There’s nothing like a good song to get a wedding reception started and, every decade, couples add more top wedding songs to the ever-growing list of popular wedding music to play during the party.
As the tri-state’s local resource for the best wedding bands in NYC, our musicians and DJs have played them all.
Whether it’s a romantic ballad for the couple’s first dance or a high-energy tune that gets every guest rushing to the dance floor, there’s no question that some songs stand the test of time.
Kevin Osborne of the Kevin Osborne Band says,
“I’ve noticed a resurgence with brides and grooms loving the music their parents love, because it’s what they listened to when they were growing up. Not just Top 40 of today but the Top 40 for the last 50 years.”
In this comprehensive list, we’ll uncover some of the top, most popular songs that dominated wedding receptions in every decade. Most are classics that are still played today by both live wedding bands and DJs, strategically mixed in with the most current top 40 hits on the radio.
“Segues from one song to the next are so important,” adds Carlos Estrella, band leader of Estrella, a Hank Lane Music group. It’s fun to mix songs from different decades every now and then. It keeps the crowd guessing and gives something for every generation.”
Whether you are looking for upbeat tunes to pull your guests out of their seats, sweet serenades for your first dance as a couple, unconventional ceremony music to walk down the aisle or nostalgic melodies for your daddy-daughter dance, you’re sure to find every score you need as we journey through the decades!
Starting in the 1950’s
A time of excitement and celebration, America was coming out of war and ready to party! Rock and Roll was becoming wildly popular, accompanied by jazz and doo-op on the Billboard charts. (Ref: 12)
Love Me Tender
Billboard nominated Elvis Presley as the artist of the decade in the 50’s. His single “Love Me Tender,” is a perfect first dance song. After being pre-ordered 1 million times, it became the first song to go gold before even being released. (Ref: 8)
I Walk the Line
Johnny Cash’s first number 1 single “I Walk the Line” was a promise to his wife Vivian that he would remain loyal while on tour. It became popular in 2005 again when the movie of the same title came out starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon. (Ref: 9)
Dean Martin’s Italian classic gained popularity from the film “The Caddy” in 1953, and was nominated for an Academy award as Best Song of the year. Audiences love its exotic and foreign love story; in 1997 it was played in the hit comedy “Friends” when Monica and Pete fly on a spontaneous getaway to Italy. (Ref: 33)
Ritchie Valen’s upbeat traditional Mexican folk song became a huge hit at weddings. Originally released in 1958, the song speaks about climbing the ladder to heaven and is filled with optimism. It is very popular with mariachi bands, and the title can be roughly translated to, “Swing.” (Ref: 34)
The popular 1959 song “Shout” by the Isley Brothers is a crowd favorite.
“You can never go wrong with a song that people love to chant and sing along to,” states Carlos Estrella.
In the 1980’s, brides objected to this song being played at their weddings, as not to be associated with the wild college fraternity “Animal House” movie. However, it has since reclaimed popularity on dance floors as a song everybody can get involved with. (Ref: 11)
Other great songs from the 50’s include:
- Jail House Rock – Elvis Presley
- Love and Marriage – Frank Sinatra
- Come Fly Away – Frank Sinatra
- Dream a Little Dream of Me – Ella Fitzgerald
1960’s – A Time for Peace and Love
Some of the best love songs come from the 1960’s, including one of the most popular wedding songs of all time:
“At Last,” by Etta James is considered James’ most famous, and most covered song; it was originally written for the musical “Orchestra Wives.” (Ref: 10)
“L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole is another wedding classic. It was released in 1965, but became popular again as the opening song in Disney’s remake of “The Parent Trap” in 1998. (Ref: 13)
I Got You Babe
The infamous duet by Sonny and Cher was thought to be “anti-war” by some because of the lyric, “They say your hair’s too long, I don’t care, with you I can’t go wrong.” In 1993 the song dropped in popularity due to Bill Murray’s character being woken up by it every single day during the film “Groundhog Day.” (Ref: 35)
Can’t Help Falling In Love With You
One of Elvis Presley’s later hits, “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” was featured in the artist’s “Blue Hawaii” film. Although this is one of Elvis’s most popular love songs, in the movie he actually sings it to his grandmother while giving her a music box as a gift. (Ref: 36)
Twist & Shout
While the 60s may get credit for some of the most romantic, peace-loving tunes, there were still a handful of chart-topping party favorites that came out of this decade too, including “Twist & Shout.”
Although it was written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and covered by several musicians, it was The Beatles that made this song the dance floor classic it is today.
A hit from day 1, landing a #2 spot on the billboard charts when it was released in 1964, this cover only gained more traction when it appeared as a feature soundtrack song in the wildly successful 1986 pop culture movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Because of this, “Twist & Shout” is one of those wedding reception songs that seems to appeal to nearly every generation. (Ref: 1)
Band leader of the Steve Delisi Band with Hank Lane Music, Steve Delisi, says,
“Certain songs are timeless and as I like to say, ‘can make the dead get up and dance.’” One of those is “Unchained Melody” the famous ballad by the Righteous Brothers originally recorded in the mid 1960’s. Other people know it as the song from the film “Ghost” that starred the late Patrick Swayze in 1990. Either way, when the song is played you can guarantee the dance floor will fill up.”
Other love songs from the time include:
- When a Man Loves a Woman – Percy Sledge
- Can’t Take My Eyes off You – Frankie Valli
- How Sweet it Is – Marvin Gaye
- My Girl – The Temptations
- And of course… Every Beatles song ever! (Ref: 14)
1970’s – The Disco Age
In the 1970’s weddings became less formal, were often outside, and incorporated lots of upbeat dance tunes into their receptions.
Harris Lane, Hank Lane Music company president, likes to play “good ammunition songs” such as “Shut Up & Dance,” by Walk The Moon, “September,” by Earth Wind & Fire, and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” by Marvin Gaye. Why are these good ammunition songs?
“Other than being popular,” says Lane, “they invoke a good feeling in people and they have strong musical ‘hooks’ that people sing along to. Plus the beats make them danceable!”
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
Who can resist Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop til you Get Enough”? When the song was being written, Randy and Janet Jackson reportedly tapped on soda cans to help Michael come up with the infectious beat. (Ref: 15)
You Are So Beautiful
Another classic first dance song, “You Are So Beautiful to Me”, was made famous by Joe Cocker who covered the original by Billy Preston and Bruce Fisher in his 1974 album. In 2008, former President Bush’s daughter, Jenna, selected this song for her Father-Daughter dance. (Ref: 2 & 3)
I’ll Be There
A great option for a Father-Daughter dance is the Jackson 5’s most successful single ever, “I’ll Be There,” written by Berry Gordy, Hal Davis, and Willie Hutch. The song was re-popularized by Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz in 1992 live performance. (Ref: 43)
First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)
Roberta Flack’s beautiful love song about love at first sight won the Grammy for Best Song of the Year in 1972. It remained number one on the charts for six weeks and was featured in the Clint Eastwood movie “Play Misty for Me.” It has been covered by many notable artists including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. (Ref: 37)
Nobody Does It Better
This song was written specifically for the James Bond movie, “The Spy Who Loved Me.” It peaked at number 2 on the charts, and is one of Carly Simon’s most famous singles. (Ref: 38)
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
In recent years, couples have shifted from traditional church-style ceremony music to more modern choices and classic pop hits. Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” is one of them. Used primarily as a recessional tune after the “I Do’s” have been said, it’s a fitting title for the moment. (Ref: 44)
Band leader Michael Hart has played this Motown classic for both ceremonies and as a rollicking dance tune that consistently packs the dance floor. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” is an all time dance classic.
Other fun 1970’s tunes include:
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Get Down Tonight – KC and the Sunshine band
- Long and Winding Road (The Beatle’s very last #1 song in the US) – The Beatles
- Best of My Love – The Emotions (which won a Grammy for best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance) (Ref: 16)
Estrella notes, “a favorite of mine from the Seventies is to segue from Earth Wind and Fire’s classic “September” into “Love Train” by the O’Jays and then I hit hard with “Disco Inferno.”
1980’s – Wild Party, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll
Although weddings reverted back to formal affairs, emulating the momentous Princess Di wedding, the music released in the 1980’s had a fun flair and Hard Rock edge to it.
An 80’s song can really set a scene. As Steve Delisi puts it,
“It’s about creating moments and setting the right tone for an event or wedding to be successful, musically. What I have been doing lately is something that might seem way out of the box for brides and grooms as an entrance song. In understanding that most of my clients that want a super high- energy wedding, recently, I have been performing “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N Roses as an entrance song. The first three minutes of the song truly lends itself for a great entrance, with the famous guitar riff going into the undertones of the drums finally ending with the bride and groom’s entrance. It lights the venue up!”
Prince’s song “1999” was recorded in 1982, but topped the charts for a second time in 1999 at the end of the millennium. It is the only song to ever chart in the year it was named after. (Ref: 17)
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
For decades, this was the signature song to which single bridesmaids danced and leaped their way onto the dance floor to catch the bride’s bouquet. Although it was written and recorded by Robert Hazard in 1979, it was Cyndi Lauper that brought the song its popularity in 1983. It’s considered her breakthrough hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Ref: 7)
Take My Breath Away
Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” from “Top Gun” was a part of the best-selling movie soundtrack ever. It humorously was also often used as the background music in many Michael Jordan highlight reels! (Ref: 18)
Celebration & The Electric Slide
While many think that a wedding isn’t really a wedding unless Kool and The Gang’s “Celebration” and Marcia Griffith’s “Electric Slide” are played, these days Hank Lane bands are typically asked to avoid these particular songs. Ric Silver was hired to choreograph the famous dance for a club opening, but its simplicity caused it to gain popularity at weddings all across the country! (Ref: 19)
Like “The Macarena” of the Nineties, these are songs, while immensely popular during their time, the fact that they reached such fad status and were so grossly overplayed, makes them songs that many would just as soon forget.
It’s not just a name. Many believe that Miami Sound Machine single-handedly brought the conga line tradition to American weddings with the release of this hit!
It’s also the song that Gloria Estefan credits to putting them on the map. (Ref: 4) “Conga” and a lot of other Gloria Estefan hits are currently enjoying a renaissance on Broadway in the autobiographical hit musical “On Your Feet.”
“Certainly one of the biggest groups and artists from the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s was Genesis and Phil Collins who went on to a stellar solo career. Yet, of all of the artists from that decade, brides and grooms practically never put in request for any of his songs in spite of the fact that Phil Collins had so many hits. Last year, one client put in a request for Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” I questioned it at first to myself, because it starts off so slow…but then it builds after a signature Phil Collins drum “fill” (Collins is a drummer as well as a lead singer) to an exciting finish. I used the song to close out the night. The reaction floored me. I’ve been using it as my closing song pretty much every time since! At a recent wedding the groom was also a drummer. When he heard the song start, he knew what was coming…that signature Phil Collins drum fill that signaled the song moving into a higher gear. He just had to get in on it and came up to the stage. We let him sit in on the song and of course the crowd went wild!” – Michael Hart, Hank Lane Music Bandleader
Other popular wedding songs from this time include:
- PYT – Michael Jackson
- I Want To Know What Love Is – Foreigner
- Greatest Love of All – Whitney Houston
- Wake Me Up Before You Go Go – Wham
- Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard
- I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross
- Whip It – Devo
“It’s a song like “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey,” says Carlos Estrella, “that gets the crowd going crazy. It’s become a big crowd pleaser in recent years, probably after it was used in the final episode of “The Sopranos.” My band does it a little differently, though. We prefer to do the dance or club mix version of that song as opposed to the original rock version. Same thing with “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi – another super popular Eighties rock dance tune. We also prefer to do a dance mix version. We give it a House Music/Club feel! The key for me is to sound different than every other band out there. We all do a lot of the same songs, but what distinguishes us is the flavor and soul that we put into each one.”
The 90s swept in a variety of wedding music selections; some only popular in that day and others still standing the test of time. From first dances to father-daughter ballads and even line dance songs, this was a decade that brought wedding music variety.
Equally loved and dreaded by wedding attendees, “The Macarena” might be the most memorable addition the 1990’s made to weddings. The Macarena was released in 1995, was number one on the charts for 9 weeks, and broke the record by staying in the top 100 for 60 weeks straight!
The world record for the most people performing the dance was broken in the United Kingdom by 2,219 people dancing in synchronization. In 1996, over 50,000 people unofficially danced the dance together at a Yankees game. (Ref: 20)
Today, for Hank Lane Music clients at any rate, the “dreaded” Macarena is on virtually every client’s “do not play” list.
If slow dancing is more your style, the 1990’s also brought gorgeous love ballads including:
I Will Always Love You
Brilliantly created by Dolly Parton, as a tribute to the man who helped her get her start in the music industry, this song was brought to the masses by Whitney Houston who performed it for the movie The Bodyguard. (Ref: 5)
Can You Feel the Love Tonight
The world was graced with the beauty of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” by Elton John, from Disney’s the Lion King. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was up against two other songs from the same film, both by John. (Ref: 21)
Feels Like Home
The popular ‘90s television show “Dawson’s Creek,” made “Feels Like Home,” by Chantal Kreviazuk incredibly popular as a first dance song. (Ref: 22)
Always Be My Baby
This song wasn’t just a first dance favorite in the ‘90s, it was also the tune that helped Mariah Carey break some impressive records. The song is credited as being Carey’s 11th chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100, bringing her head-to-head with both Madonna and Whitney Houston for most number one singles for a female artist. (Ref: 6)
The ‘90’s also provided some top notch Father-Daughter dance songs:
Because You Loved Me
Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” was written for song writer Diane Warren’s father as a thank you for supporting her music career. (Ref: 24)
“Butterfly Kisses,” by Bob Carlisle won the 1997 Grammy for Best Country Song, and while overly saccharine, is consistently a top choice for father-daughter dances (Ref: 23)
Natalie Cole’s remake of “Unforgettable” was rereleased in 1992 as a duet with her father, Nat King Cole, making it a lovely and popular selection for father-daughter or mother-son dances. (Ref: 25) It’s a great male/female duet for wedding bands.
The Way You Look Tonight
Written in the 1930s, this great American standard has been recorded by many artists from Frank Sinatra to Michael Buble’. But it was Tony Bennett’s version that helped to propel it’s popularity during the 1990’s which continues to today, after appearing on the sound track to the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding, starring Julia Roberts. (Ref: 26)
The Cha Cha Slide
Just as the Macarena touched the ‘90’s, The Cha Cha Slide animated the 2000’s. Written and Choreographed by Mr. C, this simple line dance was originally created for an aerobics workout class. Mr. C also created The Cupid Shuffle, making him the Godfather of popular 2000’s line dances! (Ref: 27) Like most line dances, Hank Lane Music wedding clients typically request to avoid them.
Beyonce gives Cyndi Lauper a run for her money by taking over the bride’s bouquet toss with her hit “Single Ladies”. It won three Grammy’s and is now arguably the most popular bouquet toss song for the single bridesmaids at the reception. (Ref: 28)
Lucky & I’m Yours
Jason Mraz had two popular first dance songs come out: “Lucky,” featuring Colbie Caillat, and “I’m Yours.” Mraz says “I’m Yours,” is about “generosity. About giving yourself or your time to someone or something else.” (Ref: 29)
A Moment Like This
Kelly Clarkson’s hit “A Moment Like This,” was a popular first dance song, and is now often associated with honeymoons, after being played on the Sandals Resort’s television commercials. (Ref: 30)
Other 2000’s hits include:
- No One – Alicia Keys
- Come Away With Me – Norah Jones
- I Loved Her First – Heartland
2010 to Now – Today’s Trending Wedding Songs
And here we are! Today’s top trending weddings songs are fun, sweet and totally romantic.
Just the Way You Are & Marry You
Bruno Mars’ songs, “Just the Way You Are,” and “Marry You,” have become increasingly popular for weddings; not only as entrance and first dance songs, but as songs for proposals and engagement videos. (Ref: 31)
It Won’t Be Like This for Long
A sweet father-daughter choice is Darius Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This for Long.” (Ref: 32)
Thinking Out Loud
Sentimental Ed Sheeran tunes have become a staple at modern weddings. Spotify recently released research stating “Thinking Out Loud” is the number one song labeled the name “First Dance” on their music platform. (Ref: 39)
“Happy,” is a modern twist on the childhood classic “If Your Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.” Sure to get guests of all ages up out of their seat and clapping to the rhythm, Pharrell’s number one hit from “Despicable Me 2” was the best-selling song of 2014.
It remained number one for 10 weeks before being topped by another wedding favorite, John Legend’s “All of Me.” (Ref: 40) According to band leader Steve Delisi it is used by a number of Hank Lane bands as an upbeat “opener” as wedding guests enter a ballroom before the bride and groom.
All Of Me
Speaking of “All of Me,” John Legend’s most popular hit and his first number one song in the US, was written for his fiancé at the time, Chrissy Teigen. Legend later sang the song to Teigen at their own wedding. A remix of the song won Best Remixed Recording at the 2015 Grammy’s. (Ref: 41 & 42)
Other popular hits from 2010 and on include:
- Uptown Funk – Bruno Mars
- One Call Away – Charlie Puth
- God Gave Me You – Blake Shelton
- Make You Feel My Love (cover of 1997 Bob Dylan) – Adele
- Take Me the Way I Am – Ingrid Michaelson
How to Read and Please a Crowd
With so many great options from every decade and only so many hours to play music at your event, how do you pick which songs to play?
No matter what genre of music you’re drawn to or whether you chose to take advantage of today’s “mash-up” options to get that two-in-one effect, picking a wide range of songs from all decades can guarantee all of your guests hear something they love.
It’s all about your unique crowd and your taste as a couple.
Karen Lloyd, the Hank Lane Music band leader for the Karen Lloyd Band, summarizes,
“I hate to have to talk about the “great songs” that always work, simply because every party is different. One of the things I pride myself on is really getting to know the client and figuring out what types of songs will be the songs that help “make special moments” during the course of the night for them and for their guests. Some crowds really respond much better to purely Top 40, while others respond best to more retro songs. Some prefer to mix in classic rock to the dance music, while others prefer to mix in classic soul and funk. I’m even seeing a resurgence of 70s disco in certain crowds, where other crowds would totally not be into it. It’s really about customizing the music flow to the type of crowd it is. And that’s something that, as a bandleader, I strive to deliver to ensure a maximum celebration on the dance floor!”