After a long day at work, unwinding at the bar can be soothing. And if the bar happens to have a piano, that’s even better! Sometimes though – as a piano player – you could bring the party to you! By learning some of the most popular bar requests, you can entertain friends and family.
You might even make a little extra money from some home-spun karaoke! You’ll want to read the crowd before you decide what to play. Think about your favorite spots and the type of people who go there. What kind of music do they like, and what are their best piano bar songs? You should also consider their intent. Do they want to sing along or get their friends dancing?
This is important because the sing-along version might be different from the radio version. But you’re sure to get a side gig playing at a club or event, so gather a repertoire of sing-along piano songs if the crowd wants impromptu karaoke. If you have a singing voice (or if you work with a singer), learn some songs you can perform solo without the requester’s input. Here’s our top list.
1. Livin’ on Prayer – Bon Jovi – 1986
Almost everybody knows this song, as shown by this viral video, and this one too. It cuts across cultures and generations and has a persistent feel-good vibe that will spark up everyone at the bar. Plus it’s easy to sing and play along to it, and your audience is sure to join the chorus.
2. Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond – 1969
This song is a tad controversial. The song was anecdotally inspired when the singer saw a photo of 9-year-old Caroline Kennedy. And Penn State stopped playing it after a scandal at their school. But you’re sure to find an older group of bar patrons that just want to hear the song.
3. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey – 1981
Here’s another song that pretty much everyone knows. You may have danced to the original in 80s discos. Or maybe you heard the cover on Glee or any of the endless remakes from various movie soundtracks. It’s a fun banger at a bar because even non-English speakers will yell along.
4. Your Song – Elton John – 1971
If you’re part of a piano bar band, you’re likely to spend weekday evenings playing at hospitals or assisted living facilities. So your audience might be older and might appreciate and Elton John sing-along without necessarily bringing politics into it. So have a few of his songs in your repertoire. Start with this one, and we’ll probably mention a few more as we go down the list.
5. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd – 1974
Yes, it’s a classic country song. But it’s been used in so many movies and even remixed on hip-hop tracks so it’s a must-have for your song list. It’s helpful to learn a few different versions of the song because the requester wants the song to sound familiar. So if they plan to country-rap and you play the ballad version instead, they may doubt your musical ability and heckle you.
6. Wagon Wheel – Darius Rucker – 2013
The lyrics are the same, but you get a different feel when you listen to the 2013 version or 2004 one by Old Crow Medicine Show. This song has a sweet feel-good sound so it’s a convenient way to get your bar guests on the dance floor. You could even start a square dance.
7. I Love Rock and Roll – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – 1981
This is one of those songs that’s so popular you almost can’t read it without singing it. It invites everyone to yell along and the intro riff is so recognizable it will instantly get everyone roaring and cheering. The crowd will probably just mumble along to the verses, so perfect your mid-section playing. The ‘singers’ may be awkward about their mistakes so they’ll pounce on yours.
8. Baby Got Back – Sir Mix A Lot – 1992
This song is often cited ironically, especially given today’s racial politics. But it’s still a fun song to shout along to, so it’s likely to be snarkily requested at the bar. And depending on the crowd, the request might cause a few tuts or raise some uneasy muffled laughter. Learn it either way.
9. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion – 1997
Whether or not you watched the movie, we all know the iconic mast scene and the endless memes it spawned. You’re also likely to recognize ‘the titanic song’. At some point in the night, a sad girl or soulful buy will want a drunk sing-along over their long lost love, so play the song.
10. Piano Man – Billy Joel – 1973
There are certain songs you ‘must’ know if you call yourself a pianist. These low-hanging fruits include any song with ‘piano’ in its title. Practice singing this song, because the rhythm is a bit offbeat, pun intended. So even if the requester wants to do the singing themselves, you’ll have to play to their singing, which is likely to lose pace and tune even while sober.
11. Just a Friend – Biz Markie – 1989
Here’s another old school rap song that’s been sampled and covered several times. The version that’s requested will depend on the crowd you’re playing for, but try learning both the easy version and the fuller more complex one. It pays to cover all your bases in this friend zone.
12. Single Ladies – Beyoncé – 2008
Although she was recently married at the time, Beyoncé’s ‘put a ring on it’ became an instant catchphrase and quite the hit. So it’s sure to be requested at every girls’ night out or bachelorette party. You’re unlikely to sing – all the single ladies will do it for you! But learn the words just in case – you may end up with a bar crowd that’s more focused on the choreography.
13. I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston – 1987
When this song and its colorful video came out, Whitney was bright, energetic, and fresh-faced, giving the song a fun, upbeat feeling even though it’s a sad and kind of lonely piece. So it could rev up a lagging 3 a.m. crown and maybe get them that last-minute date to take them home.
14. Short Skirt/Long Jacket – Cake – 2001
A few weeks ago, the entire internet was wondering whether everything is cake. Meanwhile, there’s an actual band named Cake, and it’s fairly popular. This song from 2001 feels a lot older. It’s a common selection for drunken sing-alongs, especially ♫ short skirt and the looooooooong jacket ♫ section of the song. Your left hand is far busier than your right hand in this version.
15. Empire State of Mind – Alicia Keys – 2009
This song title may seem unfamiliar, but when someone requests ‘that New York song’ this is what they mean. It’s a top choice for karaoke. Probably because everyone sings the wrong lyrics, so if it’s requested at a bat, you may have to help the patron out with the words …
16. Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield – 1981
A lot of the best piano bar songs seem to have come out in 1981. And a lot more of them were covered on Glee, revamping their popularity among younger generations. This song discusses the familiar theme of coveting your friend’s lover, so it’s likely to come up a lot in drunken bars, especially after hours. Play an upbeat version to lift their sodden spirits, pun intended.
17. Are You Gonna Be My Girl – Jet – 2003
An interesting thing happens at bars … especially as the dutch courage starts to kick in. People’s pick-up lines get cheesier and cornier as the night wears on. And this can happen even if you’re playing a private party. So be sure to have a good number of these ‘please go out with me’ songs. And be kind enough to bail them out when they get a bad response to their drunken crooning …
18. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – 1975
We’ve all warbled along to Queen in the shower. It’s already an odd-sounding song, and bathroom titles do wonders for its acoustics. So it’s natural that after a little alcohol, we could picture ourselves belting this song out on stage. Have this song on your list, and help the performer out by giving them a metronome or taping out the rhythm with your foot.
19. When Doves Cry – Prince – 1984
This song has a distinct feel whether you listen to the Prince version or the RnB cover by Ginuwine. So when a bar patron or party guests asks you to play it, confirm which performer they have in mind. Don’t make assumptions based on perceived age and gender. You might be surprised, and it could cost you a healthy tip! Also, learn both the safe and explicit lyrics!
20. Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard – 1987
When it comes to listicles and songsheets containing the best piano bar songs, the so-called hair bands are top contenders. This is because bat patrons and partygoers at various stages of tipsiness can see themselves on stage shaking their imaginary hair. So as you prepare your bar song retinue, include Def Leppard and similar bands from the hairy eighties and early nineties.
21. I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick – 1977
This song can be tricky to play at a piano bar because the original melody is guitar-driven. When a client requests a song, they want it to sound like the version they know. So if you transpose it or play relevant chords, they’ll feel shortchanged and ruin your night. Make sure the version you learn sounds as close as possible to the stage or studio version. Especially if you’re playing solo.
22. Friends in Low Places – Garth Brooks – 1990
Someone once described country music as ‘cowboy emo’ and this could explain why they make the best piano bar songs. You don’t need an exceptional voice or a sense of tone and rhythm to sing country in a bar. You just need the right emotions and adequate alcohol. So as an aspiring bar pianist, get familiar with Garth and Faith and Taylor and Lana and maybe even Lil Nas X.
23. Grease – You’re The One I Want – 1978
Depending on your age and cultural influence, you may have different concepts of John Travolta and Jane Fonda. Think Pulp Fiction vs Face-Off. Or 9-to-5 vs Grace & Frankie. But even if you heard it in a meme, you’re sure to recognize that famous dance sequence. So if you spot slicked-back pompadours and swing dresses at the bar, flex your fingers and play some Grease.
24. Mr. Brightside – The Killers – 2004
If you hear a song and its melody or lyrics sound slightly unhinged (particularly if the singers have guy-liner), you can expect it to be requested as a piano bar. Learn it. Mr. Brightside ticks so many of those boxes because it’s a croony, gothy, discordant song about paranoia, heartbreak, and jealousy. It’s like the holy trinity of bar- hopping. Plus it’s a great yell-along for bar crowds.
25. No Diggity – Blackstreet – 1996
You’re unlikely to get a request for a rap song at a bar. It’s not quite the right crowd, and hip-hop is more driven by drums and snares than pianos. But if your set up has a synth, turntable, digital piano, or VST, you should have a song list from genres that aren’t traditionally piano-oriented. Dr. Dre and Timbaland are known for piano riffs, so start with their song lists and go from there.
26. Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis – 1957
It’s highly unlikely your audience was born when this song came out. Unless you’re performing at an old folks’ home. But we’ve all heard that famous riff on a movie, videogame, or retro TV show. So regardless of the demographics, a good chunk will yell ♫ goodness gracious great balls of fire! ♫ It can also be a good piece to work off your nerves and ramp up a lagging crowd.
27. Hit the Road Jack – Ray Charles – 1961
Ray Charles was known for his superior piano playing, so it’s useful to have some of is pieces in your repertoire. You’d need a very specific bar crowd to request them, but Hit the Road is one of his more famous cross0vers. So even if no one has explicitly requested it, belt out those opening chords and watch as the crowd lights up, starts to sing along, and maybe even gets on their feet!
28. Truth Hurts – Lizzo – 2017
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should have at least passing knowledge of the phenomenon that is Lizzo. But even if you’re unimpressed, those opening piano chords will perk up your piano-playing ears. And your bar patrons and partygoers are definitely on that Lizzo train so learn this piece. And while you’re at it, pick song sheets from a few other female rappers.
29. Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns ‘n Roses – 1987
The angsty yelling in this song seems customized for loud boozy bars, so you can’t NOT know how to play it. Plus that iconic guitar riff works just as well on the piano. It will have patrons scrambling to their feet and cheering in recognition. Learn the lyrics to the verses though. Few people know anything beyond the chorus so you may need to help when drunken nerves kick in.
30. Paradise – Coldplay – 2011
Coldplay songs in general have great piano sections. But as much as it’s a well-known pop band, their music is relatively niche. So their songs are unlikely to be requested unless you’re playing to that specific crowd. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know three or four of their piano-heavy songs. These include Clocks, Viva la Vida, Speed of Sound, and Hymn for the Weekend.
31. Halo – Beyoncé – 2008
What are the tell-tale signs of the best piano bar songs? They’re lyrical, with easy melodies and lots of ad-libbing. This may mean yelling, scatting, or even yodeling. Hair bands, country songs, and ballads are popular. Throw in a memorable piano intro and you have a guaranteed bar hit.
Halo hits all those notes, and your patrons can be as tuneless as they like. Train your ear though – they’ll have had a few drinks, and this is already a song that’s tough to follow because the melody is s free-flowing. Be mindful and aware so you can modulate to follow the singer’s voice and hide their errors. It will be more bearable for the audience and could increase your tips!