Book 1 of 52: Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life

Confession: I have never done karaoke. Never. I’ve had opportunities, sure. It’s not like I’ve been to a karaoke bar. The closest I’ve come to participating was on a trip to Atlantic City two years ago when I said that I might be interested in karaoke-ing at Planet Rose with another writer, and then I bailed to go to bed early. At a round of Terry-Oke (karaoke that’s run at the Jersey Shore by Terry O’Brien), I didn’t sing but was reportedly the first person to ever get up and dance. The song was “That Thing you Do.” How could I not? It’s a great song, but I didn’t want to sing it.

I don’t think I’m a terrible singer, either. I had vocal parts in two high school musicals (no, not THAT High School Musical, but Grease (1997) and Bye Bye Birdie (1996) as performed by Haddonfield Memorial High School). I don’t karaoke because I have little to no desire to get up in front of an audience and sing because of a mortal fear that I’ll be terrible and some other 20-something writer will be out in the audience making fun of me like I make fun of other singers (though my comments are usually reserved for folks who treat karaoke like a record deal audition).

Brian Raftery, on the other hand, loves karaoke, and has written a very funny book on the topic: Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life (pub date January 1). It’s the kind of book I like — part memoir, part history, all wrapped into an entertaining ball that adds to all those random snippets of information I know that makes me a gas at cocktail parties and happy hours.

The best part? He takes such a serious, researched look at something that seems like a fun bar game. His three part explaination about why “Like a Rolling Stone” is the worst karaoke song ever by using Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” as a counter example is such a convincing argument that I want to teach it in my writing class as an excellent example of persuasion. My students read Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank as an example of technical writing (I teach tech comm at Rutgers-Camden), and they liked it, but if I were to teach the course again, I’d consider subbing in this book (and in some student conferences showed it as an example of how writing and reading can be interesting when you really love the topic — most of my students are not English or writing majors).

Why? Because it’s about a technical topic but told in a way that just about anyone could pick up and read it and get it — except Don Henley, of course (read the book and you’ll get that one).

My favorite line? “I’d describe Jessica Simpson’s voice as “robotic,” but I imagine that would make most robots sad.”

I liked the book, though I can imagine some readers will find Raftery so focused on zingers that the book becomes tedious. I don’t mind it most of the time, and I marked two points in the book where I thought his stretched himself too far for a punchline. But you might think those points are funny, so I won’t repeat them here.

Will I try karaoke now? Maybe. I don’t know what I’d sing — maybe something from Jimmy Eat World (it would be nice to bleet out “I’m the one who gets away / I’m a New Jersey success story” from “Big Casino”). I’m writing an article about companies that have alternative holiday parties, so I’ll be visiting Planet Rose soon (and, yes, the inspiration for the article came from reading the book). We’ll see if I get up enough liquid courage to give a song a try, or at least twist to “That Thing You Do.”

A quick note about where I finished reading the book: I had dinner in Philly last night (Monk’s, as usual, was spot on), and I paniced while I was reading the book waiting for the train in. I thought I’d finish it too early and I’d have nothing to read on the ride home. So I took reading breaks while waiting for the train. I hate not having anything to read while I wait for PATCO. I have the attention span of a gnat, so it occupies the time.

I finished the book between the Ferry Ave. and Collingswood stops. Perfect.

What’s up next? Not sure yet. I picked this one out of the big pile of books left after the galley purge. Stay tuned.

For more on karaoke, check out the book’s blog. The URL makes me think that the title changed somewhere along the production line…

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. John and Lisa Howard-Fusco on November 13, 2008 at 11:57 am

    I do karaoke from time to time. It’s fun for me, but I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis. I usually end up doing ‘Alison’ by Elvis Costello or an REM song.

    BTW – Monk’s is the awesome! Belgian beer, mussels and pommes frites…can’t do much better than that. – John

  2. Susan Johnston Taylor on November 18, 2008 at 12:30 am

    This sounds a bit like “Pitch Perfect: The Search for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.” A fun read, and I have a strong suspicion that the author was dating one of the singers he was profiling (he made some offhand comment about it, but he never elaborated).

    I haven’t done karaoke in ages, but the Boston Children’s Museum had an exhibit about Japan that included a karaoke booth. Does it count if you’re too young to drink? I’ve probably done it more recently after a few cocktails, too.

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