Toward a Unified Theory of Automatic Disqualification for First Dance Songs


This week The Knot offers “10 New First Dance Songs.” The first is a Sam Cooke song. Sam Cooke died in 1964, so you can tell that The Knot is operating under a wonky definition of “new.” But per usual, defying logic is only the beginning of The Knot’s offensiveness.

The second song suggestion is the Mamas and the Papas recording of “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

Ok.  So, Mama Cass sings lead vocal on that track, and I just Wiki’d it and the single was released under her name alone in the UK, but… uh… you know what the Mamas and the Papas make me think about immediately?  RAPE AND INCEST.  Why, why why, whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy, why why WHY is The Knot recommending anyone have their first wedding dance to a song by the Mamas and the Papas when we only learned last fall that Papa John raped his daughter a bunch of times?  Why don’t they at least attempt to bill the song as by Mama Cass to avoid that association by their readers?  [And honestly I don't think that would be good enough for me.  If they recommended "How Do You Talk to an Angel" I would think about Jamie Walters' 90210 character Ray Pruit being a loose reworking of his character on the Aaron Spelling-produced series The Heights, and about how Michelle Phillips played one of the Brenda replacements' moms on Nine Oh, and then think about John Phillips, and then think about rape and incest, and probably decide that alone disqualifies "How Do You Talk to an Angel."]

Ok.  So, to repeat: any song that employs a YouTube embed with John Phillips’ face in the background? UNACCEPTABLE WEDDING SONG.

I am working on a Unified Theory of Automatic Disqualifications for First Dance Songs.  For example, no songs that prominently feature a first name different than your own.  (So Bob Dylan’s “Sara,” even though it sounds like marriage more than any other recording ever in history, is eliminated if you are named Robin).  Also, no songs about real-life relationships that are unsavory in their beginnings or endings (So no Bob Dylan’s “Sara” for anyone, and also no Eric Clapton nor George Harrison songs about Pattie Boyd).

I have a third rule (applied above), but it is trickier: no songs by people who committed violence against women.  In application of this rule, I assume allegations are true.  I started to write a paragraph here about all the songs that disqualifies, but it is REDACTED because I started to WORRY ABOUT GETTING SUED by someone who according to him never beat anyone whose name rhymes with Schmaryl Schmannah.  [And I also started to worry about offending people who used or are using Lennon/McCartney songs.]

My third rule is pretty tough.  It also requires due diligence that you look up if someone allegedly beat women.  For example, when I started writing this entry, I knew that Sam Cooke was killed when he was young, but it wasn’t until I fact checked the year of his death to make a more specific  joke in the third sentence of this post that I read some more details about his death and realized he’s disqualified too.  When you cut out the misogynist musicians, you cut out a lot of tunes.  It’s like that killer third prong of the Bechdel Test.  No one said feminism would be easy.


  1. Really? Moldy Peaches as a first song? Hmm….

    • Also, I know it is pointless to get grumpy over this sort of thing, but I can’t help it: that Moldy Peaches song will not sound fresh to any of the ENTIRE EVERYONE who saw Juno TWO YEARS AGO. AHCHALKFBEWRNF>R.

  2. Sheesh! Next you’re gonna be outlawing The Wedding March just ‘cuz Wagner was such a integral part of the Third Reich!

    (Sarcasm, obv. It should be outlawed.)

  3. Maybe this is on the Knot list (not a member so it won’t let me past the second song), but Yo La Tengo’s “Center of Gravity” has always been my #1 choice for a first dance (if we do that), esp. because it’s a duet by an actual married couple who clearly love & respect each other to bits, despite having been in a band together for like 25 years now.

  4. Mine passes! I hadn’t thought of using the Bechdel test for songs, but it entirely makes sense, at least for the important three (processional, recessional, first dance.) IF you expand the limitation and also consider how most lyrics are about LOSS of love, it would be near impossible to have good wedding-appropriate music for the whole evening.

    • Congrats! I used to fantasize about dancing to “Then He Kissed Me” at my wedding, and then Phil Spector had to go murder a lady. Why wasn’t he thinking about ME and MY clear conscience when he killed that poor woman? What a jerk.

      • And that’s quite apart from his abuse of Ronnie Spector when they were married (telling her he kept a coffin in the basement, just in case she ever tried to leave him?) Yeah, thanks for ruining my favourite Christmas album, PHIL.

  5. I’m suddenly glad that we’re skipping the dance party and walk down the aisle because I would totally be boycotting music left and right.

  6. Did you know that I always said Sara would be my song (if I did that, if I were engaged, blah blah) and then Lauren was all, “You can’t have your song have someone else’s name in it AND have it be about a marriage that famously failed.” You and she agree, I see. But you and I also agree that that song sounds like marriage.

  7. first off, if you are using a moldy peaches song you should use ‘whos got the crack?’

    i love when people write lists of ‘obscure and unique’ songs because 9 out of 10 times its not. its hard to pick something no one else will. in conclusion, the knot is totally ridiculous and i should stop going on that site as should we all ( or atleast not so much or just to laugh)

    • Also, isn’t it good to have at least some of your guests be familiar with the song for traditional “first dance” purposes (everyone stares at you while you dance… often during the hour the open bar is closed)?

      The Knot is absurd, but I am grateful to it for the blog fodder. Also my mother-in-law says the guest list tool is very helpful.

      • I very much agree with your point here. Obviously it should be most about you and Collin, but really your entire wedding is a bit of a ‘show.’ This part, in my opinion, is one of the show-iest moments. More than any aspect of the reception (cake wonkiness, even people entering) I feel like, forks loudly drop and people STARE at the first dance. Like they will be shunned from partying the rest of the night if they do not. So whenever the music is weirdly quiet (DJ weddings) or the song is mysterious, people are more likely to start to whisper, be confused, and feel awkward.

        That said: I suggest Rockin’ Robin.

  8. Well, I pretty much feel enlightened–I wanted Dream a Little Dream of Me to be our first dance, and then my sister played it at hers, and now I’m glad it isn’t being played!
    I’m still debating what to play. I’ll have to use your guidelines because they are awesome.

  9. Awesome! Yes, feminism is hard. But thats another reason we want to DJ our wedding ourselves. To avoid douchy songs that make up most of the top 40 dance list.

    I have no idea what to do for our first dance. I kinda just want to skip it but think it would be a nice moment to have.

    • Collin and I have not even begun to discuss if we’ll have a “first dance.” And given that our venue is set up with the dance floor in a separate room, it might be easier to bag it than to keep it. Plus there is the matter of me being completely incapable of following my dance partner’s lead.

  10. Rule number three basically ruined The Office wedding for me. I know that it was based on a viral clip (and even then, I looked askance at those people for using that song, particularly because I think it was after Chris Brown had been exposed as a girlfriend-beater), but the whole boat thing was so romantic, and yet, all I could think of was “Why would you have a song by a known-girlfriend-beater play over the culmination of your romantic storyline?” And even though Pam specifically notes she didn’t want that song played, I still don’t forgive them.

    • Oh my gosh! Thank you for bringing this up because I was TERRIBLY REMISS to not mention this example. Did you know that the couple in the video ended up feeling bad that they made Chris Brown a ton of money and put him back on the radio after everyone thought he’d be shunned forever, and set up a a website to solicit donations to an anti-domestic violence foundation (http://jkweddingdance.com/)? While I think it was too little, too late, at least they tried to make up for it. And I agree The Office should not have perpetuated their error (and sent even more money Chris Brown’s way), particularly for a joke that will play so badly in syndication.

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  12. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m now kind of uncomfortable about our first dance song. It’s been our song since we started dated, long before I knew about certain allegations toward a certain male artist (which I’m inclined to believe). I’ll have to talk this over with the mister about the points you’ve raised.

    • I would like to clarify that this is my set of rules for ME and not a normative mandate. But it sounds like you have a really good approach: talk about it with your partner, think about it, and decide what works best for you. I assume if you aren’t going to create a viral video which will funnel money toward the artist in question. Use it if using it makes you happiest.

  13. Rule 4: No songs deliberately written for the purpose of being the First Dance. “I Loved Her First,” for instance, never ever ever should ever happen.

    • I think “I Loved Her First” is a daddy-daughter dance song. I maintain you could finance your next three albums by selling out and writing one of those, Paul.

  14. Ugh the first dance choice is so hard without bringing ethics into it! And yet, was told that I cannot have our wedding DJ list be entirely the Indigo Girls and Great Big Sea and some Stephen Kellogg in there (it’s entirely possible that any of these people are violent towards women/other women, but I don’t know because they’re not that famous.)
    I suggested writing our own waltz, but I’m so bad at music.

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