It can take a few years for songs to build a reputation as a classic bar tune, but once they reach that privileged hall of fame, it's cemented for all time. They become frequent rituals and tend to prompt an immediate reaction of hooting, inebriated dancing, and out-of-tune singing or half-mumbled rapping the moment they begin to play.
1. "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey
This song wins the prize for Most Likely to Make Drunk People Get Teary-Eyed While Singing As Loud As They Can. If you want to see men and women instantly put down their drinks at a bar and close their eyes and maybe pump their fists with the glint of inspired tears in their eyes as they sing along, just hit play on Journey's classic anthem "Don't Stop Believin'."
2. "Juicy" by Notorious B.I.G.
On the other end of the spectrum of nostalgic bar songs, there's classic '90s rap. This surprisingly pop-inflected rap song from a hardcore rap superstar known for his dark themes has become a legend in bars with its ability to get half-inebriated people comically attempting to rap along when they only know a handful of the lyrics.
3. "Livin' On A Prayer" by Bon Jovi
This song by Bon Jovi is often the antidote for the depressed bar flies moping over their beers. It's easy to see why: when you're feeling a little depressed, there's nothing quite like seeing a bar full of people come alive, shouting "we're half-way there!" along to Jon Bon Jovi with an '80s rock anthem that's every bit as inspiring (and bar-friendly) as Journey. (And like Journey's spelling of Believin', Bon Jovi likes using an apostrophe for Livin' instead of Living. All good '80s rockers knew to never spell out a word that ends with "-ing.")
4. "Closing Time" by Semisonic
If you were there in the late '90s when this song by Semisonic first started playing in bars, you might've thought the local bar owner had commissioned a song for the exact moment when your night at the bar is nearing its end. Meanwhile, you're looking longingly at the person you wish would accompany you out the door. It's as if Semisonic knew they could write a song that would inevitably be played in bars around the world every night at closing time, and so they recorded this monster hit to prove it.
5. "Your Love" by The Outfield
The first bar-goers to react to this song by The Outfield are often the hopeless romantics or those with love, lust, or heartbreak on their minds and have had enough to drink to share it with the world at the top of their lungs. It came out in 1985, and all these years later, it's still persuading people to sing in public about their desperate need for love at two in the morning.
6. "867-5309/Jenny" by Tommy Tutone
No one knows why they're singing Jenny's phone number with a beer raised up in salute, but this song by Tommy Tutone has the magic ability to move everyone in a bar to sing along to its chorus (while ignoring the verses). Some usual bar singers (often ones looking to get a phone number that night) wish they had Jenny, while others wish they were Jenny. In either case, it has the ability to unite bar-dwellers with diverse musical tastes and backgrounds thanks to its irresistible catchiness set to the rhythm of a phone number.
7. "Friends In Low Places" by Garth Brooks
Released in 1990 on Garth Brooks' album No Fences, this song is listed as number one at Drinking Songs for Drunken Sailors. For almost three decades, this has been a comfort to many bar inhabitants, especially guys who hear themselves in Garth's singing, who've maybe felt a little down on their luck in life, and who are feeling low or just want to revel in their bar brotherhood. You can download it yourself if you need a friend in low places.
8. "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" by Beyonce
This song by Beyonce has the mysterious ability to convince every woman in a bar that they are either A) Beyonce or B) one of Beyonce's professional backup dancers. In either case, the introverted, mild-mannered coworker you thought you knew might suddenly be hopping, sliding, spinning, and pointing at her audience as she boldly answers Beyonce's call to all single ladies.
9. "Hooked On A Feeling" by Blue Swede
If, whilst drinking at the pub, you don't immediately start singing along to this song once the main melody hits, you might want to check your pulse. This song tends to bring out those who get some extra liquid courage. These are often the guys (or girls) who maybe would have never walked up to two good-looking strangers with two beers raised over their head, swiveling their hips as if a hula hoop were spinning on it, and serenading the strangers at the top of their lungs, but Blue Swede plus alcohol often equals incredibly brave displays of flirtation. (And besides all that comedy, it's a wonderful feel-good song when you're at a bar with your friends.)
10. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar
It's not just guys who get liquid courage and go seductively (or comically) on the prowl in a bar for a mate once the clock strikes two and everyone's happily intoxicated. When Pat Benatar starts belting her "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," it's sometimes that extra little push your quiet friend needed to dance flirtatiously (and a little off-balance) over to the guy she'd been eyeing for two hours.