Your first dance as a married couple. It’s part of the wedding canon, and despite the fact many of us do not possess the elusive combination of rhythm and skill required to glide across the dance floor with grace, there are few who eschew the tradition. After all, there’s something nice — even magical — about standing in front of a crowded room and letting everything else melt away as you gaze lovingly into your new partner’s eyes, sharing a tender moment amid a celebration filled with friends, family, and a few near-strangers you don’t remember inviting. Sure, it’s one wedding moment among many, and people may or may not be watching, but that doesn’t mean the first dance isn’t meaningful. And if you’re not one of those couples that already has “a song,” picking the one you’ll call your own is no easy task. Do you pick a classic? Something as unique as the love you share? Something quirky? Something romantic?
Ultimately, it’s up to the two of you. But, if you don’t mind my two cents, these are some old favorites (and a few newer selections) that you should avoid. Sure, most of them are beautiful, moving songs, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t love them for what they are. But take a closer listen to the lyrics, and you’ll realize they probably don’t quite impart the message you want to launch your marriage with.
“When a Man Loves a Woman,” Percy Sledge/Michael Bolton
Putting aside my general aversion to songs that come from the perspective of only one partner (It’s your wedding, after all, shouldn’t it be about the two of you and your shared love?), this song just sounds unhealthy: Baby please don’t treat me bad/When a man loves a woman…she can bring him such misery/If she’s playing him for a fool/he’s the last to know.
I’d hope the bride cares at least a little for her groom, and maybe isn’t playing him?
“Wild Horses,” The Rolling Stones
I love this song. But it’s still a bittersweet song, full of yearning (and not the fun, sexy kind). It’s at least partly inspired by Keith Richards missing his son while on tour, and lyrics like the things you wanted/I bought them for you create a weird, sugar daddy, parent-child vibe for a first dance.
But I’d be able to look past that if the song didn’t eventually go here: I watched you suffer a dull aching pain/Now you decided to show me the same/No sweeping exits or off stage lines/Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind. When you storm out he won’t harbor any bitter feelings, but — you’re still storming out. For your first dance, do you really want a song that hints at vindictive quarrels and attempts to get even? Didn’t think so.
“All For You,” Sister Hazel
90s music is, to borrow a historically-appropriate phrase, “da bomb.” If you planned a reception around a playlist of only songs that peaked between 1990 and 2000, I would probably be trying to become your best friend and/or crash your wedding. But this particular suggestion on a “best wedding songs” playlist shouldn’t be the soundtrack to your first dance.
It’s hard to say/what it is I see in you
I would hope you’d have some loving words for your new mate, or at least some positive qualities to speak of, but okay, sometimes love is hard to articulate.
Wonder if I’ll always be with you
It’s your wedding day, shouldn’t you at least pretend to think it’s going to last?
“No One’s Gonna Love You,” Band of Horses
A hot wedding song for 2013, this one was played at the wedding of at least one celeb (psst, Drew Barrymore). But listen closely — We’re reeling through an endless fall/We are the ever-living ghost of what once was sounds a bit more like the end of a relationship than the beginning, and in that context, the sentiment no one is ever gonna love you more than I do sounds just a little bit abusive, no? Our relationship isn’t doing well, but babe, you’re not going to do any better anywhere else. Lovely.
“Take My Breath Away,” Berlin
This one’s a classic, so clearly I’m the only one who feels this way, but it’s not really a happy song, is it? Sounds like the singer is begging to be bowled over by the one she loves — take my breath away — but it’s just not happening. Watching I keep waiting/still anticipating love. Yep, she’s not getting anything from the object of her affection.
Keep listening, and there are some pretty inauspicious lyrics:
When the mirror crashed I called you — That’s seven years bad luck right there.
Haunted by the notion/somewhere there’s a love in flames — This isn’t a passionate, fiery love, this is a love going down in flames. Not good.
“Every Breath You Take,” The Police
Don’t let the uplifting melody fool you, this is not a happy song. I’m hard-pressed to find any reason why this would be considered a wedding song in the first place, but it is. I don’t know about you, but every step you take/I’ll be watching you sounds pretty damn stalker-y to me.
And what about this gem: Every vow you break/every smile you fake — didn’t you just take the biggest vows of your life?
One love/One blood/One life…with each other. Romantic. But, take it from Bono himself, this is not a happy song. In a 1992 interview with The Los Angeles Times, he said, “I never saw the song as something hopeful or comforting. To me, it was a very bitter song.” It’s about people coming together as one, he explains, but not because they want to — because they have no choice.
If that doesn’t convince you, how about these lyrics?
We hurt each other/Then we do it again…I can’t be holding on/To what you got/When all you got is hurt
Doesn’t paint a particularly happy picture for the future, does it?
“You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You,” Dean Martin
Way to rub it in for all the singles in the room.