Whether you’re booking a band or hiring a DJ (and we’d of course recommend the former), there are always a lot of temptations regarding where to go with a reception playlist. Usually you’ll want to go mostly for music that both represents the era of the relationship and gets people out and dancing. You’ll probably also want to mix in a few common staples like “Shout” (I swear, it's at every wedding) and some common slow dance options. And hey, if you’ve got a really great band going, you might mostly just want to let them do their thing!
We've written before about some more specific guidelines for forming a wedding reception playlist, with different suggestions for different parts of the evening. We've pointed to specific track lists for things like contemporary versus jazzy dinner background, old school dance versus regular reception dance music, etc. And it's definitely not a bad idea to chop up your reception into categories like these rather than simply going for a total playlist without consideration for the different stages of the party.
With all that said, however, you can also make the wedding reception more interesting by throwing in a few unexpected songs that people will recognize but not see coming. That’s not to say you should go completely nuts with the track list, but it does mean it can be fun to look for some inspiration that might be unexpected. While we don't include any of these songs on our own list, these are a few ideas of the sorts of things that might work.
Alt-Rock Twists For A First Dance
Let’s be honest: most traditional first dance songs are a little bit old fashioned at this point. That’s not to say they aren’t lovely, and in some cases they strike the absolute perfect tone for a wedding. But if you want something more from your own time, consider looking into some soft twists on alt-rock numbers. Groups from Third Eye Blind and Coldplay to Modest Mouse and the Foo Fighters all have tracks that can work very well for this sort of idea. In fact, an article on rock first dance songs mentioned an acoustic cover of “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters as the best option! Depending on what music you can find or what your band is up to, we’d also recommend acoustic takes on “Never Let You Go” by Third Eye Blind, “All I Want Is You” by U2, or “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls. If you really want to change things up, acoustic versions of Blink-182’s “The Rock Show” can be surprisingly pleasant, though you may want to just play the real song later in the reception.
Classic Rock For Ramping Things Up
We think of classic rock as belonging to a fairly distinct era. But the truth is that its “heyday” basically spread across parts of three or four decades, and a lot of the music is timeless. This has been proven of late by the Guns N’ Roses revival. With elements from pop culture making appearances on internet games more and more frequently, GNR helped a casino developer to design a band-themed slot reel a couple of years ago, and from that point it was on to the races. The slots were fun, but the band’s reappearance at Coachella and subsequent tour really put them back on the map – because people still really enjoy this kind of music. Of course there are some harder tracks that aren’t really suitable for most weddings. But from GNR’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine” to tracks like Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” or Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” you can have a lot of fun infusing some classic rock i nto the reception.
Tracks From Popular Films
Soundtracks in films seem to be getting more important these days, or at least we seem to be hearing about them more. For this reason, turning to a popular film for some playlist inspiration can be a great way to keep things current. This past summer’s surprise hit Baby Driver is one place to look, where tracks like “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and “Brighton Rock” by Queen made a huge impact and should be back on people’s radars. You might also think of a track like “Jane” by Jefferson Starship, which has been made famous for a a new generation as the cheerful intro music to the Netflix show Wet Hot American Summer. Or, of course, you could just revisit 2016’s La La Land, which churned out all kinds of fun original music. Director Damien Chazelle, who also helmed Whiplash and has a musical series comin g to Netflix, definitely seems to have his finger on the pulse of what gets people going with live music.
Funk & Soul To Switch Up The Mood
This is where we'd come in! Looking through our play list you'll see a lot of tracks that are actually relatively common at modern weddings, and which can suit just about any venue and mood. "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, for instance, is still a fairly trendy track, and songs like Marvin Gaye's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" always fit in, even if they're a little bit less relevant to younger couples sometimes. But dig a little bit deeper and you'll find some funk, soul, and R&B that you may not have thought of before, but which might work beautifully to change up the mood during a reception celebration.
Again, these are just a few scattered ideas to get the ball rolling, and with the exception of that last category, not the sorts of things that we'd specifically play (though we'll learn a few new songs specially for a given booking sometimes). But generally speaking, you’d do well to look beyond your own song collections and favorite hits when working on a reception playlist. Adding some inspired variety can turn the party up a notch!