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The history of karaoke

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Singing for a crowd of strangers is a 50-year-old past time

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ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp Karaoke Night with Brandon Lay Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Academy of Country Music

We’ve all been there: It’s a Saturday night, and the bar has gotten just crowded enough that no one is listening and everyone is standing around, nary a chair to sit on. The tenor of the room — that deafening noise that feels almost like a safety blanket — gives you courage you may never have otherwise. You stand up on a small platform. You’re handed a microphone.

And then, baybee, you belt your heart out. This week on The History of Fun, we look at the origins of this beloved activity: karaoke. I share the sometimes-funny, sometimes-sad backstory of the phenomenon, which began in Japan in the late 1960s. Singing along to your favorite songs has become a worldwide favorite, of course, but it’s good to know where it all began.

Plus, Plante, Russ and I share our go-to karaoke songs. The answers may surprise you.

Special thanks to everyone who participated in our segment, Reader Only Memories, wherein we share listener stories about the topic at hand. Here is the full thread of responses:

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New to The History of Fun? Every Monday, Russ Frushtick, Allegra Frank and Chris Plante explore the hidden backstories behind the things we love to do. Ever wonder where dodgeball came from? Or the origins of the creepy Chuck E. Cheese robots? Or how about why Beanie Babies exploded and then vanished into the sands of time? We’ll seek to answer those questions and have some fun along the way! Subscribe and join us — we’d love to have you.