My fiancé and I are on a mission, and it’s one we take very seriously. It involves approximately 100 gigabytes of music, a subscription to Spotify, and an ever-developing love and appreciation for new and old music.
In an effort to save money, and also give us peace of mind, we opted to create the soundtrack to our wedding versus paying for a DJ. Though there are obvious benefits to hiring someone, the prospect is somewhat daunting and just a bit on the risky side to this audiophile. What if he plays the Celine Dion version of “All the Way” and not the Frank Sinatra one? And although DJs are well-versed, by profession, in popular music and cult classics, there is no telling if he’ll let his musical preferences dictate the ambiance of the evening, or if he will succumb to that drunk uncle who keeps yelling, “FREEBIRD!”
The goal of an audiophile, when preparing a playlist for a certain event, is to provide guests with music that fits the occasion and allows them to let loose and have fun. Listed below are the top five choices for cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing, respectively.
Cocktail Hour, Number One: “On the Tequila” by Alanis Morissette. This song is off of Morissette’s album Flavors of Entanglement as a bonus track. It differs greatly from the angst-ridden, guitar-shredding tracks of her past. Rather, the persistent beat and varying degrees of electronic notes add a bubbly, fun-loving vibe to the entire song. What makes the song perfect for a casual reception’s cocktail hour is the chorus: “Bring on the tequila / haaaa, ohhhhh / on fire on tequila / haaaa / host is most on tequila / haaaa, ohhhh / bestest friends on tequila”.
Cocktail Hour, Number Two: “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond. A party is not a party unless you include a Neil Diamond track. It’s a rule I’ve lived by most of my life. There is nothing quite like seeing guests unconsciously bob their heads or sing along with his epic and well-known lyrics. Even more, this track is an anthem to wine. There is no better way to spend an hour drinking than listening to Neil Diamond sing in his rich baritone. To steal from the master, himself: “Play it now / play it now / play it now / my baby, Cracklin’ Rosie’ll make me smile”.
Cocktail Hour, Number Three: “Left Hand Free” by Alt-J. This track is found on This Is All Yours, released September 22 of this year. Alt-J is notorious for mind-bending songs inspired by lead singer Joe Newman’s experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. So what makes this a must-have pick for cocktail hour? The cobbled together sounds of jazz inspired keys, guitar, a rhythm section that encourages even the most unable feet to move, and a percussive jigsaw puzzle that includes cowbell. The music speaks for itself.
Cocktail Hour, Number Four: “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Found on their debut album Up From Below, this track pays homage to the campy 1970s variety show sound, with sweeping choruses, whistling melodies (literally), and a male/female duo that carries on a conversation mid-track. It was so thorough in its replication of vintage sound that my father wasn’t convinced it was released in 2009. With charming lyrics this track offers an easy-listening alternative to bass-heavy, 808 laden synth confections of some contemporary artists.
Cocktail Hour, Number Five: “Just Kids” by Alex and Sierra. Winners of The X Factor USA, Alex and Sierra released their debut full-length All About Us on October 7, 2014, which includes this simple, yet addicting, track. The repetitive beat acts as a blank canvas for Alex’s lyrics in praise of a good time. Alex and Sierra are celebrating what it means to be alive and present right now, which is exactly the thing that should be celebrated the day of a wedding.
Dinner, Number One: “Make It To Me” by Sam Smith. Smith’s voice floats above conversation and general noise, which aids in mesmerizing his listeners. This track, from Smith’s 2014 release In the Lonely Hour, combines strings, piano, and an understated percussion section, giving Smith’s vocals the spotlight. He is one of a few artists I believe has the ability to encapsulate the depth of the emotion he sings about. For that reason alone he should be included on any and all playlists, regardless of event.
Dinner, Number Two: “I Want You Back” by Lake Street Dive. This is a cover of the Jackson 5 mega-hit sung in the style of a lounge singer accompanied by an upright bass, piano, light percussion, and brass. The four-member group met while at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, which should give you some indication of their musical know-how. The group slows down the song’s beat and focuses on that infamous bass-line. The way Lake Street Dive married a specific style to a notorious song was risky, but they succeeded in making this track, even more accessible.
Dinner, Number Three: “When You Come Back Down” by Nickel Creek. This track, off Nickel Creek’s self-titled debut, combines bluegrass instrumentation with a hint of pop culture mores. The song’s lyrics discuss unyielding support, something that should be present in any relationship. With peaceful guitar chords and plucks of fiddle strings, “When You Come Back Down” is one of my favorite love songs from the past fifteen years.
Dinner, Number Four: “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab For Cutie. In my opinion, there is little else that is more soothing than Ben Gibbard’s voice. This is one of the most true-to-form love songs ever written. He doesn’t use superfluous adjectives; rather he paints a picture reflecting his view of love, which provides the track with an element of authenticity.
Dinner, Number Five: “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. This track has probably been listed on every love-song compilation, and will continue to be defined in such parameters because Mraz creates an understated backtrack for the complicated emotion. The easy listening, relaxed vibe of this song makes it a perfect addition to any dinner playlist.
Dancing, Number One: “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. This song has a rhythm section that just begs you to get on the floor and move. The music follows a natural count, so even those who say they can’t dance will be able to join if they simply follow the rhythm section. Bend the knees whenever you hear the drums, clap whenever you hear handclaps, and smile the whole time. And what better song to incorporate into a wedding playlist than one that expressly states it is the best day of your life?
Dancing, Number Two: “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. I am a huge Whitney Houston fan. Despite my predilection towards anything Whitney, this song can stand for itself. It is a typical 80s whirlwind of synth keys and beats laced with Houston’s epic vocals and range. It is the perfect song to get young and old, alike, on the dance floor. And watch out, you may have guests air playing the saxophone rather than guitar.
Dancing, Number Three: “Love Never Felt So Good” by Michael Jackson featuring Justin Timberlake. This track was recorded before the King of Pop’s death; featuring the only artist I would consider passing the crown to. It complements the vocal capabilities of both artists and builds to an epic combination of their styles. I have not once listened to this song without unconsciously closing my eyes and dancing (whether that is in my chair, across my living room, or towards my co-workers with flashlight in hand, lip-syncing).
Dancing, Number Four: “Good Time” by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen. Sometimes the easiest way to find songs is to go with the most obvious. A combination de force of pop geniuses Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen, this song is a confection of electronic beats that can make even the most unwilling participant sing and clap along. And it helps that the lyrics are about having a good time, something you want to encourage at a wedding reception.
Dancing, Number Five: “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles. This is a must-have on any dance playlist, wedding or otherwise. Pop culture has claimed this track because whenever the familiar notes begin it’s easy to visualize Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller lip-syncing during a parade in downtown Chicago. The song begs listeners to sing-along and dance in typical Bueller fashion. It’s also fun to see which guests can mimic McCartney’s vocals and live to tell the tale.