Brief thought exercise: what songs MUST you play at a wedding reception?

Went to my cousin’s wedding this past weekend, so had been thinking about this. Obviously this question is a bit nuanced and contextual, even though it probably seems dumb on face: one of the great things about a wedding is that it typically houses 3-4 generations of two families, so musical tastes are going to differ and you need to get a few different looks going to appease the grandparent-level (who often do dance at weddings) and the young kids level and the peers-of-the-bride-and-groom level. So, everyone’s answer to this will be different. (You can feel free to leave possibilities in the comments.)

If you want a good jumping-off point of songs for this discussion, this has 200 songs and it’s fairly exhaustive (I doubt most receptions even get to 200 songs, as that would be about 800-1,000 minutes of music, which is, uh, over 10 hours).

I’ll get this going in a second, but first — I don’t think it matters if you have a band or DJ. I’ve probably been to 90 percent weddings with a DJ, although most good wedding bands (my cousin had a good band) can play most stuff from old-school to contemporary, so it’s alright either way.

I put no real slow songs on here — to me, slow songs are about personal context (although a surprising amount of people love Postal Service stuff at weddings), and whether you even hit up a slow song has deep ties to whether you came single or not. Slow songs were always awkward as hell when I was the only single guy among my friends, which happened at like five different weddings. It’s a good time to double-fist, though. I’ve said too much.


This would probably be my No. 1 (sadly, this was not played this weekend). I like the Animal House cut of it the best, and that’s probably what 2-3 living generations most associate this song with:

When you get to the drop part — little bit softer now, little bit softer now — and then come back up, that’s one of the truly great moments of most wedding ceremonies.

Mustang Sally

I like this song — don’t love it, but like it. For whatever reason, though, this really gets people going at weddings. I’ve seen two weddings where not a soul was sitting at the tables for this song.


For some unclear reason, this remains a favorite of many at weddings — I’ve seen it at predominantly-white, predominantly-Asian and predominantly-Hispanic affairs.

Electric Slide

This entirely depends on whether you have a “no group dancing” thing at your wedding; a lot of women and mothers of brides will call that. (We didn’t officially, but it was somewhat stated, yes.) I saw one of my best friends get completely discombobulated on this song at a wedding in 2006 — whenever the crowd was going right, he was going left. Back? Forward. Epic.

Build Me Up Buttercup

Core thing here: the words are pretty much known by everybody, of 3-4 different age brackets. So … there’s instant cohesion on a dance floor.

Living On A Prayer

This song definitely has socioeconomic connotations — as well as cultural ones — but again, everyone’s going to know the words, and the ending will be raucous, which is often what people are going for with their wedding dance floor.

Like A Prayer

This was a big one at my wedding, and I’ve seen it big at other weddings — this tends to be a song that groups of girlfriends have bonded around at one point, so when it comes on at the biggest day for one of said girlfriends, people go crazy.

You Shook Me All Night Long

Again, good beat, good vibe, most people know the words, and subtle sexual referencing.

Fresh Prince Of Bel Air Theme Song

Potentially lost on older generations, but almost everyone 45 and under currently can sing this entire song from memory, at least in America:

If you doubt the veracity of that statement, consider this clip:

Louie Louie

Maybe not as popular as a wedding song, but I have seen people race to the floor on this one.

December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)

People love this one too — it resonates with younger cats as well. Easy to sing (well, at least the chorus) and the idea of “Oh, this is a great night” deeply resonates with weddings.

Proud Mary

If for nothing but the dancing alone:

Hey Ya

You could argue that “Happy” is the new version of this, and hell, you might be right. But this is still a classic. Hell, look at Outkast’s catalog top-to-bottom and you’ll start thinking they might be top-five in their genre all-time.

Ted Bauer