June 15, 2022

Life, Love, and the (Karaoke) Blues: Deceptive Lyrics, Murder Ballads, and Women in Music and Karaoke with Courtney E. Smith

Life, Love, and the (Karaoke) Blues: Deceptive Lyrics, Murder Ballads, and Women in Music and Karaoke with Courtney E. Smith

What’s creepier than being misunderstood? Adam and Ed kick off with a “women of the blues” Karaoke Trivia Bullpen challenge before diving into the karaoke songs that are often sung without really contemplating the meaning behind those lyrics. Which boy band from the ‘90s is like “if bubble gum pop and Jean-Paul Sartre had a baby?” Which dance pop hit would chart on a “nice guys” forum in addition to the Billboard charts? Why is the song that was #1 on the charts the week Ed was born creepy as hell?

The guys deviate from the main topic of the interview because let’s face it–no one wants to hear two middle-aged white males talk about the experiences of women in music (and karaoke), so who better to bring on than Courtney E. Smith (author: Record Collecting for Girls, and the creator of the murder ballad podcast “Songs in the Key of Death”). She talks about why being a bad singer at karaoke is better for everyone involved, the worst karaoke-related date she has ever been on, and, surprisingly, a great experience singing “Picture” with a total stranger. Yep, that “Picture,” the bane of this show and the runner up to last season’s “Song to Ban From Karaoke” question. She cruises through the “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” quickfire challenge, and then puts Adam and Ed through the ringer with a rapid-fire take on the “Fire Away” response of her own.

As always, you can find more info on the website (https://www.sungpoorly.com), and on social media--the show is @sungpoorly on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and now even Tiktok. You can reach Adam and Ed via email by sending a message to sungpoorly@gmail.com. And if you want to support the podcast and snag yourself some great karaoke and podcast swag doing it, our store has all of that and more–www.sungpoorly.com/store. The guys are still taking calls for the annual karaoke advice episode, so make sure to leave them a voice message on their Podinbox page (or, y'know, DM them or email them--but the new voice option is so much more fun).

Theme song: "Gasoline" by Ben Dumm and the Deviants. Make sure to check out Ben's newest music at The Ben Dumm 3. Midroll promo for Cycle Chats.

Courtney E. Smith is the author of Record Collecting for Girls, a former music programmer at MTV and worked as a music writer at CBS Radio and Refinery29. Twitter: https://twitter.com/courtneyesmith Instagram: https://instagram.com/thecourtneyesmith 


Life, Love, and the (Karaoke) Blues: Deceptive Lyrics, Murder Ballads, and Women in Music and Karaoke with Courtney E. Smith



Adam Wainwright: Hello, and welcome back to "The Greatest Song Ever Sung (Poorly)," the podcast that takes karaoke. Exactly as seriously as it should be taken. I'm your creepy karaoke host Adam Wainwright.

Ed Cunard: And I am also creepy, but kind of sexy. Co-host it cannot.

Adam Wainwright: The creepy and the sexy, I feel like are a necessary combination. If I were to describe our podcast vibe using those kinds of adjectives, it would be creepy and sexy. And I think that's appropriate for both of us.

Ed Cunard: Well, Adam, it is creepy how sexy you are. So that makes sense.

Adam Wainwright: I was going to say, it's creepy how sexy you are Ed, or it's sexy, how creepy you are.

Ed Cunard: That also might be

Adam Wainwright: I guess that's what we do. If we work in opposites right there, you have to go sexy. And how are you? I know you had a picture of the Florida, took the vacation, tell about it.

Ed Cunard: I got to go down to Podfest Expo in Orlando, which was a great time, met so many wonderful people in the podcast space lined up a lot of people that I'm going to have you talk to on the show, because everybody down there loved karaoke. And I got to hang out with Mike and Joe from "Friday Night Karaoke" because their company was sponsoring one of the events.

And I got to sing at Howl at the Moon on a stage to like 500 people. It was wild and wonderful.

Adam Wainwright: That's a blast. That sounds, that sounds rad right there. So here's the question I have for you though. And so do these karaoke loving podcasters have questions about karaoke and how can they submit questions that they do have.

Ed Cunard: Well, some of them certainly do. And for you, our loyal poor singers. Please hit our website up. There's a little red button in the bottom corner of the page that will take you to our Podinbox and you can leave us a voicemail asking your burning karaoke advice, questions there, and we would love to hear it.

And we would love to feature your voice on our show, talking about this thing that we all love..

Adam Wainwright: Ed, what's an example of a good karaoke advice question. Like if you're going to ask me a karaoke advice question, what question would come to mind right now,? I'll like, so we can give them an example. Cause I feel like without an example, people might be hesitant. So hit me with an example and I'll give you the response they can expect

Ed Cunard: Adam, if I want to win over a crowd that I don't know what kind of things should I think about when picking my songs?

Adam Wainwright: Just stripping. Just strip. That's that's going to be the answer. It's just a lot of stripping. Ed and I have done it. You can do it too done. See karaoke advice. That's the flavor we're bringing to the show.

Ed Cunard: Please don't take his advice.

Adam Wainwright: That's that should be a disclaimer too, just never accept my advice. And can I tell you about something that was really exciting for me in the past couple weeks?

Ed Cunard: Yeah, absolutely. What's up.

Adam Wainwright: I returned to karaoke. I did the, I did a karaoke, a singular karaoke. My brother got married in Kansas. So I found myself in Wichita, Kansas, and we had a free kind of evening after doing rehearsal dinner stuff.

And I found the karaoke bar. And let me tell you, this place did not disappoint. I'm going to have to look up the name again. Cause it was like an offshoot. I knew they had karaoke, so I just said, "Uber driver take me to the, to the karaoke." It was perfect. It was perfect. It was exactly what I wanted karaoke to be in that area.

 It was sort of divey. It had a really weird mixed crowd where I had four really old gentlemen that were sitting at a table right next to me. it featured a gentlemen wearing a cowboy hat that had a cross on it that could sing like an angel that they call Pastor Jim.

 So it was just my type of crowd. I walked into this bar as some dude looked at me and says, "you're here, yeah!" I said, yeah, yeah, let's go. And kind of just match that energy. it's definitely my type of space. cause it was divey enough, the karaoke was good.

It sounded good in there. The KJ was great and it wasn't necessarily the people I was with type of joint. So I was like, okay, we're going to do one. We can get out of here guys. I get it. I get it. It's not your spot. But I had a blast, man. It just felt good. And I also found a place near me. Actually, it does karaoke on Thursday nights right now.

So they kind of worked our way back in since the pandemic. So I be hitting that up, uh, sometime very soon.

Ed Cunard: I look forward to hearing a full report on that, Adam.

Adam Wainwright: You're going to get a full report on it, Ed. Before you get a full report. I feel like you need to step up to a channel.

Ed Cunard: I am always ready for your challenges.

Adam Wainwright: Good, good. Cause I'm going to use this to transition very smoothly. Might I say to the karaoke trivia bullpen. So here's what you'll get five trivia questions based on the episode's topic: there are five questions today and no tricks up my sleeve. There's no varying difficulties. You're going to get five questions.

Each question is going to be worth one point. So the top score for any round is five points. If you get stuck, you could ask for one hint per game. If you get all the questions wrong, you can still win by answering the impossible question. Get that one, right. And you get all five points, but remember, even if you save your hints, there are no hints for the impossible bonus

Ed Cunard: Adam, have you prepared something wonderful to kick this off?

Adam Wainwright: Ed, I'm going to give you a clue of what we may or may not be talking about. I'm not going to give you the category. I'm just going to play you the stinger. Goodness gracious. I hope you're ready. I hope you listening audience are already for what I prepared for this stinger today


Ed Cunard: You'll have outdone yourself, man.

Adam Wainwright: I'm no Etta, but I thought I'd bring it to the table. So here's what we're going to talk about. Throughout the course of the show today, we're going to talk about songs that don't necessarily mean what you think they mean.

We're talking to an author of "Record Collecting for Girls.". So putting all this together. What I wanted to do is I'm going to feature some kick-ass women in blues history.

Ed Cunard: Oh, okay. Very specific. I love it.

Adam Wainwright: Women and the blues is going to be today's topic. So, ed, what are you feeling today? I feel like you can do well in this.

Cause I feel like this is kind of your shit. So I think you could do well. And I don't think I went overboard with any

Ed Cunard: honestly, depending on how it's structured and what era you're drawing from this might be a four

Adam Wainwright: When I put it together as a four, but there's a lot of really good information and a lot of really kick ass people. I just wanted to feature them even no matter if you did well, I just want to get this information out there. So Ed, are you ready to go?.

Ed Cunard: Yeah, let's do it.

Adam Wainwright: Great. So question number one.

In 1920, this recording artists may blues history by becoming the first African-American to record blues vocals with a track called "Crazy Blues." This happened when Perry Bradford, a famous Black composer, persuaded the white executive at OCA records, Fred Hagar to record her. She is really where it all began.

Not only was she a female unafraid to take charge and do something, no one in her race had done before, but she did so with charisma and what seemed like heaven-sent aptitude. This blues powerhouse took the first step on a long winding trail to prove to fellow African-Americans with a bad case of blues, that they could do something about it named that artist.

Ed Cunard: Is it Mamie Smith?

Adam Wainwright: It is Mamie Smith. Good. You're off to a bang and start Mamie Smith. Well done Ed.

Ed Cunard: you, really, are hitting my era of stuff.

Adam Wainwright: the I'm gonna, I'm gonna slam it, baby. I'm going to slam your era. question number two now, shortly after Mamie Smith burst into the scene, the flood gates open and made way for the mother of blues to find her way to the mic Gertrude "Ma" Rainey bridged vaudeville, and the authentic expression of Southern blues.

 She was renowned for vocal abilities, energetic disposition, and a moaning style of singing. From 1923 to 1928. She made over 100 records including "Boll Weevil Blues," "Moonshine Blues," "See See Rider Blues," "Soon This Morning," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Now "Ma Rainey" was so influential that a play was written about her life, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," as part of a 10 play Pittsburgh cycle that Chronicles the 20th century African-American experience. Name that playwright

Ed Cunard: August Wilson.

Adam Wainwright: August Wilson is it, Ed. Well done. Wonderful playwright, some of the best monologues in history like Jesus

Ed Cunard: and fun fact to interrupt real quick, the guy who gave us our theme song, Ben Dumm, was an extra in the film version of "Fences.".

Adam Wainwright: Oh, no kidding was that was filmed in Pittsburgh too. Right? See, man, , I do love some August Wilson and Ben Dumm. Beautiful when things come together like that, but on the question, number three, , this artist also known as the empress of the blues made her mark in the music world during the 1920s and thirties.

Thanks to are distinctly rich, robust and hearty vocals. She has been regarded as the most popular blues vocalist of her era and has since influenced female singers from all walks of life, including Janice Joplin who paid for her tombstone in 1970, more than 30 years after her death. Considered a legend and inspiration, and one of the biggest voices of the century, her spirited tracks, like nobody knows you when you're down and out and devil's going to get, you have truly transcended time named that artist

Ed Cunard: That is Bessie Smith.

Adam Wainwright: that is Bessie Smith, correct? Yeah. Like I said, I think I nailed your shit and I think you're going to get number four here too.

 She is the modern day blues queen. Her bottleneck slide guitar playing, getting vocal prowess has influenced an abundance of being since the seventies and has seen her listed at number 50 on the rolling stone, greatest singers of all time list as well as number 89 on their greatest guitarists of all time having played alongside the majority of the Blue's biggest male figures, including BB King, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker.

She's shown that when it comes to playing the guitar, gender doesn't mean a thing. I had the distinction of seeing her play at New Orleans Jazz Fest, and she is truly a master of her graft. No matter your opinion, she'll definitely leave you with something to talk about. Name that artist.

Ed Cunard: It's Bonnie Raitt.

Adam Wainwright: I know I worked in that little clue at the end

Ed Cunard: was like, I was is it Bonnie Raitt? And I'm like, yes, Bonnie Raitt

Adam Wainwright: in that little clue. I think he might get a five for five. Cause I, I said, I think I set it up here. the last question. This woman is considered by some, to be the ultimate queen of blues, her thunderous combination of stomping, shouting gospel, spiritual lyricism, and electric blues rock guitar made her a defining figure in the early development of rock and roll.

Having influenced the likes of Johnny Cash. Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Frank Turner Turner even went as far as to record a track about this artist that appeared on his 2019 album "No Man's Land." Her most popular song may be "My Journey to the Sky," but no snapshot could ever capture the legacy she left on the blues. Name that artist.

Ed Cunard: That's Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Adam Wainwright: That sure is, Ed.

Ed Cunard: I swept it.

Adam Wainwright: You I, I thought I might've settled into your shit right there in two years. you don't even need the possible bonus. We haven't discussed what happens if you get five out of five with the impossible bonus, but would you like to try

Ed Cunard: Yeah, I have to try.

Adam Wainwright: great, because this is not going to be in your length.

It's the impossible bonus. I figured you were scored well on the other ones. I was thinking more about our guests today, Courtney E. Smith and her book "Record Collecting for Girls." And it was like, I wonder, I wonder, well, who has the biggest record collection on earth? So, Jose Roberto "Zero" Alves Freitas is widely known to have the largest record collection in existence with over 8 million but that I didn't really care about that. What I wanted to know was what woman holds the record for the most vinyl in their posession. And actually took a little bit of digging. But I think I pinned down the answer to one Spanish born and living woman that has more than 50,000 recordings in her possession Ed! Who is that?.

Ed Cunard: oh, that's Mary, Mary, uh, Mary Smith.

Adam Wainwright: Yeah, the Spanish woman is Mary Smith. Ed. Congratulations. Her name is, Alejandra Fierro Eleta. It's the largest dedicated Latin and Caribbean music archive in the world. And it's built in parts on Miami artists, institutions. Just a feature a little bit. Eleta's musical journey began early in her life.

After she spent a summer in her mom's home country of Panama at the age of 10 Elisa, went to live with her unclein Panama where she would hear boleros and tropical music and began her romance with the music. She began collecting albums in her late teens and forming the beginning of a lifelong pursuit.

 Her love for Panama was so strong she started a music school and she also plans to donate her entire music collection to University of California Berkley in exchange for scholarships for Panamanian students. So I just thought it was really cool that she was going to donate so she can do some good.

And I think it was just a really kinda, kind of cool story. Ed you, did you kicked ass? I thought you might kick ass. I thought I was nailing exactly your shit. I was right.

Ed Cunard: And I, know you've probably learned some stuff about the blues that you didn't know before and, and have new things to listen to.

Adam Wainwright: yeah, I learned, I learned a ton of shit about the blues. It's always been like a, kind of a fringe interest for me to a certain extent that I never really appropriately dived into, but I definitely want to continue now.

 What's our main topic today. Introduce us and get us started on this.

Ed Cunard: Obviously, we like to tie in our episode topic to our guests, but nobody needs to hear two CIS men talk about women in music spaces or women in karaoke spaces. What can we actually add to that conversation? But Courtney E. Smith also did have a great podcast that is coming back for season two soon called "Songs in the Key of Death," which is all about murder ballads.

And from that, we jumped into something a little bit of field of that. Murder ballads are inherently creepy .Murder ballads don't always mean what you think that they mean, because. The difference between the stories they're based on and what happens by the time songs are written and disseminated a lot changes.

So today we're going to talk about songs at karaoke that don't mean what you think they mean.

Adam Wainwright: I'm excited for this, Ed. I was starting to dig into some of these and kinda, it's one of those things I feel like you never think about until you do. And when you do think about it, it's like, holy shit, holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. As you're going through. And I think we found some, good examples.

Ed Cunard: Well, I think we should start with the obvious one because. You are planning a wedding, and I know your first dance song is a secret and we're not allowed to know it until it happens,

Adam Wainwright: no.

Ed Cunard: but I've been to weddings where the song that the couple danced to was "Every Breath You Take" by the Police.

Adam Wainwright: Oh man, that's going to be an interesting marriage.

Ed Cunard: So, you know why that obviously is a bad call. Mister" I'm getting married and picking songs that I still won't tell one of my best friends and podcast partner about.".

Adam Wainwright: I won't tell anybody about it, their best friend podcast partner. But I will say this "Every Breath You Take" will not be playing at our wedding. And number two, it's for a very specific reason, because it's about as creepy as it gets. It's a, it's about obsession, right? And it's not a fair way to put it?

Ed Cunard: Yeah, it's, it's a stalk-y song. It's a stalker song.

Adam Wainwright: A stalk-y song makes it sound like it's like asparagus or something like that. It's a song about asparagus is a stalk-y song. "

Ed Cunard: “Every veg you roast,"

Adam Wainwright: " All the garlic you toast."

Ed Cunard: “Get your Vitamins, your goin' to not eat sin? No, I don't know.

Adam Wainwright: You're going to not eat sin, man. You heard that here first, your you're going to not eat sin. Wow. Ed, I'm going to get us back on track now. if I had to ask you, what's, what's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" about?

Ed Cunard: I actually know the answer to this So do you want the answer that other people would say

Adam Wainwright: Yeah, I want the other people

Ed Cunard: And don't get me wrong, even from the original source. It is still kind of a love song.

Adam Wainwright: oh, it is a love song.

Ed Cunard: And that's what it's about. It's about an intense love is what I think people would say.

Adam Wainwright: Yes it is. But if I were to get more specific with it and say, it's an intense love between who, what would you now you can answer as you know, an intense love between who, Ed?

Ed Cunard: An ancient vampire and a young woman written by Jim Steinman for a musical that was never done.

Adam Wainwright: Yes, Nosferatu, the musical that never happened. That's original title was actually "Vampires in Love." But if you ask Bonnie Tyler, she swears it's just about a deep love between two people. Like it's wild. I read that in like, "Vampires in Love," that kind of just makes me want to do the karaoke more,

Ed Cunard: That explains our bad vampire accents that we tried at the beginning.

Adam Wainwright: . I think that's why I was going for, kind of was channeling. Ed, tell me something creepy though. Like what's, what's a good creepy one. I feel like vampires and love is just kind of interesting. Give me him creeping up a little bit up on here.

Ed Cunard: Certain things in relationships are creepy. So I have a whole bunch of ones, but I gonna start out with the one that was number one, the week I was born, "My Sharona" by the Knack. It's like a nice, happy, bouncy, fun song. And in all fairness, it is a karaoke bop, but let's remember that this was a grown ass man writing a song about a teenager.

Adam Wainwright: Oh, good.

Ed Cunard: So when you know that, then "I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind?" Really creep, really creepy.

Adam Wainwright: It's exceptionally creepy. Let me share another wedding song. Cause I feel like this is something that needs to be discussed. Do you know anything about James Blunt and "you're beautiful..."

Ed Cunard: I just know he's real funny on Twitter.

Adam Wainwright: yeah, he is. Is he funny on Twitter?

Ed Cunard: Yeah. He's funny on Twitter. He really leans into the fact that people hate that song and trolls them.

Adam Wainwright: That's great. Maybe this is where it came from. The information that I pulled, because it sounds like this is him trolling his own song, but, when you actually break down the song, that's kind of creepy. She was with another man, but I won't lose no sleep on that.

Cause I've got a plan. And really the narrator of the song is really just about a drunk man, stalking a woman on the subway. That's what "You're Beautiful," your wedding song for some listeners out there is about.

Ed Cunard: Oh, I didn't know that.

Adam Wainwright: drunk guys, stalking a woman on the subway. That's from James Blunt, himself explaining that. He told the Huffington Post about his own damn song and narrator his own damn song. " He should be locked up or put in prison for being some kind of perv." So if this is your wedding song, I'm so sorry if you're hearing this and you're like, well, fuck take us a different direction. Now tell me something fun.

Ed Cunard: We all love boy bands, right? Or is that just me?

Adam Wainwright: no. We all love boy bands.

Ed Cunard: Right? Cause they're bops. Like everything they do is fun and they're great for karaoke and you know what song I love, "It's Gonna Be Me" by Nsync.

Adam Wainwright: Okay. Why do you love, "It's Gonna Be Me?"

Ed Cunard: Oh, just because it's NSync and they're just so much fun, but if you really listened to the lyrics, It's like, you're in a nice guys slash incel forum on Reddit.

Adam Wainwright: uh, nice guys in cell form on Reddit.

Ed Cunard: You know what I mean? Like, like,

Adam Wainwright: no, you need to break this down.

Ed Cunard: , well, you clearly don't know and maybe other people don't, but like, there's this thing in. Predominantly straight dating spaces where like, guys think that like, "I am nice to you. I have paid you with nice. So now you must pay me with attention and love and sex."

And they're like, always like, Ooh, the girls dig jerks. And then they dive right the most of massage is bullshit because they got their FeeFee's hurt because somebody didn't like them back. But if you listen to the lyrics of this song, " every little thing I do never seems enough for you.

You don't want to lose it again, but I'm not like them. Baby, when you finally get to love somebody, guess what? It's gone on bay may. "

Adam Wainwright: Oh, wow.

Ed Cunard: and there's some weird consent things and it was like, you've got no choice, babe. Like, you know, you got a choice girl, like get away from, get away from Justin Timberlake right now. Get up, get, get away from his ramen hair era.

Adam Wainwright: Give him like 10 years and then come back to JT and then you can love up on JT. All you want because JT came back hard. Starting with the work with the Lonely Island. That's where I'm always going to tie it back to for Justin Timberlake for me.

Ed Cunard: Actually for me. it's Timbaland. You put Justin Timberlake and Timberland together.

Adam Wainwright: Oh no, that was, those were bops too., "Senorita?", come on, son.

Ed Cunard: Do you have a fun one for us?

Adam Wainwright: I have an interesting one. I guess there's songs at karaoke. And just that we listen to that are very popular songs that you just don't, you don't attempt to think about, or you don't think about sometimes. One they caught me off guard was "Blackbird" by the Beatles.

 It's a beautiful song. I've heard it at karaoke a number of times. Cause it's, it's just, it's just a gorgeous, gorgeous song to sing. And like, if you take it at face value, you know, it's a song about a bird, It's not, the Beatles wrote this song about an African-American girl growing up in the deep south in the sixties and dealing with the racial violence and Jim Crow laws. Keeping that in mind that they were thinking about what was going on in the era in the south when they were recording and they wrote the song from the perspective about a young African-American girl in the south. Like, listen to it again, do me a favor, like pause, pause us. I give you permission to switch over to "Blackbird" and just listen to it again with that perspective.

And you want something that's really going to shift your opinion about a song or really bring a deeper meaning to a song. I was really just caught off guard with that, which I just think is cool. That's one of those ones that while "It's Gonna Be Me" may be working its way off of my karaoke radar forever.

 I want to hear more of "Blackbird.". Not me singing it cause it's the Beatles, but I would love to hear more people that can sing well, sing black

Ed Cunard: There is a Beatles song. I would have wanted to hear you sing before.

Adam Wainwright: What's that?

Ed Cunard: "Oh, Darling."

Adam Wainwright: Okay.

Ed Cunard: There's a clear blues influence. But man, is that a song of abuse?

Adam Wainwright: Oh, okay.

Ed Cunard: It is not a romantic song. It goes back to that, like, please don't make this your wedding song because if somebody starts off by saying, I'll never do you no harm, you have to start thinking this, this, this, this person might do me.

some harm.

Adam Wainwright: Yeah.

Ed Cunard: And, " if you leave me, I'll never make it alone. Believe me when I beg you don't ever leave me alone. "

It's like, okay, we're getting there. And, you know, "when you told me you didn't need me anymore. Well, you know, I nearly broke down and died."

Adam Wainwright: Yeah

Ed Cunard: Some person says that to you, man. Just bounce, skedaddled,

Adam Wainwright: out. Yes, no more. Okay. I said, we do each do one more. Does that sound fair? And we'll kind of, we'll kind of put a cap on it, you know, like screw you, get it. You get it. I'm going to read a direct quote from the musical artists here describing their song. Okay, we're going to work backwards. Now we're going to, we're going to flip the script.

So this is my last one. I have a quote where I'm going to omit the name of this artist and omit the song. And I need you to tell me what song this is the first one that pops into your head. You're probably not going to get a ride, but I want to hear what pops into your head. You got it.

Okay. " This song represents a frame of time or the futility of life.

Things are going to be gone. All that's going to be left are the people that you've nurtured and have really built to be your backbone and your support system." What song pops into your head?

Ed Cunard: I know it can't be a Beatles song cause we just did a whole bunch of Beatles. I was like "With a Little Help From My Friends?"

Adam Wainwright: Uh, no, it is, it is not. What if I give you this evidence in the lyrics to support that theory. Okay. "You have so many relationships in this life. Only one or two will. Last, you go through all the pain and strife, then you turn your back and they're gone so fast. "

Ed Cunard: Oh, I know, I know this, but like without the tune, I'm not placing it.

Adam Wainwright: So this song about the futility of life and the frame of time. "MmmBop.". Yeah, that's right. Hanson's "MMM Bop" is actually about the fleeting nature of friendship, material, possessions, and even life itself.

Ed Cunard: I am blown away by that. I am. I am just so blown away.

Adam Wainwright: Isn't it kind of like a Debbie downer in a way though, like you thought it was just this like catchy pop song that didn't really mean anything you could just kind of like, be happy about it. And now somebody's like, Hey, can you sing on bop? And I'm like, no, they'll make me sad. Why do you make it sad?

And then I had to explain to them about the futility of life and the, the entire nine yards, uh, that blew me. That that blew my mind. I'm like, come on now. This is "MMMBop

Ed Cunard: This just makes me think of French existentialism from the early 1900s and it's Hanson..

And that is


Adam Wainwright: an old souls.

Ed Cunard: messing with my head. Yeah.

Adam Wainwright: old souls. Yeah. Okay. Hit me with the last one. Let's go.

Ed Cunard: So last episode, when we talked to Jay McInnis, he mentioned being a very big fan of the Lumineers and I love the Lumineers. I think they make great music. And I did not realize until I dove into the lyrics of "Ho Hey" that it's going back to that James Blunt thing. He's singing a song to somebody who we either dated and it ended or someone who was just with someone else, but I just never put it together in my head that " I don't think you're right for him.

Think of what it might've been. If we took a bus to Chinatown, I'd be standing on canal and Bowery" and then, and that gets possessive with the, "I belong to you. You belong with me? You're my sweetheart" thing. Wow, this song is not as warm and fuzzy as I thought..

Adam Wainwright: No, not really. It's not as warm as fuzzy there. Lumineers are so great though. I



Ed Cunard: just such a good band.

Adam Wainwright: So good. So here's what I learned today Ed, just to kind of summarize so we can move on and get to the really good shit of this episode, which is our interview with Courtney E. Smith. I learned that I should not give a shit about what the songs actually mean when I'm singing karaoke and just fucking enjoy it because "MMMBop" is now ruined for me,

Ed Cunard: Have you done?

Adam Wainwright: enhanced.

Ed Cunard: Have you done

Adam Wainwright: Oh, I had to have I'm 99.9 9 9 9, 9, 9% possible. Positive that somebody asked me to sing on bop. And of course I did it.

Ed Cunard: I know I'm going to have to do it at some point. If I haven't already, I don't recall if I did or not, I kind of want to do total eclipse of the heart tonight. "turn around bright eyes."

Adam Wainwright: And on that. Let's just cue the guitar and move on to the next thing.

Interview: Courtney E. Smith

Adam Wainwright: A while back, we saw a tweet that rightly called out music podcasts in general: that they're often a bunch of guys talking about music made by some other guys . The person who sent that tweet has a long music pedigree starting with their time at MTB and continuing through to her writing about music for various publications, and her book, "Record Collecting for Girls."

And since she's here, that means that karaoke has played a part in her own music journey. Courtney E. Smith, welcome to "The Greatest Song Ever Sung (Poorly)."

Courtney E. Smith: Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here. And so far after that tweet, you were the only podcast of all men who've asked me to come be on their podcast.

Adam Wainwright: Oh well, that's, that's something we're flattered that you we're happy to have you here. Honestly, we love trying to find different voices other than ours, for sure.

Courtney E. Smith: I mean, I think it's important and women, it's not that we all experienced music differently. It's just that maybe we prioritize different things or like different things or have a wildly different life experience. So I'm here to talk about it.

Adam Wainwright: Great. We're ready to dive in and hear all about those life experiences. Let's start with the obvious one for this podcast. we firmly believe that, karaoke can be something that you fall into and we love to ask everybody what's your karaoke, origin story.

Courtney E. Smith: Okay. So I had these friends in my twenties, in New York city who would drag everybody out to karaoke every now and then. And it was this group of girls that had moved to New York from Seattle, which I'm not I'm from Texas, but I was like the interloper in the friend group. And they got me going to this place by NYU.

That was an underground karaoke bar, not under God and that it was hidden underground, that it was literally underground and just pitch black and cave like in there. And they would all get up and sing these songs and perform and like fully pantomime and really get into it. And it was a lot of fun. It looked like they were having so much fun.

 So I finally decided to give it a try and. He's out. The acoustics in that room were amazing. And I was like, oh my God, am I a great singer? I'm not, but the room is really warm. Really good. And that's what got me into it. Just this whole group of girls that were so, so into the performance of karaoke.

Ed Cunard: That's awesome. And I love how you say the room can make it change how you sound and the environment and all that. And that's so true. And you've also got a strong opinion on what can make a karaoke night, more fun and a better experience for the audience. What is it? And why do you feel that way?

Courtney E. Smith: Well, this opinion is also based in those experiences. So the other people that would show up to this karaoke bar were frequently. NYU students singing Broadway songs, annoying the worst.

Adam Wainwright: Wait. No.

Courtney E. Smith: they're, they're such good. St. Mary's like, technically very proficient, obviously majoring in theater or what have you.

 And they would get up there and just like sing, sing their little hearts out. And it was awful for everyone because it was good. Like, it's so much more fun if you're not perfect, if you're kind of bad, quite frankly, but you're into it. And when those kids would come in and dominate, I was just like, oh, this is the worst kind of karaoke.

This is like showing off showboating. That's not fun.

Adam Wainwright: That's not fun. Yes. Okay. I thought we were attacking Broadway karaoke, and we were going to have to change the entire topic here, but no, I agree with you. Showboating is not fun, but why do you think kind of. Bad singers make things better.

Courtney E. Smith: Because the whole room routes for them, especially if they at like, obviously are feeling shy or they're feeling self-conscious at all. Everybody wants to get involved and hoot and holler and clap and like sing along with them and give them that support so that it boosts their confidence. That's what I've always found or people that are like really interesting performers and, you know, really going along with the song, but not singing it well, or just singing it in a very, very different style, like a totally different interpretation.

 Those are always the most interesting because you don't know what they're going to do. Like there's no telling where this goes. And that is great. Also that is super fun. It keeps me on the edge of my seat and it keeps me really like engaged and on the side of the performer, like I'm being performed with and not at.

Adam Wainwright: I love that. That don't you love

Ed Cunard: That makes so much sense. Yes it's a communal experience when it happens that way. Now I have a question about your background in music and in the industry of it. When you were at MTV, working in music programming, you were one of the folks determining what music gets to the people. How is something like that decided and does a similar thought process go into how you pick your own karaoke song?

Courtney E. Smith: Such a good question. So I was there from 2000 to 2008 and the metrics we looked at were different than they would be now, just because technology has changed and where people get music from has changed. Like what's influential is different. So we would look at a whole suite of data. We would look at radio airplay and sales and syncs and licenses. What was on "The OC" every week was important. What was in the pineapple express movie trailer was important, you know, the way that people are discovering music then was hugely based in TV and movies, especially because there were so many teenage soap operas.

 And we wanted those kids to watch MTV as well. But a big part of it was also taste. it was about what you liked. And I used to call the music meetings, MTV debate club, because people would come in with the agenda that a record label gave them and the stuff that they had to present.

 But there would also be stuff you just cared about, stuff that you just wanted to see succeed, and you thought was cool. And those were the most fun conversations to me when I was like really going at it for some underdog band and being like, we should be paying attention to this. This whole scene is really important.

This band encapsulates it. This is the band that will cross over into the mainstream and be accessible to everybody. So let's give it a try and see what happens.

Adam Wainwright: That's uh, insanely interesting. And you struck a chord with me clearly, cause I, I fist pumped a little bit when you said "The OC" and what was on "The OC" cause I have vivid memories. That was well it's like at the time it was like the biggest thing in the entire world. I don't think there's ever been, I can't remember a TV shows specifically for album sales that sold as much as like volume one and volume two specifically of the music for "The OC."

It was wild.

Courtney E. Smith: I programmed a show called "Subterranean" on MTV2. That was the indie rock show. And there was a point where I had to tell the production team that we're filming the VJ segments. and the interviews with bands stop introducing videos as this was a song on "The OC" soundtrack, everything was, you've got to like moratorium on that.

Just quit. Find something else to say.

Ed Cunard: does that same kind of thought process go into how you pick your own karaoke songs? Like what's going to go over.

Courtney E. Smith: Yes, a hundred percent. I like stuff that's a little bit older. Like I like a 20 year buffer usually. There are a few exceptions to that, but I don't like to do super new stuff. Familiarity is important in a room full of people. And familiarity is also just a limitation of the catalog because a lot of places don't have your underground, greatest hits of Bright Eyes.

They don't even have a Kate Bush, quite frankly, they might. Now, now that the "Stranger Things" phenomenon has happened, but you have to go with what people know. and if you're going to make a left of the dial decision, it has to be strategic. I think there has to be a reason it should be relating to something that's happening at the time, or it should be something relating to your personality in a way that you can perform the song that no one else can.

 Or, the group of people that you're with, maybe this means something, but I don't think you can just pull something obscure out of your pocket at karaoke. It's not so fun.

Adam Wainwright: I wish he could pull more Bright Eyes out of your pocket though. There is a complete lack of Bright Eyes. I've been waiting to do "Bowl of Oranges" for years and just nobody has it.

Courtney E. Smith: Well, I mean, have you been following what's going on with Connor as he tours right now at all?

Adam Wainwright: I haven't been following no whats.

Please tell me what's happened. Oh no. Is

Ed Cunard: Adam. He walked off stage and they turned it into karaoke.

Courtney E. Smith: Yeah. Well, he's walked off stage a couple of dates, which is not out of character for him. I mean, he did this back in the day as well, but yeah, there was a show in Houston recently he walked off stage after two songs and people from the audience came up on stage and started karaoking his songs.

And then it became apparent he wasn't coming back and the venue was like, I'm sorry, go home.

Adam Wainwright: not great. Okay. I'll keep that in mind. Maybe I'll keep it as the only time I've ever seen Connor Oberst live. He was touring with the Monsters of Folk and I saw him on Halloween nights in Louisville, Kentucky. They play for two and a half hours. Came back to an Encore for 20 minutes dressed as KISS

right into "Rock and Roll All Nite."

So until you've seen that particular group dressed as KISS yeah, it was, it was quite the experience. But to follow up on something that you said about karaoke choices, What do you think someone's karaoke choices says about them. And can you kind of read a person based on what choices they're bringing to a karaoke night?

Courtney E. Smith: I think that people often pick songs based on their mood. Like I sometimes will do Fleetwood Mac's, "Silver Springs,", but I can only do that when I can get to like that angry place near the end of the song where I'm going to go for it and yell and like be mad about a breakup. If I can't channel that, I can't do that song.

Cause I'm not going to be able to sell it properly. And I've had friends that do cute stuff like, Linda Ronstadt, "Different Drum." And I think you have to be in the right kind of place to pull some songs off. Sometimes you can just tell us, someone's trying to disrupt the room.

 And my favorite karaoke moment was out with a girlfriend. Put on Aqualung and then just dead panned the song into oblivion, the whole group. It destroyed the room, not in a good way, like it killed the whole karaoke night. And I was like, wow, you just took out your anger on a whole group of people in a terrible way.

All right. Cool.

Ed Cunard: Going along with that, something that you said when we were setting this up.

What did it karaoke song choice. Say about a date where you probably should have ended things right there.

Courtney E. Smith: Oh my God. I have such a story about that. So there's this guy that I went on a first date with, and I wished that I'd never gone out with him again, but we dated for six months. We surprised like ambush view and karaoke. At the end of the date, he was like, oh, there's a place just right across the street that I go to sometimes, do you want to go there and get a drink?

 And it was a karaoke lounge. And it was one I'd been to before. And I knew that my voice didn't sound good in that room. So I'm like, yeah, we can have a drink, but I knew he was going to sing because you don't suggest that on a date, unless you're going to do it. And then he didn't preface this with anything, but apparently he has a whole script that he does like a prescribed set that he performs and he did a Queen song and it really got the room going and everybody got behind him and it was a good performance, but I was just like, I really should have seen that this was a precursor to what the rest of the relationship would be like very scripted and very kind of, I don't know, fake just to highlight his positive points.

Adam Wainwright: Um,

Courtney E. Smith: And I remember sitting there at the table and it was a nice high top and I was just watching him perform, seeing the room, be charmed by him, not feeling charmed at all. And that, I don't know why gave him a second chance, let alone dated for months. Gosh, that was a bad decision.

Adam Wainwright: I feel like we've all been, maybe not in those exact shoes, but something very similar. , at least I can empathize with that, but what I can't empathize with, what I absolutely can't empathize with is ed surprised me. It was something. He said, when this was being set up, you said you had a great experience singing picture by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. I don't think this is possible. I need, I need you to convince me, Courtney convince me how this is possible.

Courtney E. Smith: Okay, let me set the scene: one night. It's just me and my friend, Laura, who might've been my roommate at the time. And we go to that underground bar by NYU that I talked about. It's not the whole group of girls. It's just us. We're having a quiet night, we were just going to do a little karaoke maybe, or if it's not cool, we're going to leave and go to one of the cooler bars down the street, but it was okay.

And we're singing and there's this really handsome guy there who was only doing duets with other people. And it was obvious that he was picking who he thought were the best singers in the room to do a song with him. And she was picking songs that were really tailored to their voices based on something else they'd done.

And I thought that was super interesting and I don't think I'm a good singer. There weren't a ton of people there anyway, but I didn't have any expectation. He would come ask me to do a duet and he did. And he, he was like, I think we should do "Picture" by Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock. And I was like, I'm glad they put the words on the screen.

Cause I'm not even sure. I know the words. So that's and wow. Has that duet not stood the test of time. Not that Kid Rock was ever a beacon of like great men in society, but it's gotten worse. but it was the first time I'd ever tried to sing Sheryl Crow. And it turns out that that is very much in my range and I could do it.

And that lovely gentlemen made it clear to me. And I now do a bunch of Sheryl Crow songs, but it was a nice experience and it felt good to be asked and have somebody have that, you know, faith that your voice was going to work with theirs. It was lovely.

Adam Wainwright: that is a lovely story. Yeah. Okay. That's the one lovely story. That's it right there. You got that? I love I do. I love that.

Ed Cunard: But yeah, we can let that picture story slide. One of the things I love is that you're passionate about gender equality in music. Where do you see those gaps in general?

Courtney E. Smith: Well, one of the big ones that I've written about a lot is in the major awards, be it, the rock hall of fame, be at the Grammys, the CMA awards, any of that stuff. And a lot of people think that's not important, or these things are silly to consider. But I would argue that it's very important because when we look back, if I want to know what the biggest album in 1961 is, I'll look at who won a bunch of Grammy awards that year.

So when we look back on what the historical context of what pop music is, what people were listening to, what was important, all of these big hall of fames and awards mean a lot and gender equality in all of them is a huge problem. It's a bigger problem in some than in others. And in some it's reflective of gender inequality in radio airplay and just this pervasive sense that women.

 Aren't as serious as artists as men. So I'm very, very outspoken about leveling that playing field. Let's take the women of the sixties and seventies and eighties a lot more seriously. If we're the rock hall, let's not just induct the males of grunge immediately on their first year that they're eligible.

Let's make sure we're inducting the women too, because they're really important. Let's make sure that women are not only winning best new artist at the Grammys. Let's make sure that they're winning a whole lot of different things. The other thing that I think is really important is women in the studio and women in executive roles.

There's a pervasive problem where less than 2% effectively of women produce the most popular albums for the last six years. , these numbers are all put together in research by USC Annenberg Institute, and it's really ridiculous how much women are not seen as capable of producing music. Women aren't even asked, especially by other women. And most of the women who have been producers and are among those numbers are self producing their own work.

So. I I've been scratching my head for a long time as have a lot of people about why that is, why we don't see women as fitting for that role. And the other role that's important is engineering women just practically don't exist in that job at all, which is ridiculous. There's plenty of women that are interested in the technical aspects of music.

The other thing is women who are executives and women in ANR. These are the people that decide not only who gets signed to record deals, but how much money they get, how they get marketed, et cetera, et cetera. A lot of female artists have taken over, and our habits a much stronger stance about talking back to record labels, pushing back on the advice they're given, pushing back on what the single is going to be.

What's going to be on the album, what they're going to look like, but there's still a lot of stories of young women artists sitting in a boardroom and being told by middle-aged men, what they should look like and what the market needs. And that is offensive. Ridiculous, stupid. So those are the things that I think if we could, even it out in those areas, music would be a lot different.

Adam Wainwright: Yeah. We should even it out in those areas. I didn't realize it was that severe, honestly, as you started making the points and talking about it, like, I didn't realize, I figured I could make an educated guess that there was going to be a gap because of, you know, just like my, my knowledge and the outskirts, but I didn't realize it was less than 2%.


Courtney E. Smith: It's statistically non-existent, which is


Adam Wainwright: What issues do you see with gender equality and karaoke?

Courtney E. Smith: Well, I think the main thing is that women are given a lot of messages in society to focus on how they look and be attractive and think about themselves through the lens of the male gaze. And I know for a lot of us, that was the case for me for a long time, it makes it harder to get up on stage and perform in front of people.

If you're thinking about, if they find you attractive, are they judging you? How do you look? And it sucks, the fun out of it, first of all. And second of all, it really SAPs your competence. It can, so it's not karaoke per se. That's the root of that problem. It's, you know, focusing on the male gaze and lots of beauty myths and pink taxing and blah, blah, blah, nonsense that women get fed. So I'd say the solution is men at karaoke, never comment on a woman's appearance, even if it's a compliment, just don't.

Adam Wainwright: You were, you were hopping into my question cause we're, we're going to transition to something a little different, but I just going to put a little bit of a cap on this project, because I was going to ask, you know, as a middle-aged white man, I try to understand my privilege, but I'm continuing to understand my privilege and the societal problems that are just inherently tied that I grew up in didn't know existed.

So I'm continuing to try to educate myself. And I was going to ask, how can I be an ally? Do you have any advice for somebody like me? Who just wants to be an ally? How can I be an ally?

Courtney E. Smith: yeah. Find something to compliment if somebody did a great job singing a song, tell them that don't compliment anything. I mean, don't even mention anything about the way they look, if you find them attractive, any anything in that arena? Not, it's not their problem. That's nice that you think that, but you can keep that thought to yourself.

Ed Cunard: that's great advice. we'd be remiss. If we did not mention the amazing podcast you did a while back "Songs in the Key of Death." What made you want to do a podcast on murder ballads? And for those who might not be familiar, what is a murder ballad? Exactly.

Courtney E. Smith: Well, murder ballads are songs that were written about a crime. Sometimes it's a real crime and sometimes it's not, they have existed for hundreds of years. They date back to 16 hundreds in England and Ireland and Scotland where they were very popular, but there are murder ballads and a lot of other cultures too, there they come from Asian culture.

They come from Latin America right now. They're extremely popular in, Mexican music, which I find super interesting, but a lot of the ones we know in America that we think about today are the ones that come from that British tradition. And they would have come over with, you know, the, the refugees, the immigrants who settled this country.

 What made me think about doing it? Well, I had written a series about murder ballads when I was at CBS and it was just a week long thing where I explored a few different ballads, a few different topics. And the thing that kicked that off was that Carrie Underwood's "Two Black Cadillacs" and the band Perry's "Better Dig Two" had both just come out.

 So I was kind of poking at, is there something happening with murder ballads and country music right now? This would've been 2014 maybe. And so I just, you know, wrote about Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," which is a murder ballad about lynchings. I wrote about Nick Cave's "Murder Ballad" albums. I wrote about hip hop and murder ballads and how, a lot of the, hardcore rap from the late eighties and the nineties was based in truth.

 And then the way that we don't actually give people of color, the same sort of license that we give songwriters who are white to think they could just be making things up or being more grandiose than the real thing in order to tell a story. And a friend of mine who started a podcast company remembered that series.

And she was texting me whenever Dolly Parton's "America" came out because of that first episode, whatever the host talks about Dolly writing a murder ballad and does like a record scratch what's a murder ballad. And she was just like, that was so embarrassing, like who doesn't know what this is.

 Do people really not know what these are? And I tried to send them your articles, but I guess they'd been taken down, which is true. They no longer exist on the internet except on my website, because that project got scrapped that they just killed all of our content, which is so great. Love to feel important as a writer, but she was.

Getting together a podcast company that did only podcasts about music and she and her partner were like, would you maybe want to do, a limited podcast series on murder ballads? And I don't know what that looks like, but we can talk about what that would be. So we did, we brainstormed it and it turned into an idea where we picked out a handful of songs, told the stories about the true crimes that inspired those murder ballads, and then talked about some of the most famous people who've performed the songs and what history gets wrong and right about them since there's this long lapse of time between when the crime happens, when the ballads written and the number of people that perform it over the years, it could be an entire century.

Adam Wainwright: This is a natural question. It's a completely unfair question. Okay. I'm just prefacing it. It's an unfair question, but I'm going to ask anyway, because I'm curious, what's your favorite murder ballad?

Courtney E. Smith: Oh, wow. I mean, how can you, that's really unfair

question. How am I going to, how could I pick a one? Like, I, I. I love, I love stagger Lee a lot because the history of it is just so interesting. And when I got into it, I found out that everything I thought I knew about that song, wasn't quite the whole story.

There's so much story to it. And then the number of different interpretations of it that have happened through the years are amazing. There are songs that sound nothing like each other that are all Stagger Lee songs. So, I mean, when the tracing through the different branches of how this version and this version of the song and this version came to be and who sang them and where it shoots off and what part of the country, it traveled through that stuff is so nerdy, but I really, really love it.

So I like that one a lot. I really like. "The Wreck of the Old 97" for the same reason. Cause there's a lot of history and information there and a lot of different people that performed it. It's hard to like some of them know because as many people have pointed out an awful lot of them are about women getting killed and it can be really like tough to listen to.

Ed Cunard: yeah. very much. That's why I like things like, obviously not a actual murder ballad in the sense of it being historical, but things like goodbye Earl, like, are really great at flipping that script. And speaking of flipping the script. We'd like to flip the script with you now, because we would love to play our quickfire game with you because you've been so much fun and so knowledgeable.

And I know your answers to these questions are going to kill. So are you ready to play "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" with us.

Courtney E. Smith: Hit me with your best shot.

Ed Cunard: We're going to ask you five quick fire questions. Adam loves the air quotes.

Adam Wainwright: I do love the air quotes, "quick fire."

Ed Cunard: whatever thought comes to mind is what you roll with, you don't have to explain, quantify or qualify.

Whatever answer you want to give is the right answer for you. Once that's done, it's only fair that you get to fire.

away and ask Adam and I, any question you want karaoke related or otherwise, and we solemnly swear to give an honest answer. So Courtney E. Smith, are you ready.

to play our game?

Courtney E. Smith: I'm ready.

Ed Cunard: All right, Adam, kick us off.

Adam Wainwright: Question number one and you cannot give an answer you've already given in this interview. Okay. What is the best thing you have seen at karaoke?

Courtney E. Smith: Ooh, gosh. Wow. That's really, really hard. Let's see. The best thing I've seen at karaoke was actually really recently, and it was, at a restaurant slash performance venue in a small town in Texas. And these bands were coming on and doing live music karaoke, to really obscure Texas songs. There was no songbook because, you know, live band karaoke.

And one of them, I haven't looked up who did the song, but it was a song about having sex, but the euphemism was making guacamole all night. It was so funny. It was just so unexpected. I was there with my family, my extended family, and they're just like go in for it. And we're all snort laughing, just rolling around because it was hilarious.

Ed Cunard: I am going to have to look up that song. Conversely, what's The worst thing you've seen at karaoke.

Courtney E. Smith: The worst thing I've seen at karaoke is every NYU student that's saying anything, especially from into the woods,

Adam Wainwright: That's completely fair. Yep. I can get behind that one at least. what is the one song he would love to sing or perform at karaoke, but you've just never been able to find, or you haven't been able to find a good instrumental of.

Courtney E. Smith: you know what, it's Kate Bush "Running Up That Hill" or "Cloudbusting." And I never, they never have Kate Bush in the book. And I'm really hoping that everything that's going on right now is "Stranger Things" and boosting her to the top of the charts will make it so popular that it will now be in books everywhere.

Ed Cunard: Now we've, we've got to take it down a notch and do the question that Frank Turner rewrote for us. And it's so much better his way. Imagine that somebody kidnapped your family and your loved ones. And the only way to release them was to wow. The kidnappers with a karaoke performance. What song do you choose?

Courtney E. Smith: It would obviously be Lyle Lovett's "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)." And if that doesn't do the trick, then I think they're just going to die. I'm sorry.

Adam Wainwright: I have no doubt that it would do the trick. So my favorite question to ask, and I'm very interested in your opinion of this. If you could magically strike one song from every karaoke playlist forever, which song would you choose?

Courtney E. Smith: Anything over five minutes

Ed Cunard: But let's, let's narrow it

down to

Adam Wainwright: there were down. Let's go.

Courtney E. Smith: actually. Can I strike, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" because nobody's ever done that song without like being way too sincere and into it and frankly, a little bit frightening. So unless you're going to do like the Muppets as a voice, while you do that, then you're, it's a no.

Adam Wainwright: Hmm. And I both, did you see the light bulbs that both appeared over Ed and I's heads that you said that doing "Enter Sandman" in a Muppet voice coming to your karaoke stage sometime soon, but I love that. And that was completely correct. And I loved all those answers so much.

Like I really did. they were insightful with everything you want answers to be, but now what's fair. Okay. You're off the hot seat. The seat is no longer hot. We're switching that heater where this way, and you get a chance to fire away. So go ahead. Give us whatever questions on your mind. And ed and I solemnly swear we will answer, honestly.

Courtney E. Smith: First of all, I'm no Frank Turner. So what a great interview that guy is so great to talk to you. Have either of you ever done a karaoke song by someone not of your gender?

Adam Wainwright: Uh, oh yeah.

Ed Cunard: Oh, God. Yeah.

Courtney E. Smith: I'd like more details

Ed Cunard: yeah, The way that I learned how to adjust things to my range was by singing songs that were traditionally sung by women. Because like in my head drunk me at the bar can sing Al Green drunk me CANNOT sing Al Green.

 not hit those notes, but can drunk me sing Nora Norah or Diana Krall or the Pretenders? Drunk me can. So that's how I taught myself to learn how to adjust into songs. if I had to pick a go-to, I'm just going to say "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield because that song is just so much fun to sing.

Courtney E. Smith: I'm so impressed that that's like there. The range in that is hard. That's difficult. One.

Adam Wainwright: I have a similar story, the way I learned to adjust my voice for karaoke songs is actually singing Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats."

Why? Like, I it's a, so much fun. It's so much fun to sing and something that I found, like taking on that song, my voice found a very natural way to settle into it.

And I started hearing it. I'm like, okay, I can change the key and it can still sound great. So now I have a couple, like I will sing Adele at karaoke.

Courtney E. Smith: Wow.


Adam Wainwright: I like singing Lady Gaga at karaoke, specifically "Million Reasons."

Courtney E. Smith: Oh,

do you break hearts with that or what. Wow. Those are all tough songs. You have a powerful voice then.

Ed Cunard: Adam's got pipes. My Lady Gaga song is "You and I."

Courtney E. Smith: Oh,

I like that. I don't think I've ever done Gaga.


Adam Wainwright: My number one gender bend that I've done at karaoke was I busted it out in Indiana, Pennsylvania one day and I sang Dream Girls "And I'm I'm Not Going." And I lowered the key. Like I dropped that thing way down to, I turned it almost into like a very bluesy, like kind of growl and brought it way down.

And it made all those notes accessible. Cause I, I don't know what it is. I can't find it like with male voices. It's very difficult sometimes to adjust the key and find like where it sounds comfortable with like, there's something about like female voices that are just so beautiful and natural to settle into and like, and I, I absolutely, I adore having that experience and traveling now.

I'm not saying that I could do with it. I ended up singing Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take the Wheel" one day. And that one did not go so well. Carrie Underwood's got pipes

Courtney E. Smith: Yeah.

Ed Cunard: And when I leave here tonight, I'm contemplating doing a duet by myself as Adam and I often do. We always say that we're the only people egotistical enough to Do duets by ourselves. But "Are You That Somebody" by Aaliyah and Timbaland might be on my list tonight?

Courtney E. Smith: . What's your biggest bomb at karaoke?

Ed Cunard: Mine, uh, we've told it on this, on the podcast so many times, but I'd never mind telling it again. When Adam first got me into karaoke nearly 15 years ago. I put in "Mr. Jones" a song that I grew up with, I grew up loving Counting Crows. The scan was off. , I didn't know how to sing karaoke. And I was so bad that that tall bastard booed me from the top of the bar.

And I couldn't be mad at him because he was right. That was a boo worthy performance

Courtney E. Smith: Oh,


Ed Cunard: That is my biggest crash and burn of all time.

What about you Adam?

Adam Wainwright: I'm trying to think of other examples. Cause it happens literally all the time, like with what we're trying to do. I'm gonna use something different because musical theater songs, since we've broached that subject the right ones can be all right on a karaoke night. They can't. If I were a Richmond plays really well, no matter where you're at

Courtney E. Smith: Okay, now I'll take, I'll accept that Sure, sure. Okay.

Adam Wainwright: it depends on the crowd you're with it really does.

Courtney E. Smith: Yeah.

Adam Wainwright: If you don't do well with them, though, if you're going to pick one and you don't do well with it, or at least have fun with it, then it's going to be, it's going to bomb the entire night.

So picking something from, let's say, Phantom of the opera

Courtney E. Smith: Oh,

Adam Wainwright: able to sing the Phantom.


Courtney E. Smith: kill the room.


Adam Wainwright: had that happen before I learned my lesson about Phantom of the opera. I tried singing the "Music of the Night" once, and it's

just, I was off that and I couldn't find anything. It destroyed the entire, like it killed the mood, like, cause it's long, it's very difficult to sing.

It's somber, like, and I just didn't do well with it. So that's, we'll give a different example than my normal ones. About the Beatles in me singing the Beatles, which just never again at this

Courtney E. Smith: I think the Beatles could be left alone at karaoke by most people. Yeah, I, can I tell you my biggest bomb? Cause it was really

upsetting to me. I love Elvis Costello so much. He's my favorite, favorite, favorite artist. And I love his smart ass lyrics and I tried to do watching the detectives and like, wow, can I not do the, I couldn't get, I couldn't ever get the thing into the right key.

And maybe it was the particular song that I was doing, but I've tried to like workshop it since then. And I just can't, I can't do any of his songs in karaoke at all.

I don't think it's that hard is the thing. It's just like, there's a gap in there that I fall right into of notes. I can't hit that. I cannot naturally get into.

Adam Wainwright: Yeah, it's a trap. A lot of times, there's a thing I've noticed about music in general. You can be fine for 97 to 98% of the song, but there's always that last note, for some reason, everybody feels like they need to show off or go on some like wild run. That's either computer generated or no human can actually do, except for that one person.

Like I pity anybody who tries to sing Christina Aguilera at karaoke. I don't know if I've ever heard anybody do well with her. Cause like those runs like

Courtney E. Smith: They're impossible.

But you know, it's really interesting as people can do Mariah Carey pretty well. Cause it's like with Mariah, you can almost take liberties with the song and with Christina, you kind of can't.

Adam Wainwright: No, you can't do it with Christina.

Courtney E. Smith: Speaking of workshopping songs, I'm assuming we all do that and like practice them at home for ourselves. What are you workshopping now?

Ed Cunard: So my thing is I don't practice my

Adam Wainwright: you do ad you sing in the

Ed Cunard: Nope, no, no, no, no, no. My favorite thing to karaoke is this thing, a song that I've never sang before and sometimes the song I've never heard about.

Courtney E. Smith: Oh, that's bold.

Ed Cunard: I constantly need to chase that thrill. So that's how I do it. Am I workshopping anything? Yes. I have an upcoming appearance on another podcast where the theme is doo-wop and golden oldies. So I spent all of last night taking a bubble bath, drinking bourbon and singing old doo-wop songs,

Courtney E. Smith: Nice.

Well, have you landed on one?

Ed Cunard: No, cause I get the boring part in every doo-wop song

like Adam and I do not get the lead vocals and doo-wop we're, we're the guy in the background going boom, boom. And that's it

Courtney E. Smith: oh, I'm sorry. Doesn't sound thrilling.

Adam Wainwright: There are, there are a couple on what I'll call my karaoke hit-list but I feel like I, I keep coming back to that. I'm just waiting for the day that I can actually find a copy of it, or just for me to like, actually get to the point where I feel like I would not bomb at karaoke with it. Like one of them is "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I love to do that a karaoke and I just am finessing it, "Make Someone Happy" by Sammy Davis Jr. Is another one I've been workshopping. Cause I really love Sammy Davis Jr. His voice and another one. I'm never, I will sing along to it all day. I will listen, but I could never, I love the singer so much. I could never bring myself to ever do any of his songs with karaoke.

As I love Sam Cooke. I love Sam Cooke with all my heart and I could never ever do his songs of karaoke because I would hate myself afterwards.

Courtney E. Smith: I think I'm workshopping "Strut" by Sheila E but it's less a workshop on the song and more a workshop on the of movements, because I don't think you can just stand there or even like wing it. So,

Adam Wainwright: yeah,

Courtney E. Smith: yeah. So that's what I'm doing in my bedroom nights. If anybody's curious. Okay. One last karaoke song.

 Are there any tells when you walk into a room that let you know this isn't the right room for you?

Adam Wainwright: Here's a nice favorite story about like, just how well we read a room and how well we've started to understand karaoke nights. We had a regular place in our days when we were going to karaoke five to six nights a week. Um, we had a Wednesday night spot that was in a, we live in a pretty rural area in Western Pennsylvania as it was, but we had a Wednesday night spot.

We knew the karaoke DJ very well. We knew the bartenders. We liked the bartenders. It was normally a mix of locals and they bust in college kids every now and then. Cause there were two colleges that were close by, but it was, it was, we had at our peak, when we were going to this place, we used to have 10 to 12 of us that were all go as a group and we just enjoy the entire night.

 So we knew everyone very well. We always had a good time out there. And one night we showed up, we walked in and we kind of like got one drink and we were like, Something's not right tonight. Like this isn't, it doesn't feel something feels off in here at tonight. Like the entire vibe in the entire room felt off.

Ed Cunard: You could literally smell the testosterone in the air that night.

Adam Wainwright: You could, it was one of those nights that you could feel it. I'm going to tell you what happened. We decided to leave. Okay. We're like, no, this isn't that tight. Let's go find something else to do. I'm going to let ed tell you what we ended up doing, but we left this bar cause we wanted to go find more karaoke.

So we found more karaoke. We left and someone got stabbed

Courtney E. Smith: Oh,

Ed Cunard: Yup. Yup. So we left that bar. to go to karaoke in a very terrible strip club that no longer exists because we knew they had karaoke that night. Honestly that night it was just so off on both sides that maybe we should've stayed and got stabbed. I, it could have gone either way. It was,

Adam Wainwright: it was, it was an interesting night

 I don't like strip clubs as it is. I don't, I don't like I have an entire, I'm a sex worker positive, but there's also a lot of it's. It's a very, it's a tough area to like look at too.

So I, I don't feel comfortable with it. I, I empower you to do what are like, you know, very positive, like support, but I, for me individually, just it's tough for me. So like, I, I'm not a gigantic fan of going to strip clubs as it is. And, I, I will never forget the DJ playing "Cotton-Eyed Joe" in a stripper dancing to "Cotton-Eyed Joe" at this bar and meet the wasn't, the karaoke DJ dresses like Elvis or something to add.

Ed Cunard: was not dressed as Elvis because I've seen that guy around. That's just what he looks like.

Courtney E. Smith: Oh,

Adam Wainwright: Good.

Ed Cunard: got the pompadour, he's got the sideburns. That's just a personal style choice.

Adam Wainwright: It was, but it wasn't like, well, we'll tell stories about forever too.

Courtney E. Smith: I mean, my favorite part of that story is you did not pack it in and go home. You went to a second venue, it was happening.

Ed Cunard: because it was a karaoke night and we needed it

for me and reading a room. I'm typically, again, very good at it. I've been in sales for 20 years. I can kind of suss out a vibe. My thing is less about reading the room and finding the surprise. So there's a bar in Cape Coral, Florida that I fucking love.

It's called Backstreets. It's like if a biker bar, a dive bar, an upscale bar and a vacation bar had a baby and you never know what you're going to get at their karaoke. And the one time I sat there, this old guy wearing a, like a golf branded polo shirt, not just a polo shirt, but it was like a Titlest polo shirt.

And he was like 70 years old. He gets up on stage and I'm like, all right, we're going to get some Sinatra. We're going some Bobby Darin, and this man cold rocked "Poison" by Bell Biv Devoe.

Courtney E. Smith: Uh,

Ed Cunard: this is the best night.

Courtney E. Smith: that sounds amazing. I want to go there. That sounds rad.

Adam Wainwright: We all want to go there. Ed that's that's universal. I think anybody has heard this podcast now wants to go to this place

Adam Wainwright: Courtney. I would love this conversation. I really have. It's been entertaining.

It's been informative. You've told some great stories. It's just been a blast. So what we like to do at this point is turn the floor over. The podcast is now yours. Talk about whatever you want to talk about. It doesn't matter what you will talk about, but if you want the floor it's yours for as long as you want it to take it away.

Courtney E. Smith: Well, that's lovely. Thank you. So I've been working on another podcast and it's about the history of indie rock in the early two thousands, but interviewing all the folks from that scene, the monsters of Volks, if you know what I'm saying, wake wink. It's been really fun to revisit it. Those are like my halcyon years of being young, dumb, and in the streets and working at MTV, somehow telling people what music to listen to.

I don't know why. It's been so great and I'm really excited for it to come out. We're still in the process of producing it and doing the interviews, but it's been so fascinating because I've been getting into pulling together all of these strings of the different reasons why indie rock blew up and the way that it did in that decade.

And it's this fascinating matrix of once in a lifetime events that this emergence of technology, this interest from, music, supervisors, this group of people who were really talented and making incredible music, that just all kind of happened at the same time. And I've also had a lot of fun talking to people 20 years later, who I knew then, because not only are they more forthcoming now because of., it's in the past and it's easier to be honest, once you are successful or not so successful and really evaluate what happened. but it's also interesting to hear them struggle with why they did or didn't want success back then and what, what freaked them out about it, or if it was okay.

 I've learned, I've had some conversations that have really depressed me. I've had some conversations that were really funny, and really engaging. And I've had people say some really, really honest stuff. So I'm super excited for it to be out in the universe and for everyone else to be able to enjoy it,

Ed Cunard: I am sure I'm going to binge that one as hard as I binged "Songs in the Key of Death." Courtney E. Smith. Thank you so much for joining us and we hope to see you singing at a screen sometime soon.

Courtney E. Smith: you probably will.


That’s a wrap.

Adam Wainwright: So now that you've listened to that interview by Courtney E. Smith, there's only one logical thing that you, the loyal listeners should do right now. Open your web browser on your computer, your phone, your tablet, or anything else that connects to this wonderful thing called the worldwide web type in www.sungpoorly.com and on there, you're going to see something that's called a Podinbox down in the bottom right-hand corner. Click on that. Send us a message. Ask a karaoke question, leave a comment. Any of those things, we want to answer your questions and give you advice

that's what we're looking for. That's what we need you to do is head over that way. And if you get bored, you can follow us on all our social media, all the other things. But right now the big thing is head to the website. Leave us a message. Ask a question, get advice from those creepy sexy guys.

Ed Cunard: And while you're browsing the internet and thinking about us and thank you for thinking about us and you have this episode fresh in your mind, please leave us a review about it. You can leave us a review on. Apple Podcasts, on Podchaser, on Spotify, on Goodpods. We just really love feedback. It's not surprising that we crave external validation because we've been singing in bars for getting people to clap for 15.

So give us some of that love. And while you're sharing the love, share some Ben Dumm's way. He gave us all of the music that we use for our show. He is a good pal, a great musician, and you can follow him at the Ben Dumm 3 on Apple Music or Spotify or wherever you get those tunes jammed into your ear holes.

Adam Wainwright: Speaking of things, you can jam into your ear holes, make sure to tune in two weeks from now. When we bring a guy behind an audio drama who loves karaoke as much as we do. And who knows, maybe there will be some Fallout. From that talk, get it. I, you all sell the way emphasize.

Okay. That's it. That's all there is no more. So until next time I'm Adam Wainwright.

Ed Cunard: I'm Ed Cunard.

Adam Wainwright: And remember that singing off key is still technically singing.



Courtney E. SmithProfile Photo

Courtney E. Smith

Music Writer

Courtney E. Smith is the author of Record Collecting for Girls, a former music programmer at MTV and worked as a music writer at CBS Radio and Refinery29.