This is a guest post from Chris Holland, the song nerd, and an award winning music programmer and radio presenter.

Let me preface this article with the disclaimer: Each wedding is unique to the couple celebrating. It’s hard enough for two people in love to decide how they want to celebrate their wedding, let alone read about advice from some other dude who’s only been married once. Music taste is also highly subjective. So my opinions are probably different to yours, and hell, there’s a good chance that I don’t like something you did, but hey if you’re still married and you had a great night, don’t let my criticism of your special event ruin your day!

Music taste is a highly personal thing

We all like songs from a wide variety of genres and eras, some which we’re proud to proclaim from the highest hills, others stay safely in our headphones. I believe the music you choose at your wedding is one of those rare big moments where you get to express yourself distinctively, and here’s the paradox: You should think seriously about it, but also instinctively.

The songs you love the most should come straight to your head – and from the get go – do not rule out using any of these first favourite songs from some part of your wedding because you think they may be unsuitable.

list all of your favourite songs
List your favourite songs, whether they be romantic, peaceful, satan-worshipping or otherwise. You may be able to find a place for them, and when you hear those favourite songs on the day, earn the most brilliant of smiles on your face.

Too many people fall in to the trap of thinking every song used must be a love song, or a slow song, or a song with a key-change and a video filmed with an industrial fan blowing the long hair of the lead singer as she croons, close to tears, under the moonlight. There are places for these songs, but they’re not the panacea and should not the hard & fast rule. In fact I promise you’ll have more fun at your wedding if you don’t use any at all.

we all saw you kiss so do we need another slow song?
You’re solidifying your love and celebrating it with the closest people in your life. They know you’re in love. Your mothers have already shed tears on the day, more than once, and it’s pretty clear to all that you two have a pretty great relationship. We all saw you kiss – A LOT. Do you need another slow song to further ride the facts home? Here’s my number one hard suggestion: Don’t automatically choose a slow love ballad for your wedding dance.

If you want people to dance and let their hair down on the best night of your life, why would you stop the party? I’m not saying play Skrillex (remember your Nana is probably there and she’s wearing a hearing aid), but what’s wrong with an uptempo song that you and the guests can tap feet to? You Got It – Roy Orbison. The Best by Tina Turner. Start your dance a bit close then bust out a few actions when the chorus starts. (Great sax solo by the way). Big Me by the Foo Fighters? A ripper would be Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen. Hell, even Love is in the Air.

Even the slightest “up” vibe will create a momentum of celebration, and might just spring that dancefloor in to prolonged action. Stopping for a ballad then hoping people start dancing again at the click of the finger mightn’t necessarily be the best course of action.

If the groom is scared to dance, it’s an easy solution to pick a waltz or ballad to shuffle along close with. If this is all he wants, the slow song may be the go. But maybe if you find the right song, you could get a little courageous movement from him!

If you decide a slow moment for your first dance is appropriate, then the next song where the family joins in could perhaps be the place you choose an up-tempo number. Rock that place full of joy.

It really just has to show how happy you two are – that’s the point. Nothing else matters.

Other musical moments of the wedding day

The first song of the day

As the bridal party enters the ceremony venue, you can play  The Wedding March, you can play Canon, they’re beautiful pieces of music. But what do they say about you? Nothing. They’re just nice ways to start a wedding. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you have missed the first opportunity to express your personality or relationship through music. What’s another beautiful song that you like?

The conclusion of the ceremony

Formalities over, you walk back down the aisle and people applaud, both smiling and crying. Here is a great opportunity to put your own spin on the event. It can be whatever you like. It CAN be that organ wedding tune you always hear, but it also could be Welcome to the Jungle by Guns n Roses. It’s celebration time, and with your Mum so focussed on her own emotions, you can set that party up however you like! Play a song that you’d like to hear when you’ve just made the happiest decision of your life and were about to celebrate it with those you love.

During the signing of the marriage certificates, we played Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles. A pure happy song, without being soft and gushy.

No matter what section of the day you’re choosing a song for, a big rule is: have a think about the lyrics of the song you choose.

I bloody love Hey Ya! by Outkast, it’s the best pop song since the Y2K virus. But it’s a song demanding we question long term commitment of marriage, suggesting we enjoy ourselves with a non-exclusive partner and move on to the next when the time’s right. It’s totally unsuitable! Other facepalm moments I’ve heard of include partners slow dancing to Hinder’s Lips of an Angel. Sure, any lady would love to be told they had lips like that, and that her voice sounds sweet. But the context of that conversation in that song, is that it’s taking place on the phone while THE MAN’S GIRLFRIEND IS IN THE NEXT ROOM. If that’s your love song with your partner, I suggest you find one that doesn’t give a blessing to the consideration of cheating.

True Love by Pink raises alarm bells too… do you really want to highlight to everyone that half the time you hate the person you’re marrying? Think twice about song subject matter. And just because it’s slow, does not mean it’s a suitable love song for a wedding.

So I haven’t provided my Top Ten List of Wedding Songs here. Music taste is subjective and personal, so the choices you make are totally yours. Reiterating – the songs you choose need only serve one goal: to show to those who care for you how happy you are to be in love. That’s the rule. This does not put boundaries on the music you select, so make yourself feel good. Don’t get stuck thinking your shortlist only comes from Bryan Adams, Mariah Carey, or that bloody Lonestar song.

(If you chose those songs, you’re still alright by me and I had a great time at your wedding. Peace.)

Post Script: Songs at my wedding’s benchmark moments so you can criticise me all you like.

Entry: The Way You Look Tonight – Frank Sinatra

Signing: Be Mine – Guy Sebastian

Good Day Sunshine – The Beatles

Conclusion: I Believe in a Thing Called Love – The Darkness

First Dance: 2 Hearts – Kylie Minogue

Parents join: Most People I Know – Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs (which became a free-for-all)

Final song of the night: You and Me Song – The Wannadies

If you use one of these songs yourself, give me a shoutout!

PPS: Also during the night we asked for Happy Together – The Turtles, Walking on Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves etc. to be played while dancing. We also provided a CD of pop songs to be played quietly during the meal service which included some great songs that kept the ambience we wanted: Big Me – Foo Fighters, Your Song – Elton John, Jungle Drum – Emeliana Torrini to name just three, a wide variety.

Oh and I threw in Her Majesty – The Beatles just for a laugh.

My wife and I love our music and wanted to have a few of our favourite in-theme songs that weren’t chosen for the key moments.

Any little thing to personalise your wedding while still tasteful enough to keep everybody happy. And the dancefloor was never empty.

Chris Holland is a multiple award winning commercial radio music programmer and radio announcer. You can hear him on air at Sea FM Cairns, or tweet him at @TheSongNerd and read his blog at thesongnerd.com