The Ten Karaoke Commandments

As passed down to Matthew Craggs

And the Lyrics said unto Matthew, Hew thee two napkins of cocktail like unto the first; and I will write upon the napkins the words that were on the first napkins, which thou didst crumple. I hereby make a covenant.

I. I am the Lyrics, your Guide, who brought you off of your barstool and unto the stage.

Regardless of the song you select, the words will be provided to you on any number of television screens throughout the bar. Even if you believe you know the song inside and out, use these lyrics for guidance. They will help you keep tempo with the music and are especially helpful after a few drinks—at least for as long as your vision is clear enough to read them.

II. Thou shalt not take the Lyrics, your Guide, in vain.

The reason you are singing in a karaoke bar is that you’re not a professional singer. Make no attempt to modify a song’s lyrics. Exceptions to this rule are possible only in cases of discreet, single-word alterations to celebrate the city or bar in which you’re standing. Also, stay on topic. No one at the bar wishes to hear about how your cheating girlfriend has been lying to you for three years and now you’re rid of that bitch and looking for some action. What they want to hear is the music. A single shout-out—of a positive nature—is acceptable directly before the song begins.

III. Remember to keep holy the last call.

While made explicit only rarely, the last call for placing a song in the lineup is understood to be roughly one hour before the last call for alcohol. If it is a slow night, you may get to sing more than one song. If it’s busy, you should assume you’ll only have one, so make it count. A keen DJ will always allow everyone a chance to sing at least once.

IV. Honor thy bartender and thy DJ.

The bartender bringeth the sauce; the DJ, the song. Tip them both. They, like many bar patrons, are working stiffs—with the difference being that it’s not their night off. Bartenders may pour an extra ounce for a $5 tip, but a karaoke DJ usually is blind to bribes. If either person is unable to get to you quickly, show mercy.

Photo By Larry Dalton

V. Thou shalt not murder Celine Dion.

As tempting as the prospective homicide of Dion is, this commandment refers not to the physical well-being of the chanteuse, but to her lyrical pitch. Accept the possibility that however much you love singing “My Heart Will Go On,” it may be out of your vocal range. Other anthems to approach with caution: Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” or anything by the Bee Gees. Alternatively, country songs are relatively safe and popular. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and the Sheryl Crow-Kid Rock duet “Picture” are universal favorites and easy to pull off for many vocal types.

VI. Neither shalt thou commit dissimilitude.

Once the microphone is in your hand, you are an entertainer. Consider your crowd and choose a song that complements the scene you’re in. Eminem does not mix well at Faces. Dan Fogelberg doesn’t fly at Sundance. Will your selection have universal appeal? The idea is to get everyone involved. Find something that can bring the audience with you on your (hint) “Magic Carpet Ride.” Meanwhile, do not neglect your non-mic hand. Should you decide to make your drink a part of the song (whether drinking for courage during lyrical breaks or toasting the bar or your embarrassed date), choose one that seems appropriate. Frank Sinatra would not carry a Jager bomb in one hand while tossing “Three Coins in the Fountain” with the other. How about a Grey Goose martini? Or keep it simple with country, which usually calls for beer or whiskey.

VII. Thou shalt not steal thy neighbor’s spotlight.

Everyone, not just the highlighted singer, is encouraged to sing along. Remain respectful and do so from the dance floor or the comfort of your barstool. Make no attempt to join or overthrow any holders of the microphone. The chances are good that if they have problems with the song, their own friends will be available to help out. Your turn will come.

VIII. Neither shalt thou bear ill intent toward thy neighbor.

Do not boo or hiss at a singer who’s off-key. It’s karaoke, for heaven’s sake. It’s supposed to be about having fun. You may participate in the communal earache by singing along as badly and as loudly as you can. Remember that John Travolta’s infamous high note at the end of “Summer Nights” is impossible for 99 percent of people to hit. Many, flagrantly ignoring Commandment V, try anyway. Rather than chastise (it is one note, after all, not an entire song), offer an obnoxious screech of solidarity—and don’t forget to strike the finger-pointing pose for good measure.

IX. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s date.

Yes, she is “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and even more so after successive shots of vodka. That is no reason to take advantage of her boyfriend’s turn at the mic. He’ll be back in roughly three minutes. If you really think you can seal the deal in such a short duration, you shouldn’t have any problem finding another girl who isn’t spoken for.

X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s drink, chair or song.

You’ve followed the ninth Commandment and left that guy’s girl alone—and you’ve noticed that she’s not watching his chair or his beer. Indeed, she may not be watching them, but he is most certainly watching her, and if you invade his space, he will know. You must chill. Likewise, occasionally, a song you’ve chosen but have yet to sing comes up while you’re awaiting your turn. Do not insist on singing the same song again, even if you think you can sing it better. Usually, the DJ will allow you to choose a different song without losing your place in the lineup. Remember, it’s for the greater good.

And he wrote upon the napkins the words of the covenant, the 10 words. And it came to pass, when Matthew came down from Mount Bacardi with the two napkins of the testimony in his hand, that Matthew knew not that the sound of his voice was musical by reason of the Lyrics singing with him.

—Matthew Craggs

Where to go to get your karaoke on

Brother Oliver’s
5220 Manzanita Avenue in Carmichael
(916) 334-0606
Karaoke Wednesdays, 9 p.m.-1 a.m.Weekly winners compete at the end of an ongoing multi-month contest for a $500 prize.

The Distillery
2107 L Street
(916) 443-8815
Karaoke Sundays, 7 p.m.; and Mondays and Tuesdays, 9 p.m.
Full menu, full bar.

2000 K Street
(916) 448-7798
Karaoke Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 p.m.; and Fridays, 5-9 p.m.
Multi-room, multimedia gay dance club.

Kamon Japanese Restaurant
2210 16th Street
(916) 443-8888
Karaoke Wednesdays, 9 p.m.-midnight.
Excellent sushi, $2 sake bombs.

Loree’s Little Shack on Greenback
6901 Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights
(916) 726-1212
Karaoke nightly, 10 p.m.
Table service, video games, pool, large patio.

Maple Room
2740 Arden Way
(916) 489-4207
Karaoke Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 p.m.
Small, intimate environment.

Sundance Bar
5430 Sunrise Boulevard in Citrus Heights
(916) 965-9736
Karaoke nightly, 10 p.m.
Pool, darts.

Trino’s Lounge
1443 Fulton Avenue
(916) 978-9000
Karaoke Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 p.m.
Patio and darts.