Wedding standards and audience participation songs that won’t embarrass you

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Forget “the Chicken Dance,” and instead do the “Thriller Dance” at your wedding. (Photo by Andrew Graham Todes Photography)

A reader asked this question:

I've seen the posts about first dance and father-daughter dance songs that aren't overdone and cheesy. But there's another tune or two that haven't been addressed yet… The overdone “party songs” that everyone knows, and that people (who may or may not be “too cool” for stuff, like myself) will always dance and sing along to. I'm talking about “YMCA,” “Celebration,” “The Chicken Dance,” “The Electric Slide,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” …add your own ad nauseum.

I hate them. I hate how embarrassing and overdone they are. I hate that they're considered “wedding standards.” My fiancé understands, but believes that you must play them for the “older crowd” and because they're “fun.”

My dilemma is this: I kind of agree with him. People usually have fun singing them and/or doing the dance because it's easy and they know it. So I want a middle-of-the-road solution.

I'm on the hunt: What are some well-known, yet not-so-cheesy-and-“standard” songs that I can sub in for the usual wedding tunes?

I want people to know the songs, to dance and to have a good time. I just don't think I can hear “Celebrate good times COME ON!” one more time. And Van Morrison, if you're listening: my eyes are blue.

We thought we'd share a roundup of a few of our suggestions (plus a couple extras I threw in for fun) for ye olde wedding standards that won't embarrass you come dance time.

If you're a lover of the classics, then your job here is done! Have fun doing the YMCA and the Macarena all night long. Hell, I'll even join you in the Electric Slide — I'm damn good at that one. But if you're the type who can't stand to do any other Chicken Dance than this one, then this list is for you…

Group dance songs — Move over “Chicken Dance”

Classic audience pleasers — Celebrate sans “Celebration”

General musical genres and instrumentals — Not just for cocktail hour

You could also just stick to musical genres that lend themselves to danceability like Salsa, Swing, Big Band, Motown, and Jazz standards. And then there was this suggestion from Tribesmaid erinfrisby:

I think throwing in some dance tunes that have those kinds of infectious dance rhythms that allow people to cast aside any self-consciousness could help keep things interesting and diverse. Thai pop, Afro Cuban, Colombian dance music and Nigerian psych rock and soul are just a few ideas.

Now it's your turn. Your favorite non-embarrassing wedding standards — go!

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Comments on Wedding standards and audience participation songs that won’t embarrass you

  1. So much this! I took a page from a bunch of our Tribesmaids and handled all the music myself, and had people complimenting it all night long, and well after the date. I completely avoided the songs that made me cringe, and focused on incorporating the big sing- and/or dance-alongs that made my husband and I happy. Paradise By The Dashboard Light has been a running thing with his friends–the long version–so of course that was there. We did Time Warp in place of any of the corny line dances. We were really heavy on the eighties, but we had some of the “older crowd appeasers” like Happy Together by the Turtles and, as referenced above, Sweet Caroline. Actually, out of the songs Megan recommends, we included 5 or 6.

    Also, if you REALLY want to have a nod to your people, possibly including your parents’ first dances in the evening somewhere will probably make their night. Mine were almost crying when they told me how happy they were that their first dance was in the playlist. However, if you’re going this route, make sure they’re both reasonably early in the night >.>; I ended up planning about half an hour to an hour of extra music, and my bonus parents’ first song (I dislike the term in-law) was too far into the playlist and did not come up. I was sad when I realised it.

    • My husband and I have rickrolled every wedding we’ve ever been to. It’s a fun sort of sport. For our own wedding, we put it on the “Do Not Request” list as *the only song*. We had the last laugh, though, because we had an arrangement with our DJ that while he had to refuse the request (we even put it in our programs), he was to play it at the most random moment so everyone would have the “OH NO HE DIDN’T!” look while we laughed that we rickrolled them.

      It was amazing.

    • We are soooooo rick rolling everyone at our wedding at the end of our first dance. We’re starting it out with Ettta James and then going into Never Gonna Give You Up after the first verse.

  2. A great song for those who can’t dance, but maybe less for the older crowd: Gangnam Style by Psy
    You could rehearse the moves as a couple/recruit a couple of friends/bridal party to show the crowd and everyone follows. Or present it on a screen! The official video is not family friendly, but there are many other versions available.

  3. other song fun to dance, leaves great memories and easy to sing along the chorus “tunuk tunuk tunuk tunuk tunuk tunuk tu da da da” it is a love song but definatly not you average wedding song
    Tunak tunak tun by Daler mehendi
    you can even make your own video to guide people like this school did plus skips the long beginning

    original so bad it is funny video

  4. I would happily dance to any and all of the above suggestions. Bouncy music FTW! And if you want classic- Good Vibrations is another one that will make pretty much everyone happy…

    But SERIOUSLY, folks, really I’m here to make a formal complaint to the wedding authority sprites (I’m sure they’re there somewhere). Why on earth was I not at the wedding featured in the photo?! Corsets, lace, bright colors, top hats, Doctor Who and Thriller…

    • Oh, dear. This is awkward. Your invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. I am so very sorry, and hope to make it up to you by sharing a detail that you may not have noticed. There’s also a very sexy transvestite in that photo.
      It was a beautiful Halloween day- our ceremony was in the cemetery of the school I teach at (the school kids were there!). Halloween or not, my friends all dance to Thriller at weddings, no matter what time of the year it is! We also traditionally dance to Rock Lobster by the B-52s. It was one of the best days of our lives. (And he has had … what… 13 of those now?)

  5. We did a “request a song” in our RSVPs, so alot of these were audience suggested and enjoyed! None involved coordinated dancing, besides a soul train and some Animal House’esque Gator. Oh and Double Dutch Bus: If you’ve never seen it done in public, people rotate holding the “rope” and others dance in the middle and dance. Srsly, so fun and it’s a pretty easy beat, so anyone can dance to it.

    September, Earth Wind & Fire (Our 1st dance song since we wed in Sept.)
    L.A. Woman, The Doors (Depends on your crew, but my parents & their friend’s from high school dance to this at all the weddings so it gets pretty epic.)
    D.A.N.C.E. Justice
    Midnight City, M83 (Young, Old and In-between rocked out hard to this!)
    American Girl, Tom Petty
    Wild Night, Van the Man (In lieu of v. played-out Brown-Eyed Girl)
    Reach Out, I’ll Be There (The Four Tops)
    Sugar Magnolia, Grateful Dead

    Sigh, and now I’ll be listening to our entire playlist tonight!

  6. . . . and I just wanna know who the adorable 10th Doctor is in that picture!

    • That would be the groom! That’s my husband George dressed as Tennant’s Doctor for our Halloween wedding, and I agree that he is adorable. That’s why we have a half Time Lord baby now. 😉

  7. Crowd pleasers from our wedding:

    -Bohemian Rhapsody
    -Toto’s Africa
    -New York, New York (kickline was great fun with everyone)
    -Dancing Queen
    -Time Warp
    -Get Low
    -Hot in Here
    -Bye, Bye, Bye
    -Start Me Up
    -anything classic rock that people will sing along with!

  8. Oh man I LOVE Africa by Toto! I also agree with Start Me Up.

    I occasionally DJ out someplace like a record store and I always bring “The Payback” by James Brown because for some reason people can’t help but dance to it!

    I also think that “Anything Anything” by Dramarama is great because everyone always yells “HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS!” together.

  9. Pop songs that people love almost to the point of irony. I’ve seen Carley Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” work well as a song that gets people on the dance floor. Same with 90s pop throwbacks like Spice Girls, NSYNC & Backstreet Boys. Depending on how internet meme saavy some of your guests are, I’d love to see someone trying playing the Harlem Shake!

    On the classics side of things, songs from the movie Grease, Build Me Up Buttercup, Twist And Shout.

    If you have a party anthem with any of your friends, that is a must play! Even if it’s an inside joke with one group, the enthusiasm will be contagious!

    • As a couple 90s babies we have backstreet boys, n sync, nirvana, and blink-182. We also have music from the 50s, 70s, and 80s as well as Master Tempo, The Bollox, Parov Stelar, and Scott Bradlee. Our Playlist has a variety of favorites/comfort music and off the wall stuff half our guests probably haven’t heard of but could definitely dance to 🙂

  10. I like the classics, and always run towards the dance floor to Johnny Be Goode, Whole Lotta Shaking Going On and of course, Twist and Shout (reminds me of Ferris Bueller).

  11. I’m a huge fan of girly British pop so I definitely intend to play some Spice Girls, Girls Aloud, and Sugababes. My sister opened the dance floor with Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’. I recommended sifting through Motown catalogs too, there are so many danceable gems aside from the classic few that get played. Some other fun ones to consider: Soul Man from Blues Brothers, Fight For Your Right by Beastie Boys, Let’s Go Crazy by Prince, Hounds of Love by Kate Bush, Hell’s Ditch by the Pogues 🙂

  12. I need to hang out on this blog a bit more often so I can see the music posts sooner. 😛 Anyway, while music was the one hiccup for my wedding, I did add these tunes that might be worthwhile: “Play That Funky Music” (Wild Cherry), “Tequila” (The Champs), “Alright” (Jamiroquai), and pretty much any Dave Brubeck Quartet song if you’re feeling a little adventurous (They played around with rhythm and meter, so it may be a bit much for dancing for some people). Oh, and if you’re incorporating Star Trek into your wedding at all, you really ought to consider adding something from S.P.O.C.K. in the playlist. I personally recommend “Dr. McCoy”, which I heard at a party for a sci-fi writer’s convention five years ago and downloaded it within 24 hours because it was so catchy/amusing. 🙂

    • I love all of these songs, especially Tequila. I’m going to add them to my wedding playlist.

  13. Hi All,

    I really love all of the suggestions! Here are some of the songs that I hope everyone at my upcoming shindig will love:

    Jump in the Line – Harry Belafonte
    Flashlight – Parliament
    I Feel Love – Donna Summers
    Rock Steady – Aretha Franklin
    Pride and Joy – Marvin Gaye
    Twisting The Night Away – Sam Cooke
    Don’t Stop the Beat – Junior Senior
    Rock With You – Michael Jackson
    Burning Up for Your Love- Madonna
    Dancing With Myself – Billy Idol
    She Bop -Cyndi Lauper
    American Patrol – Glen Miller
    Just A Gigolo – Louis Prima
    Happy – Pharrell
    Hey, Ya – The Outkast

  14. Inspired by ‘New Girl’ I just wanted to say that my friends and I have done the chicken dance at a few wedding receptions now- but to a random slow song. Makes it a lot less awkward than a couply dance with someone you don’t know that well if you don’t have a date, and it’s actually a lot of fun.

    So, y’know, when it comes to the Chicken Dance, never say never.

  15. Wow great article and amazing song choices!!!! I will definitely be using this list

  16. Ours is a Halloween wedding – we will be playing Thriller (even though actually I loathe everything about MJ, but I do know people love Thriller, and I can tolerate it), and The Time Warp, and I love to dance to Sympathy for the Devil.

  17. I tried not to play those at my wedding in September. My sister, who is 21, requested the “Chicken Dance”. My DJ tried to tell her it was on a no-play list (it wasn’t. I just told him not to play it unless it was specifically requested). My sisters exact words were “I don’t care. She got the wedding, I get this.” It ended up getting more people on the dance floor than had been all night. My sister, cousin, and I (all very pregnant, mind you) ended leading the dance. It turned out to be a lot of fun.

  18. I loved every piece of musical accompaniment from our big day. I was worried our musical tasted would alienate some of our guests but I’m glad we stuck to our guns and kept it authenticity ‘us’.

    I walked down the isle to Red – Rob Simonsen and we exited to You’re So Cool – Hans Zimmer (True Romance). Afternoon Tea was set to the backdrop of Don’t Touch My Nylons – Marie Bryant (a bit cheeky), a bit of Nina Simone, Etta James and The Puppini Sisters.

    Later in the day our evening guests entered the reception room to music from Harry Potter and throughout the meal we played music from our favourite sound tracks. Lots of Thomas Newman and Danny Elfman. This had the unexpected result of lots of our guests playing ‘guess the film’.

    We kicked off the dancing with an hour of 80s music (mostly well know stuff). Then we got to the Goth classics moving into Rock as the night wore on. This meant there was something for most of our guest to get up and shake their bits to, while the older crowd could retire to the venues cafe (our bar for the night and where our games and quizzes were) where we had lots of Jazz and chill-out music through the night.

    It was marvellous, my other half worked really hard putting it all together and we had an amazing night and I think our guests did too.

  19. One of the songs that we ALWAYS include at weddings in my family is “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex. It is so fun and hysterical. Totally adding Time Warp to my list! (What Doctor Who wedding would be complete without it?)

  20. I’ll be playing Shake Your Tailfeather..

    paradise by the dashboard lights is a must, as well as stand by your Man from the blues brothers

  21. Dude. Jump In The Line (Shake Senora) by Harry Belafonte. It’s kind of become the centerpiece of the whole dance party. Show me one person on this Earth who doesn’t start dancing when they hear that song.

  22. Ours was Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Suede, it’s one of my family’s favorite songs! Also we got married the year the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out so everybody knew that song, it was great!

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