“Oh you must be SO sick of that song.”
I hear it all the time. The truth is, the repetitive nature of my job playing Top 40 covers is overstated. Each crowd is different and responds differently, we all continually switch instruments, and there are a lot of songs to choose from out there even within our limited parameters.
Yes, there are some that get old. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to stop believing or forget about Dre. But it’ll surprise people to know I still enjoy most of the songs we often play. The majority of the time it’s because I like watching how the crowd reacts (“Sweet Caroline” and “Friends In Low Places” come to mind). But there some I don’t tire of because I love the song itself. So here’s a list of ten of them (in no particular order) I’ve played easily hundreds of times by now but still revel in performing.
#1. “Bang Bang” by Ariana Grande, Jessie J, Nicki Minaj – This song was in peak popularity right when I was training and playing in several clubs so I’ve enjoyed seeing it with many different incarnations of ladies. More recently we’ve been adapting this tasty live version with cool flares which is a lot of fun to do. I love the three distinctive personalities of the song. More times than not I end up on the drums and I love playing that fill that goes into the chorus.
#2. “Africa” by Toto – I could probably write a masters thesis about why this song is so amazing. There’s not a single note out of place. A great chord progression with an epic chorus. This is one of the rare songs that everyone in the band seems go out of their way to participate it in somehow because it’s so much fun to perform.
#3. “Shut Up And Dance” by Walk The Moon – We might as well adopt this song as our company mission statement. Musically it’s the perfect BPM for getting the room to move. Lyrically it’s beautifully earnest. It’s difficult enough to play that chops are required to really pull it off well but not too difficult that we can’t simultaneously be present in entertaining the crowd. Sadly this song’s time as an in-demand, nightly staple has appeared to have passed and we don’t play it nearly as much anymore. But that only makes me all the more happy when it does come up.
#4. “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne – One of the best sweet spots to find in playing in a cover band is picking popular songs people loved and have forgotten about. There’s a nostalgia factor combined with an unbridled joy of hearing it again that generates a great response. “Stacy’s Mom” is a perfect example for the millennial generation, a song that was at one time inescapable but produced by a one hit wonder that fell off the map. For my money it’s one of the greatest pop songs ever written. There are ear worms at virtually every turn. Also gotta love that minor third key change that really kicks it into overdrive at the end.
#5. “Shout!” by The Isley Brothers– Not much to say here other than it’s an absolute blast of a song and Go Bills! With the right crowd, it can make the room go up for grabs. I have tried and continue to try to add bits of other songs into it – everything from “Defying Gravity” to “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor,” with varying degrees of success.
#6. “My House” by Flo Rida – Somehow Flo Rida’s songs are both stupid and totally irresistible. What’s great about this one particularly is that it’s one of those call-to-arms songs – where the tempo and the lyrics are disarming enough to act as a gentle prod to get people on the dance floor. It’s a great one to people watch during.
#7. “Party In The USA” by Miley Cyrus – Considering it’s a two bar loop musically you would think “Party In The USA” would be one of those “add water and stir” kind of songs that aren’t terribly fun or challenging but there are actually a lot of really cool intricacies that make it both an entertaining and engaging one to play. We perform the bridge totally a cappella like the record which is a lot of fun.
#8. “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire – The only song we play regularly that’s one of my personal favorites anyway. It has a air-tight groove and always feels great. What’s fascinating to me is the fact that I generally don’t see people singing along much to this song yet they are totally into it and loving it. The falsetto chorus, while super catchy, doesn’t really lend itself well to being a sing-a-long. Personally I can’t ever get the lyrics to the verses right either.
#9. “Starships” by Nicki Minaj – In the genre of club thumpin, dancey songs this is one of the most satisfying. There are 4 contrasting sections but a melodic forward momentum that keeps you moving. The super Europop tag at the end of the choruses is a great jam moment for the band and an often an opportunity to do something musically fun or ridiculous. The random Twinkle Twinkle Little Star bit makes me laugh every time too.
#10. “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly – By sheer accident this song became a staple of my repertoire. The first time I played it was as an afterthought request at a slow time of night. Everyone in the room went nuts and the rest is history. I love the fluidity of the melody and the progression (not many pop songs have a m6 chord) as well as the total cheesiness of it that makes it all too easy to camp up in performance. Slow jams, while sometimes very necessary, are always a risk. It can irreversibly disinterest and deflate a crowd. There aren’t many that can keep the energy level in the room high which is why the few that do are so so valuable.
Honorable Mentions: Celebration, You Oughta Know, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Uptown Funk, All About That Bass
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