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Don't let a slow, introspective song crash your wedding reception. (Courtesy of New Line Cinema)

The Good Listener: How Do You Pick The Songs For Your Wedding?

Jul 7, 2013 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Stock photos never show couples dancing to Salt N Pepa's "Push It," because stock photos are a lie. Remember: Wedding dances are for dancing.

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Click the audio link on this page to hear The Good Listener columnist Stephen Thompson and Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin discuss the intricacies of wedding music — where and when to play everything from sacred music to Salt N Pepa's "Push It." (The column below originally appeared on June 20, 2013.)

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the 30-plus copies of the latest CD by Jordanian singer Zade is a slew of questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, the challenge of whittling down a list of songs to play at a wedding.

Kim writes: "I'm getting married in July, and the DJ is allowing my fiancÚ and me to pick 10 must-play songs. I am struggling with this. Every time I make a list, depending on my mood, it's always something different — about the only thing that's consistent is Van Morrison's 'Into the Mystic' and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You.' Any advice on how to narrow this down to just 10 songs?"

Reading your letter for the first time, I was immediately overcome with righteous indignation: How dare your wedding DJ dictate how many songs you yourself get to choose at your own wedding? Your DJ works for you, not the other way around! This is your day, dammit!

In fact, I'd worked myself into such a lather that it took me a minute or two to think: How in the holy hell are your wedding guests supposed to dance to "Into the Mystic"? You can sway to "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," but "Into the Mystic" isn't a song for dancing so much as standing around in admiration. Only a stubborn few would argue that "Into the Mystic" is intrinsically inferior to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It," but I know which one I consider the best thing about wedding receptions.

Assuming you do stick to 10 must-play songs, I recommend making yourself a big list of everything you'd love to hear at your wedding — check back every few days in order to capture a decent cross-section of your moods — and then cross-reference that list against a list of songs to which wedding guests are likely to actually dance. (Good wedding DJs are happy to help with this sort of thing.) "Into the Mystic" would go great on a mix of music to play in the background during dinner, but once the reception is in full swing, you want songs that fit both your relationship and the occasion of your friends and relatives getting together to embarrass themselves.

Finally, I encourage you and your fiancÚ to document the occasion by making each other a mix CD — songs that capture how you feel as you embark on married life together. Put the songs that are most important to you there, and think of it as a soundtrack to your vows. Each disc will be a lovely and eternal keepsake, but just as importantly, it'll lessen the pressure to get every song right when it comes time to dance. Your wedding is just a party, so focus on the songs that will make it fun for everyone. The most important music is in the marriage.

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at allsongs@npr.org or tweet @allsongs.

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