In the decade before American Idol brought amateur talent ranging from the abysmal to Billboard 100 quality into millions of living rooms each week, karaoke bars across the country were where we went to watch dreamers, pretenders, wannabes and amazing talent pin their hopes on their voices. For those brave enough to take their singing-into-your-hairbrush-in-the-bedroom routine public, there was no time like karaoke night in the ’90s.
5 Bryan Adams — “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”
For a brief moment in the 1990s, there was a song that flew out of the mouths of karaoke singers like arrows from a medieval bow—via the softer side of Bryan Adams. Kevin Costner starred in two movies in the ’90s that seared love ballads into our collective memories. One was the “The Bodyguard,” but thankfully, most of us had the sense not to try to tackle “I Will Always Love You” as performed by Whitney Houston. The other was “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” whose theme song “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” was in reach for the common man.
4 Garth Brooks — “Friends in Low Places
At the time when it was dominating the country charts, working-class heroes everywhere clung to this karaoke bar standby like they clung to their fantasy of crashing their rich crush’s fancy black-tie affair while wearing boots. Many would argue that the song was better when it was still called “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel, but hey, it was 1990 and a new generation of barroom stars would be born under the banner of this depressing-yet-uplifting karaoke classic.
3 Alanis Morissette — “You Oughta Know”
In the 1990s, high school girls everywhere awoke to the refreshing news that you didn’t have to be classically beautiful to be awesome. You didn’t have to be voluptuous, it was OK to be kooky and a little bit angry—you could even be Canadian. Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” was screamed, probably to unknowing ex-boyfriends, by more women in more karaoke bars than perhaps any other mad-at-the-world ballad ever written. Isn’t it ironic? If by ironic you mean tone deaf, yes, Alanis, it is.
2 “No Doubt — “Just a Girl”
In the 1990s, the question of what would happen if ska, punk, rock, metal and pop were combined into one band that was headlined by one awesome lady. No Doubt came up with the answer and karaoke dreamers across the country didn’t need any more convincing. One of the most karaoked tunes in history, “Just a Girl” set a new precedent in gender neutrality—it’s very probable that more guys than girls have gotten a free well drink for belting out this classic.
1 Ricky Martin — “Livin’ La Vida Loca”
So, if you were alive in 1999, dreaming that you were a Latin sex symbol who could sing, dance and fulfill the fantasies of pop fans from both genders, all you had to do was wait until karaoke night for that dream to come true. Channeling the spirit of Ricky Martin through every note and octave, karaoke fans everywhere tried to match the passion of the Latin crossover king while belting out this pre-Y2K mainstay. Ricky paved the way for J-Lo and Shakira—and karaoke night has never been the same.