The 13 Best Wedding Reception Songs, Ranked

The 13 Best Wedding Reception Songs, Ranked 1

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We’re in the thick of wedding season—that stretch from June to September where you’re expected to wear a full suit in the dead of summer to join two lives together in holy matrimony. I’m always happy to see good people make their love legally binding, but if I’m going spend $ 49.99 on a wine decanter that you’re not going to use, then I’m going to need you to have a playlist that bops.

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The wedding reception playlist is a science. You have to find that balance between pleasing your guests and keeping garbage out of the speakers. As FiveThirtyEight notes, that garbage has even prompted people to ban certain songs.

While the above list is not without its flaws (no one should ban “Love Shack,” for instance), it makes sense. Let that first hour be all about the love and devotion, but after dinner is over, the music should be what sets the tone for the rest of the night. Instead of focusing on the negative, we ranked the thirteen best songs to kick off a lifetime of love and happiness.

Some rules:

  • No song with dancing instructions or song-length dancing expectations will be considered. There is no “right foot, two stomps” on this list because I’m tired of you pretending that you know how to cha cha.
  • Ed Sheeran is specifically for the married couple. If he is played after the first hour of the reception, it’s a wedding travesty. This includes “Shape of You,” and anything else he “raps” in.
  • Meghan Trainor has been permanently banned from this list, as she is the Tonya Harding of Wedding Music.

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    13. “Come On Eileen” – Dexys Midnight Runners

    This is specifically for that person in your family who insists he’s Irish, even though this song is definitely from England. People get amped for “Come on Eileen,” even if most of the lyrics make very little sense at all. It’s a crowd pleaser with a great beat. Too Ra Loo Ra Aye responsibly.

    12. “You Are The Best Thing” – Ray LaMontagne

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    If you are looking for a slower song with a strong beat, look no further. A solid follow up to “Shout!” or something equally exhausting, Ray knows how to take it down a couple notches and make it romantic. It’s the kind of song that doesn’t require you to know how to slow dance, but makes you feel like you do regardless.

    11. “YMCA” – The Village People

    If you think you can have a wedding playlist and skip out on every party anthem, you’ve never planned a wedding. But you can curb people’s appetites by offering them the best of those anthems—”YMCA.” It’s also low key about young gay men in the ’70s cruising for sex, so between drunken bouts of Uncle Greg telling your friends how “he doesn’t mind homosexuals, as long they don’t do it in front of his kids,” you can watch him throw up a Y for all that gay disco sex.

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    10. “Footloose” – Kenny Loggins

    Again, this is a perfect example of the kind of song that feels like a dance anthem but actually has no understood dance that goes along with it. People hear “Footloose” and feel obligated to dance. At their core, that’s what wedding playlist songs are supposed to do. The wobble is not a dance—it’s the vertical expression of erectile dysfunction. “Footloose” though? That’s a jam worth dancing to.

    9. “At Last” – Etta James

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    This is an interesting choice because if the couple chooses it as their first dance, it’s a big yawn. It’s also the sign that the couple is super unoriginal and doesn’t have a song. But if it comes on as a surprise interjection during the reception, it’s the perfect slow song to share with someone you want to be a little closer to.

    8. “We Found Love” – Rihanna, Calvin Harris

    This is what gets the party started again after Etta makes her rounds. Rihanna comes to your wedding with no gimmicks, stupid dances, or singalongs. She just wants you to have a damn good time at this Sunday-Best-Fast-Casual-Creative-Black-Tie wedding.

    7. “Don’t Stop Believin'” – Journey

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    You can’t mess with a classic. If there’s a song at the reception that the whole crowd will know every word to, it’s probably Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” This isn’t so much a dance anthem, but a song where everyone stands in place and offers glances of affirmation to those around them for being so passionate about “STREET LIGHTS! PEOPLE!”

    6. “Love On Top” – Beyoncé

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    If four key changes don’t get wedding guests on their feet, you need to go to a different wedding.

    5. “Dancing In The Moonlight” – King Harvest

    “Dancing in the Moonlight” is highly underrated. As the only successful single from French-American band King Harvest, it’s also quite the legacy to leave behind. It’s just one of those songs everyone knows as soon as they hear it.

    4. “Valerie” – Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson

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    Weddings are complicated because if you play all oldies, then you lose a younger crowd. If you don’t tip a hat to the old favorites, you alienate all the aunts and uncles in the room. Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson’s “Valerie” is the perfect crossover. With one of the greatest voices of this generation set against a melody that sounds like a throwback to the late ’60s, “Valerie” is wedding song prime rib.

    3. “You Make My Dreams” – Hall & Oates

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    Always a banger, I blame (500) Days of Summer for this song’s introduction to the wedding reception canon. With the danceability of “Footloose” and the lyric recognition of “YMCA,” the Hall & Oates special is exactly the kind of song you’re looking for after the drinks start hitting.

    2. “Kiss” – Prince

    “Kiss” is a total ringer. You don’t have to know the lyrics particularly well to get behind the beat. It’s a good entryway song because it’s not so fast that you’re intimidated, but it sets the scene: this a wedding where we’re ready to say goodbye to these overly emotional father-daughter dances and get to what’s important: ’80s pop and rock music.

    1. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – Whitney Houston

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    The understated crown jewel of every wedding reception. No one immediately thinks to get this on the playlist queue, but every time it comes on, people say, “Oh shit. Whitney. This overly iced buttercream cupcake can wait!” And this Whitney is top of the heap because she’s speaking directly to you—you do want to dance with somebody! Weddings make even the strongest-willed among us a little soft, and by night’s end, you want to feel the heat with somebody. Preferably someone who loves you.

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    Lifestyle – Esquire

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