If you’ve ever ventured into that thicket of sweetness and stress known as Planning A Wedding, you’ve probably at least considered buying one (or five) of those awful compilations of “wedding music.” They come in all sorts of flavors – classical, country, Contemporary Christian, pop standards, classic R&B – and they’ve got icky titles like A Day to Remember, or Songs That Say “I Love You.” They tend to feature a lot of the same songs, like “Always and Forever,” and “Three Times a Lady,” and “Wonderful Tonight,” and Pachelbel’s Canon, and “The Way You Look Tonight,” and that horrible Boyz II Men song “On Bended Knee.” And, just like the Book of Common Prayer, they’re all diabolically designed to make your nuptials sound just like everybody else’s.
My wife Gwen and I wed 15 years ago today, and to celebrate that occasion – along with the onset of the June wedding season – I thought I’d give Popdose’s loyal readers an anniversary present: a mixtape of wedding songs and stories from some of our columnists, and an opportunity to share your own remembrances and ideas in the comments. These songs aren’t your garden-variety bridal standards; in fact, a few of them are downright bizarre. But even if you don’t find them suitable for your own purposes the next time you get hitched, hopefully they’ll inspire you and your betrothed to follow your own muse, and not some music conglomerate’s. Click here for a compressed file of all the tracks featured here, and read on!
First, my own tale. Gwen and I were married in a Manhattan party loft at the tail-end of the “VH1 Country” era, and our wedding-song choices reflected our mutual affection for the female country singers and folky singer/songwriters of that period. Thus, the ballad we selected for a friend to sing during the ceremony was a Trisha Yearwood album cut, “The Nightingale,” from her The Song Remembers When CD; we were particularly impressed with the arrangement our string trio worked out for it, on about three days’ notice. Written by Jude Johnstone, the song is as close to a hyper-emotional French chanson as you’re likely to hear a country artist get, and, among other things, it reflected my happiness (and Gwen’s relief) that I had finally overcome my longstanding aversion to marriage (an institution at which the men in my family don’t have the greatest track record): “And to think that I said love was for fools / And that time would never heal these old wounds / But the nightingale saved a prayer for me / In the twilight he played a faithful tune.”
After our officiant finished misreading her script – she had forgotten her spectacles, and wound up giving a pretty decent impression of Rowan Atkinson in Four Weddings and a Funeral – I kissed the bride, and we bounded back up the aisle to our favorite song, Shawn Colvin’s “Round of Blues.” It combines an a propos chorus (“Wherever you go, you’d better take care of me”) with an irresistibly bouncy bridge that always makes us giddy — and what better moment to be giddy than when you’ve just taken the biggest leap of your life? Finally, an hour or so later, we
awkwardly gracefully shuffled through our first dance to Wynonna Judd’s wonderful ballad “Only Love,” with its dramatic vocal and simple sentiment: “Only love sails straight from the harbor / And only love will lead us to the other shore / Out of all the flags I’ve flown, one flies high and stands alone / Only love.”
The songs we chose then haven’t exactly ascended to the stature of timeless classics, and if Gwen and I got married today, we’d probably choose differently. But those songs rooted our wedding in its time and place, and in the music we loved during that era. The best compliment we received from our friends and family afterward was one we heard several times – that our wedding, which we planned, wrote and paid for (almost) all by ourselves, was a perfect reflection of us and our relationship. “That could only have been your wedding,” one friend said. We liked that.
Jason Hare: My courtship with my wife Jessica — like the courtships of many music geeks, I imagine — began with a mixtape. So it was only natural that she allowed me to create the “mixtape” for our wedding: the music our guests heard as they arrived, during the ceremony, and as they left the ceremony and headed to the reception. Brian Wilson’s Smile version of “Our Prayer” was the first track we played as the bridal party entered. We’re not religious, but I definitely consider myself spiritual, and I wanted something that sounded sacred and beautiful, yet contemporary. I thought there was no better way to begin our ceremony than with a track by the Beach Boys.
I have boatloads of tracks on my iPod that I’ve never actually heard. Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe,” from the soundtrack to The Mission, was one of them, part of a classical compilation I had thrown on my iPod at some point. I was walking up Sixth Avenue in NYC when I heard it for the first time, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Short, simple and beautiful, it was perfect for the ceremony — especially because I knew which song I wanted for Jess walking down the aisle, and it happened to be in the same key: eastmountainsouth’s “So Are You to Me.” (The shame about “Gabriel’s Oboe”? I went on iTunes looking for a version with better sound quality, and I found it … on Amy Grant’s album A Christmas to Remember. That’s the version we played, and that’s the version offered here. Don’t tell anybody.)
I’ve introduced Jessica to a lot of music over our relationship, but she was already an Indigo Girls fan when I met her. “Power of Two” is one of my favorite Emily Saliers songs — the music is beautiful, the harmonies pristine, and the lyrics express how we’ve always felt about each other: “The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free.” We’ve always considered this song to be “our song,” so we made it the theme of our wedding. Our invitations, lovingly designed by Jess’s sister, featured the phrase “Multiply life by the power of two” on the front; we included the lyrics in our program; and we sang it together as part of our ceremony. Being that we’re both performers, love to sing, and met in the theatre, it seemed natural to perform as part of our event. We were both incredibly nervous, but figured, hey — if there was ever one day when we’d be forgiven for screwing up, this was it. We harmonized well, I didn’t botch the guitar solo, and all was right with the world.
We danced back up the aisle to a bluegrass cover of “Let’s Get it On” by Shannon Lawson, featuring Chris Thile on mandolin. It’s infectiously happy, and I knew that most people (like my grandmother) wouldn’t really be paying attention to the lyrics … but those that figured it out would be part of a nice little inside joke. During the reception, our awesome wedding band was amenable to me playing a few songs with them. I opened with the Jayhawks’ lighthearted, sweet “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” — I was going through a pretty heavy Jayhawks phase – and we followed with “I Saw Her Standing There” and “A Hard Day’s Night,” then closed with “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” It’s the song that convinced me to take piano lessons at age 6; I never thought I’d have the opportunity to play it with a full band, complete with horn section. I was ridiculously nervous, but it came out pretty well (see below for evidence) and was a nice way to end a fantastic day. My wife has always been my #1 support when it comes to performing, and she was no different on this day — she knew how much fun it’d be for me to play with this band, and she was with me all the way, dancing, singing and having a great time.
Kelly Stitzel: I’m not married, nor do I plan to get married. But if I did, I’d demand that the first dance be “Falling,” from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. But I’m weird.
Dw. Dunphy: Weird? You’re awesome!
Arend Anton: That is awesome, Kelly. Let’s get married.
Mojo Flucke: I had an, er, non-traditional wedding, some 14 years ago, at my parents-in-law’s manse in Nashua, New Hampshire. It was quite a celebration; we had a New Orleans-style parade line around the perimeter of the house before everyone sat down for the ceremony, and someone carried a boom box cranking “It’s You I Love” by Beausoliel.
We love New Orleans; we road-tripped it down there for a 2-week honeymoon, and have been back numerous times since. Our music memories of the place are many-fold: Ellis Marsalis stopping by Snug Harbor in his flip-flops and madras shirt to pick up dinner, only to be commandeered into filling in for the absent piano player for his son Delfeayo’s gig; Dr. John menacingly waving his gris-gris bag at a drunk trying to steal a percussion piece off the stage at the House of Blues; Corey Harris walking in barefoot from a torrential thunderstorm to play an indoor blues festival — all while recovering from bronchitis — and sounding more Delta than Colorado, from which he’d come.
There’s more … New Orleans is so diverse, so black and white and Spanish and French and Caribbean, it’s impossible to distill it into one song or musical sound. But for me and my wife Kate, the city’s greatest hit has been–and shall ever be–this little cajun dance by Michael Doucet and his band of merry swamp folkies.
Dw. Dunphy: If I ever found a woman who didn’t find me utterly reprehensible, my choice would be “Wond’ring Aloud,” by Jethro Tull. Most songs about love and devotion are in caps, like LOVE! and DEVOTION! and “I’d die for you,” or “I’d die without you,” “I’d do anything you ask,” etc. After all that hyperbole, the emotion behind it gets lost. With “Wond’ring Aloud,” it’s so simple. It’s lying on the bed, contemplating the future, getting toast crumbs on the sheets and laughing. It’s not climbing every mountain or sailing ‘cross stormy seas, and the slightly banal trappings make the song feel more real, more like it ought to be.
Jeff Giles: Like probably most of the (few) people who bought it, I was more impressed with the idea of Randy Newman’s Faust than the execution. Though it contains a number of wonderful examples of Newman’s trademark sarcastic misanthropy, they’re mostly buried under boneless arrangements with all the flavor of boiled chicken. There’s a gem on the record, though — and Newman knows it, as he’s re-recorded it for more than one album — and that song is “Feels Like Home.” Performed on the Faust soundtrack by Bonnie Raitt, it’s a heartbreakingly lovely combination of Newman’s baser instincts — the song precedes a terrible act of betrayal — and his gift for classic pop melody. It also contains some of his most open-hearted lyrics: “If you knew how much this moment means to me, and how long I’ve waited for your touch / If you knew I wanted someone to come along / I never thought I’d love anyone so much…” For my first dance with my wife, I wanted something people hadn’t already heard a million times, and something that had enough of a brain to leaven the requisite sentimentality. I actually prefer Newman’s own versions of the song, because there’s something about the way his wonderfully froggish voice strains to reach the notes that communicates vulnerability; but in the end, the Raitt recording seemed more appropriate somehow.
When our DJ told us he wanted to do a dance for all the married couples — one that would start with all of them on the floor, then would narrow the dancers down to couples who had been together for five, 10, 15, 20, 25 years — I knew I had the perfect song: “I Love My Wife.” It isn’t one of Sinatra’s biggest hits, but it’s got a soothing arrangement and The Voice front and center. So I figured people would trust Sinatra, hear the “I love my wife” part, and not pay attention to verses like: “My thoughts may stray / My eyes may roam / The neighbor’s grass may seem much greener than the grass right here at home / If pretty girls excite me / Well, that’s life / But just in case you didn’t know / I love my wife.”
What can I say? I have an immature sense of humor.
Bob Cashill: Our first dance: Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” Just kidding. Actually, it was “Fly Me to the Moon.” Lora’s choice. We love Frank and it’s a happy, upbeat song. She vetoed “Ill Wind,” by Ella Fitzgerald or anyone else.
Dave Steed: Picking the DJ and music was all me, as I’d been a DJ in college and knew what I wanted. I went to a DJ company and entered the owner’s office, which was plastered with framed album covers – the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Van Halen’s 1984, Madonna’s Like A Virgin. The guy knew every song I asked for, and some were non-traditional. So we made sure to pay a little extra to get him, rather than an associate.
We had seen too many weddings where the older couples danced for 30 minutes until they got tired, and the younger couples left early because they were bored. We wanted to try to keep the younger crowd there longer, and it worked well. I think the older people were a little scared of the “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and “Ms. New Booty,” but we got cheers for “The Bird” — I mean, there I was, a big guy sweating my ass off in a tuxedo, doing Morris Day’s moves with my wife. I don’t think anyone has ever seen me like that, and I’m pretty sure they never will again.
I thought “A Groovy Kind of Love” was kind of cool as well. We both like Phil Collins, and we struggled to find something traditional that she enjoyed (pop singles and country) and I might enjoy as well (with my love for ’80s and metal), so this seemed a neat little alternative.
Rob Smith: From the time I first heard it (when I was maybe 12 or 13), Survivor’s “Ever Since the World Began” struck me as a perfect song for the moment the groom stands alone at the altar, just before the bride comes down the aisle. In many ways that moment is a culminating event — as if his entire life has somehow been lived simply to lead him to that point. The opening lines speak to that idea of summation; on my wedding day, I remember taking a deep breath as our vocalists (my wife Sarah’s uncle and cousin) sang them: “I’ll never know what brought me here / As if somebody led my hand / It seems I hardly had to steer / My course was planned.” The chorus also seems as though it were created just for that moment: “And we have waited for this moment in time / Ever since the world began.” Even if we hadn’t had “Ever Since” performed at the ceremony, it would have been playing in my head.
Plus, I got to play a Survivor song in a church. Pretty damn cool! Something else that’s pretty cool: No sheet music was commercially available for “Ever Since,” so I wrote a letter to Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan of Survivor (via their tour management) to see if they could help me out. Within two weeks or so, I received a personal, hand-written response from Peterik, with a contact at Warner-Chappell who was able to set me up with a lead sheet that helped our keyboardist figure out the rest of the song. It was a very classy move — one I’ve never forgotten.
I was a junior at Rutgers in the fall of ’91, and had begun dating Sarah while we were co-workers at a summer job in central Pennsylvania. I had a few open wounds remaining from previous rounds as Cupid’s archery-practice target, but this was something different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something in me had cracked open, made me vulnerable again. I had opened up to this woman, and she had done the same. It was simultaneously scary and calming; my default defense was to doubt her and myself, but I was completely unable to do it. Moreover, I felt helpless to express what was going on—a disconcerting condition for a writer.
On a drive back to my dorm one evening I flipped around the radio and stopped, for some reason, on an Adult Contemporary station. A soft piano melody got my attention, and a woman’s voice sang plaintively over it: “You can say you love me and I’ll believe that’s true / Trusting you is easy ’cause I believe in you / There is nothing I would miss as long as we’re in love like this.” I was absolutely floored. The voice was a little shaky, a little vulnerable, and the song gave voice to my own vulnerability. But the words were calming, reassuring. “How far away this world becomes,” she sang, “in the harbor of each other’s arms.” Thank God the DJ back-announced the track — it was Beth Nielsen Chapman, and the song was “All I Have.” That weekend, when Sarah came out to Rutgers to visit, we made the rounds of the mall record stores until we found the CD. Four years later, it was performed at our wedding.
Sarah and I wanted a third song for the wedding ceremony and couldn’t come up with one we agreed on (my suggestions—”ABACAB,” “Cocaine,” and “Slide It In” — were unfairly poo-pooed). The place of “All I Have” in our courtship soundtrack had made us Beth Nielsen Chapman fans, but her follow-up record, You Hold the Key, hadn’t done much for us. One evening, though, it made its way into the CD player, and this beautiful song near the end caught our attention. It was “Faithful Heart.” “Storms will come, but we will never part,” Chapman sings, “for each of us bequeath a faithful heart.” Perfecto. If Chapman hadn’t written it specifically for a wedding, it certainly fit the bill better than virtually any other song I’d heard this side of “Ever Since the World Began.” I did insist on leaving out the kiddie choir, though, for more than budgetary reasons. I hate kiddie choirs. And I was still pissed about “ABACAB.”
Ann Logue: We danced to “Blue Moon,” by Elvis, because my husband is a big Elvis fan. At my husband’s cousin’s second marriage, the bride and groom walked in to the theme from Star Wars – played on the bagpipes. Yep. Bagpipes. (My husband’s family are all from Chicago’s South Side, and his uncle is a sheriff’s deputy. I believe it’s a law that old, white law-enforcement employees on the South Side must play the bagpipes.
That marriage lasted six months, by the way.
Scott Malchus (adapted from his January 1 “Basement Songs” column): On December 30 15 years ago, our friends and family braved inclement weather to witness Julie and I exchange our wedding vows. St. Malachi’s in downtown Cleveland was still decorated with Christmas poinsettias and the lights were dimmed as guests entered the old, welcoming church. Although one of our guests was mugged on the way there and a couple of the tuxes didn’t match the rest of the groom’s party, the ceremony went off with any real hitches. By the time I saw Julie walking down the aisle with her father, nothing else mattered. After the moment her hand joined mine at the altar, I had a smile on my face for the remainder of the night.
After the ceremony and the wedding photos we adjourned to nearby St. Mary’s Church for the reception. We had hired this dude, Rick O’Bannion, a local radio disc jockey who did weddings on the weekends, to spin music that night. I call him “dude” because Rick was a throwback to the ’80s music scene, with long hair, a bushy ’stache, tinted glasses, tight jeans and weathered cowboy boots. He looked every bit as gravelly as his smoky radio voice. Beforehand we had laid out our ground rules: no chicken dance, no hokey pokey, no Kenny G and no Celine Dion. We provided Rick with the three songs that made up our wedding-dance set. The first, “Book of Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen, was the love song I learned to strum on guitar in order to propose to Julie. The second was a ballad by acclaimed jazz singer Diane Schurr, “I’ll Close My Eyes.” Rounding out the selections was a lovely Los Lobos song from their 1990 album The Neighborhood, “Be Still.”
It isn’t a typical wedding dance number; if memory serves, most of us had some trouble moving in time to the 6/8 rhythm. Yet it’s a song of hope. Like a parent who bids her grown child adieu as his car drives off to a new town, “Be Still” encourages the progression of life while carrying a touch of melancholy as it reflects on the past. Before our DJ began spinning requests and guests began dancing or pouring more drinks down their throats; before one of my groomsmen spent the night with his face in a toilet, and one of my friends grabbed his brother by the throat; before the booze ran out – it was important that not just Julie and I, but all of us, were anointed with these words: “Like a tiny hand reaching up for the sun / Let us pray that our hearts are one / The toughest love is the strongest one … Like a mother’s ache brings in a new life / Stay gold and be still / Pray that we can stay gold and be still.”
In 1993, “Be Still” was a blessing to the newlyweds as we embarked on uncharted territory. Through the years, I have given this song to my friends and family as they have become new parents. And as I begin the next 15 years of being able to call myself Julie’s husband, I believe “Be Still” is the perfect melody. Each anniversary we begin anew, a fresh start to better ourselves and become better people. Here’s hoping we all can all stay gold and be still, and that the calm blue waters wash our souls, and that our hearts are one.