Wedding Music: Getting Hitched? Check Out Matrimony's New Musical Canon
We all agree that Nat King Cole's 1951 version of "Unforgettable" is a wonderful piece of music. Timeless. Velvety. A real soul-warming hymn of devotion.
Can we also agree that the song is more overused than Michelle Duggar's uterus? Kenny Rogers recently covered it. So did Jackie Chan. And let's not forget Natalie Cole's Grammy-winning "virtual duet," which you just know is going to wind up in a Zales commercial one of these days.
Which prompts the question: Is "Unforgettable" the kind of trite crowd-pleaser that an unrepentant music snob such as yourself wants to play at his or her wedding?
According to a survey of 2,500 wedding DJs conducted by Connecticut-based booking agency GigMasters, "Unforgettable" is one of the five most-played songs at U.S. wedding receptions. Etta James' "At Last" also made the list. So did Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" and Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love."
It's a telling study — and not just because it confirms the existence of 2,500 wedding DJs, a statistic that is both comical and frightening. These particular songs suggest that our notions of marriage and commitment are still firmly rooted in the 1950s and its lovely illusion of nuclear permanence. We're suckers for institution.
Or so your DJ hopes. Remember, these are wild and tradition-defying times. If Californians can buy pot for "hand cramps" and Eliot Spitzer can have a cable-news talk show, why can't you play a little Grizzly Bear during your recessional?
Refer to the following guide for a New Times-certified musically progressive wedding, and tell your DJ and his playlist to suck it.
PRE-CEREMONY: This is the song that your guests will listen to while they take their seats and silently pray for a brief ceremony so they can start drinking and/or hitting on a bridesmaid as soon as possible. It should be ethereal and upbeat, setting a mood of expectation and impending bliss.
Traditional: "Water Music" (Handel)
New Times says: "El Pico" (Ratatat)
Try to avoid: "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (Bauhaus)
BRIDE'S ENTRANCE: It frankly seems heretical to suggest anything other than Mendelssohn's iconic and exalting "Wedding March" — which is why we are. The important thing here is to pay tribute to the bride's towering beauty and grace, and to do it in a way that also says, "Yes, we're registered at Crate & Barrel, but never doubt our contempt for your stultifying Western traditions."
Traditional: "Wedding March" (Mendelssohn)
New Times says: "Wake Up" (Arcade Fire)
Try to avoid: "Gold Digger" (Kanye West & Jamie Foxx)
RECESSIONAL: This is your triumphant, post-nuptial out-cue song, and it warrants your utmost attention. People typically fixate on the first dance or the father-daughter dance or what have you, but this is the first thing you'll hear as a married couple. One website suggests "Beautiful Day" by U2, which is perfect if you envision your life as one long Zoloft commercial.
Traditional: "La Rejouissance" (Handel)
New Times says: "This Is the Day" (The The)
Try to avoid: "Bullet in the Head" (Rage Against the Machine)
COUPLE'S ENTRANCE (RECEPTION): You're done taking pictures and all that silly bullshit, and now it's time to get soused. Tradition dictates music both festive and dignified; we say go for the gusto and play the most spazzy, ego-driven party anthem you can think of — preferably one that's packed with drug and sex references. (Note: If you play the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get It Started," the ATF is constitutionally required to firebomb the premises immediately.)
Traditional: "Grand March from Aida" (Verdi)
New Times says: "It's Gonna Be a Long Night" (Ween)
Try to avoid: "Send in the Clowns" (Frank Sinatra)
FIRST DANCE: Ah, the biggie. Personal preference is paramount here, and according to the GigMaster survey, America's aggregate preference is for "At Last," "Can't Help Falling in Love" and Shania Twain's "From This Moment," in that order. (If you pick the Twain song, you should also have the wedding catered by Applebee's. It just fits.) Just remember, this song will become your myth. It will be the shared dream that revives your union after every petty argument and "accidental" firearm discharge. Pick well.
Traditional: "At Last" (Etta James)
New Times says: "Wordless Chorus" (My Morning Jacket)
Try to avoid: "Obsession" (Animotion)
FATHER-DAUGHTER DANCE: Even if she's a 4-foot-11, 225-pound Bulgarian power-lifter with a bushier mustache than Wilford Brimley, she'll always be daddy's little girl. The song should reflect that, but not too literally, à la Tim McGraw's "My Little Girl." And for the love of Pete, stay away from Maurice Chevalier's "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." Creepy!
Traditional: "Unforgettable" (Nat King Cole)
New Times says: "You Were Always on My Mind" (Willie Nelson)
Try to Avoid: "Janie's Got a Gun" (Aerosmith)
MOTHER-SON DANCE: This is Mom's opportunity to show everybody what a fine, upstanding, hopefully-not-a-philandering-dickhead son she raised. It's the groom's opportunity to pay his mother back in some small way for making him tolerable to the opposite sex.
Traditional: "What a Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong)
New Times says: "Home" (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes)
Try to Avoid: "The End" (The Doors)
FUN DANCE: You know the one. It's that goofy gimmick song that everyone can dance to — your grandmother, your nieces, the drunk guy in the corner, everyone. The problem is, most of the songs in question are so explosively lame that many couple preemptively banish them. We're talking "The Chicken Dance" and "Macarena," mostly. "White Lines" and "(Do) The Hustle" we can deal with.
Traditional: "The Chicken Dance" (who the fuck knows?)
New Times says: "The Safety Dance" (Men Without Hats)
Try to Avoid: "Stand" (R.E.M.)
LAST DANCE: The coda. The martini. The denouement. It all comes down to one question: How do you want to send away your guests? On a cloud of sweet, Louis Armstrong-esque melancholy? With a tangy layer of Al Green-scented soul-musk? Buzzed on a shot of Sinatra? Those are all fine options, but shouldn't you stay with the trailblazing alt-music theme? The truth is, at this point, you're probably so wasted, you're asking the DJ for "Billie Jean."
Traditional: "Let's Stay Together" (Al Green)
New Times says: "Electric Feel" (MGMT)
Try to Avoid: "Closing Time" (Semisonic) unless you want an annulment.
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