Years ago, a wedding planner told me the basis of a successful wedding is remembering that primarily the ceremony is for the bride, the food is for the groom, the photos are for the family and the music is for the friends. While not 100 percent accurate, it does form the basis of a pretty successful wedding.
I've been to a LOT of weddings. I've worked them as a photographer and a dee jay as well as going to a number of them as a guest. And the most fun and happy weddings that weren't super small affairs almost always followed these rules.
Wedding reception music comes and goes, but staples remain and I don't mean novelty songs like "The Chicken Dance." The reason isn't because people aren't imaginative. In fact, when I worked as a dee jay, I often got some REALLY weird requests for reception songs. Everything from death metal to garage-rock to four-letter laden gangsta rap was on the table. But, when the reception is on and everyone is partying, everyone ultimately falls back on what a wedding DJ friend of mine refers to as the "big guns," because nobody wants an empty dance floor resulting from the bride and groom's insistence on force-feeding Animal Collective to the room.
These ten songs are as cheesy as they get -- they are also mostly 20-plus years old, making them ridiculously overplayed -- yet they never fail to get people dancing, which is exactly what you want at a reception. I excluded ballads and country or the list would be twice as long.
10. "Sweet Caroline"
This is a classic singalong. It hasn't hurt that the Boston Red Sox turned it into a ballpark anthem as well. Put this on and listen to everyone sing "SO GOOD! SO GOOD!"
9. "Twist and Shout"
I love the Beatles perhaps as much as any music fan, but this has never been a favorite. Still, who doesn't love the crescendo of AHs at the end of each section (see video for example)? Also, this dovetails nicely into a medley of "twist" songs like "The Twist," "Twisting the Night Away" and "Twist Again." Sounds stupid, but it works every time.
8. "Play That Funky Music"
Few songs make white people shake their collective asses like a song about white people getting funky, sung by funky white people. And if the crowd is culturally diverse, it often turns into a kind of dancing melting pot that's either really heartwarming or hilarious... or both.
7. "Brick House"
I've never quite understood why women want to be compared to an outdoor toilet (brick shithouse, as it were), but they sure as hell love this song.
This gospel-infused Isley Brothers song made popular in Animal House is the second best crowd participation song on this list and one of the best that does not involve the words "Hokey" or "Pokey."
This song reminds me as much of middle school as it does weddings, but that's because I'm old. Still, the on-the-nose theme of this song may seem ultra-cheesy, but so are most weddings.
4. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"
Oh, daddy, dear, does this ever get women onto the dance floor. Personally, I prefer the song from The Goonies when it comes to Cyndi Lauper, but that's me.
3. "We Are Family"
This is a song that takes aim directly at the theme of the day and is likely to get the oldest, stodgiest farts out of their chairs and shaking their asses with the new in-laws. If you are lucky, at your wedding one will dress like Gene Hackman in drag in The Birdcage.
2. Grease Megamix
Musicals used to fill the charts with hit songs back in the 50s and 60s. Some of the greatest jazz standards were taken from the classic musicals of the Gershwin's, Rogers and Hammerstein and Bernstein. But for weddings, the Megamix is king.
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I can feel your eyes rolling and I'm with you. Who would have thought that a '70s gay disco anthem would become one of the most popular heterosexual wedding songs of all time? But it is. Even the most conservative old white guy will be out there making the letters with his body like his life depended on it.