less than the ideal 4 minute length. Based on the formula that attributes less penalty for going under than going over, “Summer Nights” earns a respectable 0.95 points out of 1.
  • Solo to length ratio: There are no instrumental, non-sung parts of “Summer Nights” that rise to the level of a “solo,” and as such, it earns a perfect 2 points out of 2. Remember, I weighted this one more than the other factors. I think it’s that important.
  • Age differential: “Summer Nights” was released in 1978, which, in 2010, makes it 32 years old. If we use the “I Love the 80’s” nostalgia standard of 22 years in the past, then that makes “Summer Nights” 10 years older than the ideal. Still, that counts for a respectable 0.27 out of 0.5 points.
  • Rolling Stone 500: didn’t make the list. 0 out of 0.5.
  • Billboard Hot 100: “Summer Nights” peaked at number 5, which earns it 0.48 out of 0.5 points.
  • Unique Words Per Second: “Summer Nights” is surprisingly wordy for such a short (non-rap) song. With 152 unique words in the lyrics spread out over 3:35 minutes, the unique-word-per-second rate comes out to 0.71, which earns the song 0.71 out of a theoretically unlimited possible points. For comparison’s sake, take a look at “Don’t Stop Believin'”‘; its rate is a meager 0.35 unique-words-per-second. “Summer Nights” is far more dense and far less repetitive.
  • Strong Finish: Sure, it often ends annoyingly, but it’s about as strong of a finish you could ask for in a pop song. 0.5 out of 0.5 points, but if I could give it more, I would.
  • Ending Repetitions: again, the song’s un-repetitive nature helps in a big way. There are actually no discernable choruses to repeat in this song, so it earns the 1 point.
  • Difficulty: for both male and female voices, the song sits in a nice lower register for most of its duration. I suppose one could argue that the haromized ending (“those su-u-mer ni-ights”) is difficult to pull off, which is true, but that’s a very short passage in an otherwise highly singable song. 2 out of 2 points (Note: in the spreadsheet, I assigned 0, 0.5, or 1 to this field; 0 = nearly impossible, 0.5 = mostly doable but nearly undoable in key parts, 1 = overall very doable. It’s then multiplied by 2 due to the increased weighting.)
  • Intangible: 1 out of 1. I can already hear it. “Played out! Totally overdone! Cliché! Booo!” Calm down and think about the song in its unspoiled, pre-overdone-at-karaoke-state. It’s both a duet and a group song, it’s up-tempo, and everybody knows it. Sure, some of you may hate this song with a passion, so for the sake of the argument, let’s throw out the intangible altogether and recalculated based on the remaining 9 factors. In that case, “Summer Nights” still scores a very high 8.8.

Now, about this whole “played-out” thing. I know a lot of you are thinking it, and honestly, you’re right. Years ago, when the OTI crew first started to do karaoke in New York, we probably sang “Summer Nights” a few times, but now, none of us in our right minds would choose it in each other’s company. We’ve done it enough. (And besides, songs from High School Musical are both far more novel and ironic than those from Grease.)

But there are legions of people for whom this song has not been done to death at karaoke. Which is why I made reference to a song in its “unspoiled, pre-overdone-at-karaoke-state.” The Karaoke Quotient doesn’t tell you how well your song will do, every time, with every audience, with every singer. It tells you how much potential a song has for karaoke greatness based on (mostly) objective measures. As such, I stand by both this formula and its determination that “Summer Nights” is a great karaoke song. It’s quite short, it’s not repetitive, it’s highly sing-able, and it’s just a lot fun to do.

Disagree? Then here’s your mission: use this formula and find a better karaoke song than “Summer Nights.” Fire up the Google spreadsheet, make a copy for yourself, feed it the numbers, and post the results in the comments. Be sure to include results both with and without the intangible factor (columns R and S, respectively). Also, if you do save a copy for your own data entry, be sure to make it public so I can copy the data back into the master spreadsheet.

In conclusion, I’m not quite ready to declare “Summer Nights” the greatest karaoke song of all time. At least not until I have a larger data set. And also, I’m not actually this obsessed with “ranking” or “grading” karaoke songs. I’m interested in enjoying myself and entertaining my friends at karaoke, and I’m fully aware that some great karaoke songs won’t score well with this formula.

I leave you with one such example:

“Ace of Spades” by Motörhead. Karaoke Quotient = 5.9. Metal Quotient = 1,000,000,000,000.

11 Comments on “The Karaoke Quotient, Part 2: Is “Summer Nights” The Best Karaoke Song Of All Time?”

  1. Karaoke Guy #

    By my reckoning, When Doves Cry scores an 8.96


  2. Chris #

    I still have minor qualms with your formula. For starters, four minutes seems like a bit long to be the “ideal” time for a karaoke song. I’d probably go with 3:30, but of course this is a matter of opinion which makes it a difficult element for a project that hopes for an objective answer.

    Additionally, I still feel like the I Love the 80’s standard for nostalgia factor is flawed because they quickly followed that up with I Love the 70’s, I Love the 90’s, and, before the decade was even more, I Love the 2000’s. Granted, I will agree that the 80’s have been the go to decade for nostalgia in recent years, but is that due to the distance it is in the past, or did the 80’s provide inherently more things that make good nostalgia factor. Or, at least, more ironic nostalgia elements.

    In terms of nostalgia, I think the ideal time period would be from the teenaged years of the prime karaoke audience, which of course certainly fluctuates from venue to venue and evening to evening. Regardless, I think that area of the formula could certainly be honed. Personally I hate nostalgia and wouldn’t include it, but if we are talking about maximizing audience enjoyment along with your enjoyment, it has to be a factor.


  3. E #

    @Chris – I totally agree about hitting the (early) teenaged years of the audience. Our circle has consistent success with “Lovefool”, “Teenage Dirtbag” and “Kiss From A Rose” (though slightly campy versions of all three).


  4. CriminalMind #

    I diagree with the “age” nostalgia factor as well. As a child of the 80’s, I remember well that musically it didn’t hit its stride until 1984, and even then, it’s not really the age range of today’s karaoke crowd; at least not those where I host.

    My crowd is under 30, and that 10 year range between 20 and 30 means that they were growing up (read: aged 14) with music from the 90’s. That theory seems to be a correct one for me, because I’m getting a lot of 90’s music, from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Goo Goo Dolls and The Spin Doctors – the popular music of the day right now ends at the turn of the century. So I would suggest that anything from 1995 to 2000 is a hit with the crowds I play to, and that make the nostalgia value at about 15 years.


  5. lee OTI Staff #

    @Karaoke Guy: how are you getting 8.98 for “When Doves Cry”? By my calculation, it only scores 8.23.

    @Everyone disagreeing with the age factor: These are fair points, but keep in mind that the age differential is only worth 0.5 points. In any event, I added a column to the spreadsheet to show the scores without considering age at all. Result? “Summer Nights” is still on top.

    Updated spreadsheet (with my scoring of “When Doves Cry”) here:


  6. Tony Trov #

    Hey, I’m not on Google Reader but I know that I Got You Babe pretty much beats out everything ever.


  7. Brimstone #

    It all depends on the crowd. When i’m out with the usual indie/snobbish crowd you have to at least pretend to have cred (and then sing something fun anyway). when you’re at a pub… LIVIN ON A PRAYER!


  8. greener #

    Yeah, Livin’ on a Prayer definitely has the epic quality that makes an ideal karaoke song, and seems to get the best reception at the karaoke nights I’ve been to. As far as Summer Nights, I think you need to add something to your formula that detracts major points for blatant endorsement of rape/sexual assault. It seems that everybody’s favorite line in Summer Nights is “Did she put up a FIGHT,” which is….stomach-churning at best.


  9. Dreadful_Rauw #

    Found one! Johnny Cash: A Boy Named Sue.

    8.24 no weighting, 9.18 with weighting, 9.09 excluding intangible. Assuming you think it has the intagibility factor, which I’m willing to say it does, although this may be a locale issue.


  10. Tom Houseman #

    I was bored last night so I tried to think of a song that would score as low as possible, but that would still be awesome were it performed at karaoke. I thought of a song that was long, had a ton of words, and was never popular on music charts. Then it hit me: Modern Major General, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. The age differential from the ideal is 109 years, it was obviously never on any billboard charts or the Rolling Stone 500, and it has a unique words count of .56. It did get points for being very easy to sing, and for intangibles, because come on, if you can pull that song off in karaoke you are a God. Still, it managed to come in at a 1.63.


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