Every event, no matter how big or small, requires a great playlist. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in a bar. How many times has the perfect tune come on, filling you with nostalgia or encouraging you to sing along (badly)? On the flip side, how many times have you had a perfect evening ruined by the worst song imaginable? Face it, bar music rules. But choose ‘em carefully or risk ruining a vibe. Here are five safe bets that will help you become a jukebox hero at your local watering hole.
The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”
The Stones are always a bar favorite. What makes “Gimme Shelter” our jukebox choice is the blistering contribution from someone not even in the band. Merry Clayton is the voice belting out the most famous lines. Her arresting vocals have been featured on too many classics to mention; the band plays with their patented sound, but it’s Clayton who makes this track an enduring classic.
Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”
Depending on the bar you find yourself in, this might be a good idea… or an epically GREAT one. The song’s memorable drum part is arguably the most recognizable, regardless of musical tastes. Odds are, if your fellow patrons know it, they love it; if by some really odd chance they’re unfamiliar with it, do them a service. Like any classic, this one can be overplayed, so read the room and proceed with caution. Or at least, buy a round.
The Temptations – “My Girl”
Few acts are as legendary as The Temps. From the beginning notes, their 1964 classic is immediately recognizable and convinces the worst singers among us that they can hang with crooner David Ruffin. In a world with so many existential problems, a song like this one brings us together, eliciting a moment of rare joy. “My Girl” is a Motown staple that will keep the bar loose while patrons suck down overpriced PBR’s.
The Clash – “Should I Stay or Should I Go”
Playing anything by the “only band that matters” will give any bar attendee indie props. Like much of Clash music, this one is a fun piece of punk-informed rock with a conscience. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is the best introduction to a sometimes-underappreciated group that, like any bar audience, is complex and diverse.
Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline”
Neil Diamond is a national treasure. Drop “Sweet Caroline” on any bar jukebox and revel in its peacemaking ability. The maestro in rhinestones is behind some of the greatest songs in the American songbook, yet it’s this one that never fails to get the crowd singing along.
These tracks are pretty safe bets among any alcohol-consuming crowd. They’re classic, but typically not overplayed on your standard bar jukebox. The last few years have been difficult, but hopefully, we’ll soon be able to raise a glass together, blast them once again, and sing (or dance) along. Cheers!
Good list, Matthew. Solid. Be interesting to learn what your criteria was in choosing? Bottoms up & Rock On!
Great read, Matt! My own go-to on the bar jukebox is Garth Brooks’ “I’ve Got Friends In Low Places.”
Shoot I’m ready to bar hop now . Great playlist 👏
Hmmm never thought of this before. A quick think comes up with these five, none of which are anywhere near my favorite songs, but would work for me in your scenario.
Running on Empty – Jackson Browne
American Girl – Tom Petty
The Doctor – Doobie Brothers
Long Tall Sally – Beatles
Reeling in the Years – Steely Dan
As far as Mary Clayton goes, on Gimme Shelter: If you haven’t seen a documentary movie called “20 Feet From Stardom”, then you really NEED to watch it. It’s about all those great, largely black, female back-up singers from the late 60’s, into the 70’s, who sang backup for all those rock bands. Stunningly good movie! GREAT music, and Mary Clayton is one of the singers they go into detail about and there’s even a great interview with her, from the time when the movie was made, many years AFTER she sang on Gimme Shelter!