As you think about the playlist for your wedding hopefully you are considering all of your guests. Which means you’ll want your DJ or band to play a few “oldies” to satisfy the more “seasoned” members of your family. But we’ve all heard “The Twist” and “Runaround Sue” so many times some of us want to cover our ears whenever they come on. Fear not! I’ve got some not-so-played-out* older songs that are sure to get everyone up on the dance floor at your wedding.
“You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry: Sure Pulp Fiction re-introduced Berry’s 1964 Top Twenty hit to a new generation but “You Never Can Tell” has always been an under-appreciated party song. Berry released it just at the end of The Twist craze of the early 60s and it stands up today as one of the better songs to twist to, while avoiding the cliche of “The Twist” by Chubby Checker.
“Morse Code of Love” by The Capris: Despite the fact that this song wasn’t released till the early 80s it has the feel of a classic Doo-Wop hit of the early 60s. That’s because The Capris are a classic Doo Wop group from the 50s and 60s who re-formed in the early 80s and put out this fantastic swing song. If you’ve got guests who want to jitterbug but are sick of “Rock Around the Clock” then “Morse Code of Love” is your answer.
“Kansas City” by Wilbert Harrison: An often-overlooked late 50s classic, “Kansas City” has the right time signature for a swing song but it’s a little bit slower than songs like “Rock Around the Clock” which makes it easier for much older dancers to keep up with.
“More Today Than Yesterday” by Spiral Staircase: I’ve never really understood why this song isn’t a wedding staple. It’s upbeat (clocking in at a rapid 144 beats per minute) and the lyrics are perfect for a wedding (” I love you more today than yesterday. But not as much as tomorrow.”) And to top it off, most people recognize the song and will enthusiastically sing along. Replace “Brown Eyed Girl” in any playlist with this one and you’ll be happy you did.
“I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles: When most people think of a party song by The Beatles they tend to go with “Twist and Shout” (which is ironic because it’s one of the few Beatles’ songs the band didn’t write) but I think “I Saw Her Standing There” is actually a better choice. It packs way more energy and is just as sing-along-able as “Twist and Shout.” Plus I love hearing McCartney count the song in. You can tell how excited he was by how he (mis)pronounced the number “four.” Classic stuff!
“Rockin Robin” by Bobby Day or Michael Jackson: Personally I prefer the original version by Bobby Day because I think it packs slightly more energy than Jackson’s but they are both great examples of under-appreciated jitterbug songs.
“La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens or Los Lobos: Both versions have a terrific mix of rock and roll with a Latin flavor. The original is, of course, the classic from the much-too-short life and career of Ritchie Valens. The remake (from the 1987 movie about Valens’ life called La Bamba) punches up the beat a bit more which, for me, makes the song a little more danceable. Whichever one you play though you can’t go wrong.
“Having A Party” by Sam Cooke – 3 decades before Rod Stewart covered this song for his MTV Unplugged special, Sam Cooke had a Top Twenty hit with this party classic. Maybe I’m just biased because Cooke mentions my profession when he sings, “So listen, Mr. DJ, keep those records playing” but I do love this song. And what it lacks in high energy it more than makes up for in fun-swing and recognizable lyrics. What’s better than a party song about having a party?
“Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison: I love how this song starts off with four loud drum beats before kicking into the melody. And how the chorus is perfect to sing along with (even though there’s no one in the world who can match Orbison’s voice). And how it builds and builds and builds before ending on that last, transcendent “Oh, oh, pretty woman.” So many of Orbison’s songs are tearful and gut-wrenching but this one is just upbeat and happy and celebrates the timeless simplicity of a pretty woman walking down the street. It’s a perfect party song for any age group.
“Dance To The Music” by Sly and The Family Stone: Another song that just explodes out of the box as soon as it starts, this Top Ten from Sly and The Family Stone from 1968 has great party lyrics, encouraging the listener to “dance to the music,” and an all-time classic breakdown where everything falls away but the steady drum beat before various instruments get re-introduced back into the song. It is virtually impossible not to dance to “Dance To The Music.”
“Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett or Andrew Strong: There are a lot of versions of this classic rocker and while many consider Pickett’s to be the quintessential recording I have to admit (at the risk of committing rock and roll heresy) I have a slight preference to Strong’s version from the great 1991 movie The Commitments. But whichever one you choose, you can’t go wrong with this song and its catchy chorus of “riiiiiiide Sally ride.”
“Do You Love Me” by The Contours: This was one of the earliest hits for Motown and helped establish them as a record label to watch (they would, of course, go on to dominate the 1960s). The song also enjoyed a bit of a revival 25 years after its initial release when it was featured prominently in Dirty Dancing. Savvy DJs know to skip past the spoken intro and beware of the false ending. But in between, there’s nothing but sheer party madness in “Do You Love Me” which name checks various dances like The Mashed Potato and The Twist and poses the intriguing question “do you like it like this?”