The Chicken Dance

Normally, I wouldn’t call out my fellow A.V. Club members in such a public forum, but after attending two weddings in two straight weeks, I believe that our staff writers must get busy on a definitive Wedding Music mixlist, sooner rather than later. Why? Because “Y.M.C.A.,” “The Chicken Dance,” “The Electric Slide,” and scratched-up medleys from Grease are currently being played in reception halls across the country, and the limb-flailing carnage must stop before DJs start sticking their heads in ovens.

Or must it? If you’re not content to just leave everything to a DJ’s discretion, deciding on what to play at your wedding can be tricky business, because you have to balance your own taste with the much more generalized taste of guests from several different generations. Is it selfish to deny your guests certain wedding-song standards that you find overplayed (or just plain bad) when it brings them joy? Based on last weekend’s experience, many people love flapping their arms to “The Chicken Dance” or spelling out “Y.M.C.A.” (On the Village People, Keith Phipps mused, “I’ve always wondered why a song about cruising for gay sex would be so popular at weddings.) What kind of hipster jerk would risk clearing the dance floor by jamming their own idiosyncratic selections down people’s throats? On the other hand, it’s your wedding. You’ve gone to excruciating lengths to pick the right invitation, flower arrangements, appetizers, cake designs, seating arrangements, etc.: Why not the music, too?

In planning my own wedding, which took place a few months ago (congratulations to me, et al.), I was put in charge of the DJ and had to face these issues head on. And concerns from the older generation were voiced immediately and strongly: Based on my mother’s worried tone, the line-up would consist entirely of death metal. Granted, I did have an impulse to introduce Unrest’s “Make-Out Club” as the infectious dance hit it never was or inspire a junior-high-style slow dance to Yo La Tengo’s tender “Autumn Sweater.” These songs and other were ultimately scrapped, but I found there was a happy compromise to be struck that could please everyone without…well…sucking. (And by sucking, please refer to the wedding iMixes on the iTunes Music Store: Josh Groban, “Endless Love,” Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” from the Tarzan soundtrack, and other horrors await.)

Here are few tips:

1. The older generation—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and their guests—are interested in dancing immediately after the bride and groom, presumably before their joints start to ache. So topload the playlist with Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and ‘50s jukebox favorites.

2. As a general philosophy, there are many popular songs that everybody knows and likes, so lean on them heavily, especially at the beginning. These include early Michael Jackson (“Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Rock With You”), early Madonna (“Into The Groove,” “Lucky Star”), and Prince at the height of his powers (“Let’s Go Crazy,” “U Got The Look,” etc.).

3. Stay away from the ‘70s. Embrace the ‘80s. Too many weddings I’ve attended are clogged with disco cheese: Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” music from Saturday Night Fever, “Funky Town,” “It’s Raining Men.” ‘80s pop hits are just as danceable, more varied, and likely to induce a nostalgia kick among people who grew up listening to it. There’s The Cars, Bryan Ferry, Love & Rockets, The Cure, David Bowie, New Order, R.E.M., AC/DC, Thompson Twins, A-Ha, The Church, Beastie Boys, etc. Even ‘80s cheese has its advantages, like Foreigner’s narcotic easy listener “I’ve Been Waiting For A Girl Like You.”

4. Know your core audience. When the older relatives start to fall away, all that’s left on the dance floor are your friends, whom you hopefully understand well enough to play to shamelessly. As the evening wears on, you can open things up a lot more than you could when it started.

So what songs were played at your wedding? And if you’re not married, what’s your dream playlist? And more important, what’s your philosophy on what makes for appropriate wedding music? Sound off.

Filed Under: Music

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