The Absolute Worst Songs to Play in Bars, According to Bartenders

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

One of the worst parts of being a bartender -- I mean, besides a-holes constantly hitting on you and having to work weekends -- is being at the mercy of your establishment's jukebox, and the patrons who haphazardly use it to play whatever the hell they want. People at bars tend to make some questionable decisions, including their predilection for overplaying horrible songs. 

We asked a dozen barkeeps across a spectrum of dives and discos to detail the songs they hate to hear the most at work. We cross-referenced the answers and came up with a list that most bartenders would probably agree with, along with some quotes from our sources to illustrate the point. If you don't care to read the rest, just remember one thing: don't play "Piano Man," dude.

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"Shots" - LMFAO ft Lil Jon

Shots?! What a fun song to play at the bar, right?! This song is as grating as a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant, and apparently it gives people the wrong idea.

"You never want patrons to think they're entitled to anything free, and for some reason they think you should be giving them shots when they hear this." -- Paul, Milwaukee, WI

"Livin' on a Prayer" - Bon Jovi

What's better than 100 stock brokers from Jersey belting out "Whoaaaa we're halfway there"? Oh, well, basically everything that doesn't involve explosive diarrhea. 

"I'd probably put anything by Bon Jovi on this list, if we're being totally honest." -- Frankie, Boston, MA

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Toby Keith/Youtube

"Red Solo Cup" - Toby Keith 

According to the bartenders we talked to, this song may inspire more spilled drinks than any other.

"You know what you're walking into when you see cups raised and liquored-up douchey assholes screaming this song." -- Stacey, Boston, MA

"People throw their stupid drinks around and spill them EVERYWHERE. I blame Toby Keith." --Tripp, Baltimore, MD

"Sweet Caroline" - Neil Diamond

But if there's another contender for the spilled-drink crown, it might be the anthem of the Boston Red Sox (ew), with its sickeningly sing-along-able chorus that often prompts raised glasses and floor puddles. 

"So bad, so bad, so bad." -- Phil, Cleveland, OH

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Old Crow Medicine Show/Youtube

"Wagon Wheel" - Old Crow Medicine Show and/or Darius Rucker 

If there's one thing bartenders hate more than people overplaying songs they hate, it's overplaying songs they like until they hate them. I hope that makes sense.

"OK -- this sucks. Because it was one of my favorite songs till Hootie came in and fucked it up for everyone. This was a great song. Before I had to hear a bunch of bros belt it out every night of my life." -- Tripp, Baltimore, MD

"Closing Time" - Semisonic 

This literal leaving-the-bar anthem is another example of a once-loved song, warped and twisted by the jukebox dollars of crappy customers who think they're funny. 

"If one more person plays 'Closing Time' at my bar after last call, I might never open my place up again in the first place." -- Derek, New York, NY

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Kid Rock/Youtube

"All Summer Long" - Kid Rock 

You could probably put any Kid Rock song on this list, but "All Summer Long" was one that consistently made the list for so many of our tired bartenders. 

"The worst part of this song is the first three seconds when I think it's 'Werewolves of London' -- only to be devastated shortly after." -- Michelle, Brooklyn, NY

Anything by Phish, the Grateful Dead, DMB, or pretty much any "jam band"

There's nothing wrong with these bands (I mean, not really) but your local pub is not where people want to listen to 20 minutes of guitar noodling and peyote references. This isn't Red Rocks or the lawn at Merriweather Post Pavilion. 

"It's like background music to the apocalypse, with way more bongos." -- Anthony, Pittsburgh, PA

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Ja Rule/Youtube

Most throwback '00s rap songs

It was funny the first time, then it wasn't. 

"It might have been funny and ironic the first 100 times, but you can only watch people sing Ja Rule like they're a gangster in a Midtown East bar so many times..." -- Stacey, New York, NY

"I Gotta Feeling" - The Black Eyed Peas

I have a feeling that no one really liked this song in the first place.

"Actually let's mention all BEP and Fergie... because watching people's LONDON LONDON bridge falling down isn't usually a beautiful sight..." -- Stacey, New York, NY

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Lynyrd Skynyrd/Youtube

"Freebird" - Lynyrd Skynyrd

It's a proven fact: the more you drink, the more likely you are to break down and cry during the four-minute-long solo. Bartenders don't appreciate that. 

"Obviously 'Freebird.' Do we even have to mention 'Freebird'? It's like a given, right?" -- Tripp, Baltimore, MD

"We Are Young" - fun.

It's like the millennial version of "Don't Stop Believing."

"This song is like trying to desperately shove fun down your throat -- and it just ends up coming up as puke." -- Dave, Los Angeles, CA

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"Piano Man" - Billy Joel

If this was any more of a bar cliche, there'd be an old Irish barkeep with a towel over his shoulder saying "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

"I'm usually a positive person. I never knew blind, unadulterated rage till I heard 'Piano Man.' -- Dave, Los Angeles, CA

"Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey

This is it, the most mentioned song on our list. Frankly, it's objectively horrible to play this in a bar, under any circumstances.

"This is the worst thing you can do at a bar, short of whipping it out and peeing on a busboy." -- Tripp, Baltimore, MD

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He's never once peed on a busboy, but once he threw up on a horse. Follow him: @wilfulton.