I just returned home from a Memorial Day Weekend wedding, which is probably why I have wedding music on my mind. Somehow, and inadvertently, I was put in charge of the sonic mood for not just the reception, but also the entire event.
Don't get me wrong: It was my pleasure to do so, but it was also the source of anxiety. For one, I found out about my duties as an ersatz DJ only two days prior to the event. Second, I was asked to make a dance mix, which was relatively easy, but then at the last minute I was also called upon to provide background music for the dinner.
The only rule was this: The bride and groom did not want a song to be "their song." (I was actually relieved to hear that this couple didn't have a song, since at another friend's wedding, they had me play Yo La Tengo's "Blue Line Swinger," which clocks in at more than nine minutes. After about two minutes of the newlyweds half-waltzing around the floor to inverted pop music laced with feedback while everyone looked on, they gave me the signal to fade down the music. Awkward? You bet.)
Two variations on the first dance.
For this past weekend's wedding's dance mix, I took a cue from a recent party I went to, wherein I tried to put together a mix of mostly obscure Northern Soul songs, much to everyone's chagrin. What I realized instead was that people were willing to dance to a song they didn't know -- as long as it was instantly catchy, pulled no punches and was followed by a song that was universally known and loved. Additionally, a single genre is too esoteric at a wedding. Thus, Marlene Shaw was a precursor to Madonna, and I made sure to sandwich Willie Mitchell between a-ha and Kool & The Gang.
A wedding band covers "Take On Me."
I also tried to take into consideration that no one at a wedding wants to be angry or dance to tales of heartbreak and infidelity. So I cut Johnnie Taylor's "Who's Making Love?" -- an if-you-cheat-on-me-I'll-cheat-on-you anthem -- from the playlist. You know, just in case. And while everyone loves a little 1980s freestyle- and R&B-fueled nostalgia, in retrospect, En Vogue always sound like they're about to hand out a detention slip; the only conceivable dance move to most of their songs is a fist in the air. In other words, save it for kickboxing class. (Apparently, there is a fine line between workout songs and wedding songs.)
Much more difficult was creating the right tone for the dinner. The setting was the mountains of California, a historically fertile ground for musicians, but who wants to hear "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and think about Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young snorting a bunch of cocaine? Same goes for The Eagles; same goes for Joe Walsh. So I opted for songs like "Oh! Yoko" by John Lennon and Neil Young's "Harvest Moon," both of which conjure the airiness and splendor of the landscape without the excess.
One of the more successful songs used to set the mood.
It should be noted that I feel a bit funny writing about attending a beautiful and touching California wedding on the day that the California Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 8. So, I'll add, in terms of wedding music, that it seems unfair for two of the most popular wedding party songs to be "YMCA" by The Village People and "Rock Lobster" by The B-52's. Maybe if we're straight, we should have to pay extra for playing those at our weddings -- or we shouldn't be able to use them at all, at least in California.
Wedding-goers get down to "YMCA" and "Rock Lobster."
Or perhaps wedding music has always been protest music: a protestation of love and commitment, for those of us lucky enough to be able to declare it.
What songs marked your wedding day or weddings you have attended? Do you have a song that you know you want to play at your wedding? What are the strangest wedding songs you've heard? What are good or bad first dance songs that you've witnessed? And what songs should never be played at weddings?