While it doesn’t get the attention of some other wedding music, your recessional song is an essential part of the day. As the song played at the end of the ceremony, it’s the first sound of your new marriage. It makes a statement about who who are as a couple while serving a logistically vital function: bringing the ceremony to a close and setting the stage for the reception to come.
Think of your wedding as a musical: what song do you want to play to your crowd before breaking for intermission? How would you like people to feel as the first part comes to a close? You have a lot of leeway with your choice of recessional song, depending on the mood you want to set.
The traditional choice is Mendlesohn’s Wedding March, and as such it’s a sure way to mark the moment for your guests. But there are plenty of other options if you want to go another way. Your song should express optimism and happiness without being overbearing or cheesy. It can be wistful but shouldn’t be too sad. It can be loud or quiet. The key is to choose something that’s true to you as a couple (and that lets people know it’s time to stand up).
Here’s some suggestions for songs that can make the moment pop.
“You Make my Dreams Come True,” Hall and Oates
That bouncing organ riff opening of ‘80s blue-eyed soul classic “You Make my Dreams Come True,” feels like the start of a lucky streak. The lyrics are about finding a long-yearned-for but impossible happiness through love. It’s that rare gushing love song that doesn’t feel cheesy. It’s upbeat, with a lot of energy without being overwhelming. It’s soulful, but not showy.
Pros: Everybody under 70 knows this song and will recognize it instantly.
Cons: A lot of the people recognizing it will flashback to images of a chirpy Joseph Gordon Levitt the moment they hear it. Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing.
“Swept Away [Sentimental Version],” The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers’ “Swept Away” is a song as soft and warm as a candle-lit summer afternoon. The Avetts have recorded several performances of this song about a girl who’s set the singer’s life a-whirling, but their fans say that the sentimental version recorded for their 2004 album Mignonette, is perfect for swooning couples.
Pros: This is a deeply romantic song about being smitten by a partner sung in a plaintiff and vulnerable way.
Cons: Moving though it may be, this is not a high energy song. Your guests might go into the reception a little weepy and sleepy.
“One More Time” by Daft Punk
Not every couple needs a sentimental ceremony closer. As much as they are in love, some people want to lead with fun instead of introspection. From its opening moments, Daft Punk’s driving dance classic crackles with joyous energy, putting your guests in the perfect mood to start your reception.
Pro: This has a high energy celebratory vibe. Also, it repeats the word “celebrate” over and over, in a not-so-subliminal command to have fun.
Con: The “one more time” lyric is a little off brand for a wedding song, as it implies the once-in-a-lifetime event of your marriage is a repeat of something that happened previously.
Florence + The Machine Dog Days Are Over
“Dog Days Are Over” starts with an echo-drenched ukulele strummed quickly, like the second hands on a clock. The spirit of gentle urgency continues with the opening line “happiness hit her like train on a track” and gathers steam as the song steadily builds its manic, giddy energy. It’s like uncorking a bottle of the world’s crispest champagne.
Pro: It’s perfect for a day of celebration and abandon.
Cons: Florence and that machine of hers didn’t leave anything on the table when they recorded this one—the intensity might feel like too much.
“Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder’s classic ode to devoting the entirety of yourself to another person bursts with soul and joy. Riding a funky and infectious bassline, Stevie gladly puts his future in the hands of the person he truly loves. Your guest will dance out of the ceremony—or at least smile.
Pro: It’s a happy and familiar song that each and every one of your guests will know it or at least understand.
Con: Your guests have probably heard this song a lot before, possibly at other weddings: It may feel cliched.
“I Melt With You,” Modern English
The classic ‘80s new wave love song sparkles with acoustic guitars and the excitement of two people finding happiness in each other. The music is so sweet and immediate you’d never know it’s supposed to be about making love during a nuclear war (melting is not a metaphor in this one!), but have something sad around the margins only makes the center feel more joyful.
Pro: It’s an oldie but a goodie your guests will almost all recognize and there’s a wealth of acoustic covers if the original is a little too ‘80s for your taste.
Con: It may remind your guests of this Hershey’s Chocolate advertisement that featured a chirpy cover of the song.
“Do You Realize,” The Flaming Lips
With the ceremony over and the reception ready to begin, you and your new bride will feel lighter than air. The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize” will accent that feeling perfectly. Over folky acoustic guitars and pulsing electronic noise, Lips singer Wayne Coyne explains the universe and your place in it at a moment of peak importance.
Pro: This is a gentle, trippy cosmic anthem reminding listeners of the need to embrace love and happiness.
Con: To illustrate the fleeting nature of life, Wayne Coyne reminds listeners that “everyone you know someday will die,” which, while true, is also a bummer–especially with your elderly Aunt Dorothy standing right there.
“Mr. Brightside” The Killers
The ceremony ends and you and your new bride are filled with an excitement and elation that’s perfectly summed up by the chiming guitar notes and urgent singing at the top of “Mr. Brightside.” The song races from peak to peak, creating an emotional release you didn’t know you needed.
Pro: At the end of the ceremony, this song feels like fireworks going off.
Cons: Do you need fireworks going off at the end of the ceremony? It might be better to softly ease your guests into the party.
“Boy With The Arab Strap,” Belle and Sebastian
It’s easy to imagine the bouncy organ notes that lead off “Boy With The Arab Strap” playing moments after a newly married couple are pronounced man and wife. With Belle and Sebastian’s instruments and sweet vocals are a rushed along by energetic drums and handclaps, the song feels so natural for a happy couple entering a celebration.
Pro: It’s a sweet blast of fresh air that will delight everyone who knows the song and make a gentle impression on everyone hearing it for the first time.
Con: Arab straps are cock rings. Allegedly, Belle and Sebastian didn’t know the meaning when they wrote the song, but someone at your wedding might and they’ll never shut up about it.
“I Found a Reason,” The Velvet Underground
For certain people, there’s no cooler band in history than Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground. With so many of their songs about heroin and sadomasochism, you don’t hear them much at weddings. With its lightly rocking rhythm and airy harmonies, “I Found a Reason,” one of the few Velvet songs right for the occasion.
Pro: it’s an appealing pop song with a dark edge.
Con: The song’s lyrics, while about love, have dark implications. Lou sings “I found a reason to keep living, and that reason is you.” Your guests may focus on why he’d need a reason to live.
“Two of Us,” The Beatles
Just about every Beatles song is famous, so it’s weird that this gem is relatively unknown. The first song on Let it Be is a warm ode to two people’s shared experiences. John Lennon and Paul Mccartney’s voices blend beautifully in harmony and the stripped-down music production brings their musical chemistry to the fore.
Pros: It’s a Beatles song that not everyone in the world is sick of.
Cons: If you listen closely, the song is about a divorce of sorts: “you and I chasing paper, getting nowhere.”
“Such Great Heights,” The Postal Service
If you heard the vocals alone, the vocals and lyrics would be too sweet to handle. On their own, the beeping machine automated instrumentation would feel cold and distant. When paired, they form a love song as fast, intense and delicate as what you’re feeling as the ceremony ends.
Pro: The first verse describes the wonderment of a couple finding perfect alignment. It’s almost too perfect for a wedding.
Cons: The bleeps, bloops and beats may alienate your older guests.
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