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Do Traditional Songs in Karaoke Collections Add Value?

How To Choose a Karaoke Machine - Article 3: Do Traditional Songs, Included in a Karaoke Machine or Software, Add Value?

Copyright 10/2011 by

Karaoke songs cost close to $1 each. Because public domain songs are free to the publisher, they are often included as bonus songs in karaoke music collections, bringing the cost per song down, to $.50 or less.

Public domain songs are often listed as "traditional." These songs may seem uninteresting to a karaoke singer who has a certain genre in mind. . .at first.

Some things we value most, in the end, are hard to recognize as valuable, on first impression.

Case on point:

  • On a vacation in England, my family and I found ourselves in the Chiltern Hills, near the West Wycombe Caves. This was an area in the Southern England Chalk Formation, known also as "chalk downs." It wasn't lush and green like the Lake District. It wasn't quaint. It was a very plain landscape.

    I stood in a very plain field fenced by very plain barbed wire, looked at the dirt, and, being uninformed about the region, wondered why we had come so far to see this part of England.

    I picked up a chunk of conglomerate rock, and couldn't believe my eyes: the conglomerate contained flint.

    Somehow I was aware that flint was used in making fire in primitive Britain, although the details of that process had escaped my knowledge. I had never seen flint, but recognized its similarity to chert and obsidian which we have in California.

    So there I was, in the midst of an ordinary-appearing field, realizing it contained flint in every square yard. I could hardly contain my feeling of privilege, and my amazement at how I could have wished for a greener location.

    There were more surprises to come: ancient small homes built with the flint conglomerate; and chalk caves in the vicinity. But the contrast of my first impression of a monotonous landscape with the moment I discovered the flint left an indelible impression.

This transformation of a seemingly less significant experience into a treasured experience is the way many traditional songs included in karaoke music software may come to be appreciated by a singer. As karaoke enthusiasts, our interest in a certain style or content may obscure the value of traditional songs. Initially, we might acknowledge that the software publisher included those songs because there were no royalty fees to be paid, but regret they are not songs in the style of music we prefer.

The truth is that traditional songs have many dimensions. They communicate real experiences through song, even though those experiences might not be part of our personal experience. A mixed audience will understand a traditional song, and often be familiar with it, and may sing along with lyrics on the TV monitor.

To foster appreciation of the storytelling qualities of a traditional song, when planning a family or other gathering where karaoke is an activity, it can break the ice to assign a song to each person to research and present. If such planning has not been done, introductory remarks might be provided for the presenters to read before traditional songs telling unfamiliar stories are performed.

A singer's preparation of the song might involve searching for renditions on YouTube, and choosing among them as a model for a performance. Because traditional songs reflect real history, it is best to use a straight singing style for these songs. However, it is possible to apply a style to them, and preferences may be developed after watching several YouTube renditions. surveyed renditions by famous singers of the traditional song, Nine Hundred Miles.

Nine Hundred Miles appeals to all ages. It appears on a K-1 Learn, Read, and Sing CD by Forever Hits. It is contained in a Plug 'N' Play microphone and as a permanent song in an All-In-One karaoke machine. At, a search on "miles" will bring up these products.

Here is a rendition, sung straight, by Tom Joad.

On a children's karaoke disc, a traditional song will normally be performed in a fast tempo, and will be worthwhile for children to learn as:

  • an activity song,
  • a piece of history,
  • a song needing introductory remarks,
  • a song inviting audience participation,
  • a duet or group song.

Here is a MIDI version of Nine Hundred Miles played at a quick tempo typical of children's versions. Find the title in the list. Clicking on the title will give you sheet music. Clicking on the word "midi" will play the MIDI recording.

Nine Hundred Miles - MIDI 1-Man Band Version"

The following link to Second Hand Songs will provide links to many versions of the song, Nine Hundred Miles, some of which appear in videos on YouTube. Only a few are mentioned below. You will need to sign up as a member, but there is no charge.

Second Hand Songs Historical List - Nine Hundred Miles

Straight renditions by female vocalists include those by:

  • Judith Durham (The Seekers),
  • Mary Travers (Peter, Paul & Mary),
  • Hedy West (wrote The Journeymen version), and
  • Roseanne Cash.

Straight renditions by groups include those by:

  • The Journeymen,
  • The Brothers Four,
  • The Seekers, and
  • Peter, Paul & Mary.

Stylized renditions include:

  • Country: Reba McIntyre, Bobby Bare
  • Idiomatic (belonging to a certain time or place): Woody Guthrie
  • Soul: Mary Wells.

To summarize, while we sometimes expect and want stylized singing with karaoke, at other times, style can detract from a story. Traditional songs, sung straight, can be riveting.

A karaoke singer should remember that singing "straight" and "out of genre" is always a choice.

All of the above artists' renditions are available on YouTube except those of:

  • Tom Joad,
  • Woody Guthrie, and

If you lose track of this article on the web, you can find it again, along with YouTube links at, in the Articles section, How To Choose a Karaoke Machine - Article #3, on traditional songs.