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Dear Music MD,

Any suggestions on a first dance song for my wedding? The lady requests that it come from the 80s or later (bah humbug), and I think we'd both like something more toward mid-tempo.

If I dance to something like "At Last" by Etta James, I will shoot myself.

Thanks,
Pin High in Carlsbad

Dear Pin High in Carlsbad,

Thanks for your question, and congratulations on your pending nuptials. By now, I'm sure everyone has weighed in with advice on how tablecloths, floral arrangements, menu selection, etc., can either make or break your big day [Spoiler Alert: none of your guests will remember any of these]. I'll save my unsolicited advice for later, because you do have a specific question in mind.

The first dance can be either easy (i.e., telling the DJ/band "just play something fun or memorable"), a good cardio workout (i.e., a sudden fade from "Unchained Melody" to "Baby Got Back"), or agonizing (i.e., actually choosing the perfect song). By the way, the outcomes of those choices are: dancing awkwardly to Celine Dion; giving Nana heart palpitations as her little girl grinds you; and realizing that the hard work you put in to find the perfect song for both of you was worth the trouble. Which is where I can help. Hopefully.

Like any good doctor, I need to ask a few questions to better consult. Some of these are easy. Some of these may make you uncomfortable. Remember, you are in a safe place and nothing will result in you singing "Moon River" [well, except for the big day expenses. Get ready to bend over for those]. So, let's begin:

1) Band or DJ?

2) What music does your fiancée love? What music does she hate?

3) Repeat question #2, but for you. Yes, I intentionally asked about her first. Take notes, grasshopper.

4) Are there any genres, themes, etc., to be avoided? For example, does Country music remind you of a bad experience riding a mechanical bull in b-school? Hypothetically, of course. I'm asking for a friend.

5) Please share any songs you have heard at other weddings. Because, dammit, this song will be yours and yours alone.

Regards,
Music MD

Dear Music MD,

Much like visits to the real doctor's office, I am both encouraged and frightened by the depth of your probing. Do you mean to tell me that I actually have to engage in introspection, reflection, active listening, and empathy to figure this out?

1) We'll have a band - guitar, keyboard, bass, drums, vocalist. They do have the capability to play a recorded song, but we're not paying them to press Play on a machine so we'd prefer something they can play live. I guess Mr. Roboto might be off the list.

2) It's hard to name music she "loves" -- she's not much of a music buff; if she's just hanging out at home she'll have the TV on. She mostly listens to pop on the radio in the car. She'd go see Guster in concert and owns a bunch of old Fall Out Boy CDs. And she was in a sorority so she obviously loves anything that would be played at an 80s party. Specific affinity for most things played at Duke basketball games. She hates jam bands.

3) Love: The Who, Grateful Dead, Beer Destruction Affidavit Form, Rolling Stones, Beatles. Mostly classic rock and the occasional hippie jam band. And of course being a Jewish guy from NYC I have to include Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang, B.I.G, and naturally NWA. Hate: Celine Dion-type ballad love song nonsense.

4) This is not genre-specific, but mentions of Jebus (and other deities, while we're at it) are out. Also, english lyrics preferred.

5) Songs I've heard at other weddings: Etta James - At Last; Little Wing - Jimi; The Way You Look Tonight - Sinatra. I can't remember too many others specifically, so what does that say about those choices?

Here are some songs she's suggested:

  • Chantal Kreviazuk - Feels like Home
  • Ed Sheeran - Thinking out Loud

    And here are some songs I've suggested:

  • Bob Dylan / George Harrison - If Not for You
  • Lou Reed - I Love You

    Thanks,
    Pin High in Carlsbad

    Dear Pin High in Carlsbad,

    Thanks for the extra context. I've scratched off songs that mention Ganesh, and the like.

    Let me first say that I like your starting point. It's clear that both of you want not only to kick a jam, but lyrics that fit the day. Bravo, I say. I love a good challenge. I do like the Ed Sheeran song, but given the video's popularity, I see three issues: a lot of other couples will play it; other couples will try to top the "regular" couples by attempting the dance routine; you guys are not everybody else. Dance to this song, absolutely. But save your first song for a better one.

    Before we get into the recommendations, a few quick technical considerations:

  • Live music can make things great (or terrible). Stripped down versions of multi-layered songs can sound like a great concept, then fall flat. Or the "it" factor that a vocals brings to a song can sometimes not quite ring through. Promise me that you'll hear the band's rendition of the song. If you don't love it, it is completely okay to have them press play. It's your song, dammit.
  • Some songs need a proper fade in/out. Songs over four minutes are probably going to be too much, so if there's a long vamp or coda, then you will be better off either editing it down or asking others to join you.

    Like any good wedding planner would, I am going to walk the fine line between over-delivering and respecting your wishes. Before I get into my recommendations, let me offer a different perspective on the era guardrail. Your bride-to-be wants a song that isn't tired or stodgy. And neither would I. After all, you guys will be dancing to this song well into your nineties (this is another problem I have with "Thinking Out Loud" - what happens at 71?). But just as you pledge your love to be timeless, Love (yes, "big L") is omnipresent. It has preceded you by millennia and will succeed you well beyond your days. And while there are thousands of songs that speak of everlasting love, very few capture the true timelessness (apologies to The Black Keys). So with that in mind, here are four songs that might be worth reconsidering. I'm not going to tell you the artists or the titles. I want you to forget all that, and just enjoy dancing to these songs. Read my thoughts after.

    Song #1

    Some great themes in this song: how the search for someone's soulmate can be an agonizing journey, but once you're there, you know that you're there forever. This song will not only be the first time anyone has seen this played as a first dance, for most it will also be the first time they've ever heard it. So you get extra points for a song people will always attribute to the two of you. The vibe does change at the end (not in a bad way, just in a way that probably doesn't fit a first dance moment). Fade this little ditty out before the 4:11 mark.

    Song #2

    Soulful, powerful themes for this track: love so strong that you will go to the ends of the Earth to care, comfort, protect, honor, and support. As powerful as the vows you will share with one another. Play this song and you're guaranteed to get the "Damn! We taught this boy well." reaction from your family. Note: unless your wedding band vocalist is about to get discovered on The Voice, you are going to want to go with the original.

    Song #3

    Not many things in life are permanent. Love is right up there on the Mount Rushmore of Everlasting. This song is for a high-brow crowd. They'll hear the full meaning. Harmonies are what make this song magical. You might be able to get away with a five-piece playing this live, but their harmonies need to be on point.

    Song #4

    A hip couple like you both know that your lives as individuals led you to the point where you began your path together. How you got there isn't as important as the fact that you got there. And now that you are, that's never going to change. Two prerequisites: first, harmonies (again, magical); second, make sure your keyboardist has a harpsichord setting.


    What's that? Me breaking the rules is going to make you look bad? Fine. Fine. FINE.


    Song #5

    You're accusing me of finding loopholes for old songs? Not so fast! This is a slower tempo cover. The vamp at the beginning is a slow build, so people will slowly begin to realize what song is being played. I would place 3:1 odds that your guests will be serenading you by the time the chorus kicks in. There's also a great opportunity to invite your wedding party and/or everyone there to join you on the dance floor as the second chorus begins. These two moments alone could make everyone remember your wedding day. And every time you'll hear the song thereafter, guaranteed goosebumps. I'd recommend fading in around the 0:34 mark (which I've done for you already in the link), and then fading out either at the 3:10 mark (if you dance solo) or around the 4:00 mark if you ask people to join you in dancing.

    Song #6

    Reasons to use this song: like a subdued version of song #2, it speaks of the ubiquity of love, but not in a pretentious way. There's a nice four bar intro that will let the noise die down and attention fall to you. When the first lyric hits, people will know it's worth paying attention. You will get some folks who will ask who wrote the song. With older generations, it may lead to an eye-rolling explanation that it is not by the artist they think it is. If you go the recorded route, fade this one at the three minute mark. But I really like the idea of a good female vocalist taking this song on. It has a lot of promise.

    Song #7

    Reasons to use this song: another simple, acoustic track. But lyrically, this speaks more to the notion of "Everyone told me love would be perfect, but I had no idea it would be this perfect." Without carrying the annoying Ted Mosby/Carrie Bradshaw this-is-really-all-about-me selfishness. By the time the chorus kicks in, your guests will be grooving along.

    Song #8

    Reasons to use this song: lyrically, this is the closest to your fiancee's song ideas. And it's a modern song with a classic sound. There are some stringed arrangements, but a band might be able to work with this.

    Song #9

    Reasons to use this song: simple, quiet, intimate. Above all else, it will make it feel like it's just the two of you for that moment. And unlike the song, nobody is going to tell you to come down. Note: this was recorded by a man with the voice of an angel, and there is only an acoustic to accompany him. This will probably go better with a played recording.

    Song #10

    Reasons to use this song: if you are looking for a song to announce the moment with pomp, this is your song. Kill the lights. Set a spotlight. Have tissues ready. A beautiful song that will make every single friend beam, and every married couple silently renew their own vows. Note: The stringed arrangement is really what makes this song special. Recorded version is best.

    Song #11

    Reasons to use this song: like Song #6, there's a nice intro that let's you fall into the moment. A piano-driven ballad with some of the most honest, intimate lyrics you could imagine penning for your partner. Again, strings. But try it out. You might like it.

    Song #12

    I have never been a HUGE fan of this band, but this is one of three songs that solidify their true artistry in songwriting. I intentionally placed this one at the end of the playlist, because, frankly, I want you to hear other songs and then mutually agree that this song just feels like it should be your song. Reasons to use this song: any band should be able to slay this song. There's a nice interlude around 2:40 where you can invite others to join you, your friends will immediately smile; her friends will immediately love how such straightforward lyrics could be so poignant; collectively, they'll agree it's a perfect compromise. Not the kind of compromise that makes you give a little to be mostly satisfied. The kind of compromise that makes you both give it 100%, and what is created in the process is something more perfect than you could have imagined. It's moments like those when the you and I become we. I'm sure you've already had those moments. That's why you're taking the plunge. Now, think about this moment, and how great it will feel to remember the moment whenever this song makes its way onto the radio. Or a random playlist. Not a lot, but just enough. And you'll remember, because it's your song.

    So there you have it: a dozen songs that each have their own way of making the moment. The question is: will any of them make your moment? Take your better half for a whirl around the dance floor and let me know what you think.

    Regards,
    Music MD

    Editor's Note: The Music MD is pleased to announce that Pin High in Carlsbad tied the knot and danced to "Waste" by Phish.