Once the cake has been cut, served, Instagramed, and devoured, all the most emotional and, potentially, stressful moments of your wedding should be safely tucked beneath your belt. There’s just one more age-old tradition to tackle before you can loosen your tie and really celebrate: your first dance. And if you don’t want to trip up on this essential part of the festivities, you better have a killer song cued up.
Some couples have a tough time nailing down the perfect track because they want a song that resonates with all their guests but–as evidenced by the existence of Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch Cheetos and the phrase “bestselling author James Patterson”–everyone has different tastes.
Your grandparents might be expecting something from the swing era, while your younger friends would probably prefer something newer than “Minnie The Moocher.” But, hey, who are we to pigeonhole your family? For all we know, your grandparents dropped some molly right after dessert, changed into their rainbow rave gear and are ready to start throwing shapes with a little Skrillex.
In the end, this moment belongs to you and your wife. The perfect first-dance wedding song is one that you both love, one that reflects your relationship, and one that you’ll still want to shuffle around to at your 50th anniversary.
Here are some of our favorites from across the musical spectrum…
BEST FIRST DANCE WEDDING SONGS: POPULAR ESSENTIALS
At Last by Etta James
While Beyoncé, Celine Dion, Cyndi Lauper, Martina McBride, and more have recorded popular covers of this song, you can’t beat Etta James’ ultra-soulful 1961 version. With its lush string arrangement, At Last is a cool and classy ode to true romance.
Make You Feel My Love by Adele
If you want to go for the full Adele effect—i.e., all your guests have a good ugly cry—will love Adele’s take on this stunning Bob Dylan track. Featuring a sparse arrangement and haunting melodies, this tune is guaranteed to pull every heartstring in the room. If you want to keep real, go for the original from Bob Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind” album.
Marry Me by Train
This first-dance favorite might feel like it was engineered in a lab by a team of wedding planners, but it works like a charm. Again, there won’t be a dry eye in the house after you sweep your bride off her feet with this acoustic heartbreaker.
Storybook Love (from “The Princess Bride”) by Willy DeVille and Mark Knopfler
It’s inconceivable that anyone could not love the ’80s movie “The Princess Bride.” So, if your little lady wants a storybook first dance, there’s only one thing you can say: As you wish.
BEST FIRST DANCE WEDDING SONGS: COUNTRY AND FOLK
We Can Make It by George Jones
If you’re a classic country fan who can’t dance and wants the spotlight off your two left feet as soon as possible, we’ve got you covered. Clocking in at a hair over two minutes, We Can Make It is a short, simple, aspirational essential that even a trained chimp (or a terrified newlywed) can dance to.
Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show
Some folks might think this song is a bit raunchy for a first dance, what with lines like “rock me mama like a south bound train.” But this is a wedding after all. What’s wrong with the groom showing that he’s got the hots for his wife?
Swept Away by The Avett Brothers
We recommended this for the Recessional song and we’re going to recommend it again here. “With your heart my soul is bound/And as we dance, I surely know that some kinda of heaven will be found.” Featuring lyrics like that and some seriously sweet harmonies, this is an undeniably awesome first dance song. Plus, there’s a line about “twirling on the floor.” Dude, that’s your cue to give your bride a little spin.
I Don’t Dance by Lee Brice
Here’s another one for all you hesitant dancers out there. With this song as your theme, everyone will appreciate you awkwardly stepping out of your comfort zone and tearing up the dance floor with multiple dips, spins and splits. No pressure.
BEST FIRST DANCE WEDDING SONGS: MODERN FAVORITES
Perfect by Ed Sheeran
You can’t have a list of modern wedding songs without a little Ed Sheeran. This recent track from 2017 is an instant first-dance classic. If you want to add a little Queen Bey to your big day, there’s also a duet version with Beyoncé.
You Are The Best Thing by Ray LaMontagne
First-dance songs don’t always have to be tear-soaked ballads. Why not kick your marriage off with a healthy dose of swagger and passion? You Are the Best Thing from Ray LaMontagne is a fun and raucous way to show off your love and your moves.
Places We’ll Go by Nate Michael
You might not have heard of Nate Michael yet but his ballad, Places We’ll Go, is definitely going to be a future wedding classic. Get in on it now for eternal “we played it first” cred.
Somebody To Love by Valerie June
In addition to mainstream artists and chart-topping hits, we also want to highlight some incredibly talented artists that you might not know—like Valerie June. Give this sweet song 10 seconds and you’ll be imagining a truly heartfelt first dance.
BEST FIRST DANCE WEDDING SONGS: ALTERNATIVE
Melt With You by Nouvelle Vague (and Modern English)
Another song we’ve recommended before, Melt with You by Modern English has had “our song” written all over it for alternative-loving couples since it debuted in 1982. Nouvelle Vague’s swaying, bossa-nova-tinged cover sounds like it was custom cut for a first dance. Expert tip: If you really want to bring the house down, have your DJ cut from the Nouvelle Vague version (around the 2:40 mark) to the Modern English original (around 3:04) for the final chorus, while you and your bride cut loose and dance like maniacs.
The Book of Love by Magnetic Fields
Musically raw and lyrically vulnerable, this expressive masterwork sounds like it was torn straight from songwriter Stephin Merritt’s melancholy heart. Slow dance to this one and the feels will be flowing. If you want to sample other versions, check out the Peter Gabriel and Gavin James covers.
Sea of Love by Langhorne Slim & Jill Andrews
As you’re sailing off into your personal sea of love, let this rootsy duet be your guide with its extremely appropriate lyrics of holding on to your true love when the water gets rough.
First Day Of My Life by Bright Eyes
This one’s a heartbreaker. Even if you don’t want to use the song for a first dance, you should sit down and watch the video with your fiancé. Fair warning: All you tough guys out there better start complaining about allergies before you get all misty in front of your lady.
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