Randi Baird


First Dance Songs

Making memories.

Whether you’re swinging to Sinatra or rockin’ out to the Rolling Stones, the first dance at your wedding can be a memory you’ll treasure forever. Some of the Island’s most popular wedding musicians reminisce about “first dance moments” they’ll never forget.

Rick Bausman, drummer, Beetlebung Steel Band: The bride stood on the bow
of a small motorboat in a formal white gown, veil blowing in the wind. I stood,
also dressed in white from head to toe, on the stern playing a batucada, or Brazilian repetitive, fast-paced samba, as we rode across the harbor to join the rest of the wedding party assembled for the ceremony at Edgartown Light. As lead drummer, my music was a call to the rest of the band on the shore. They answered and we drummed back and forth until the bride and I arrived at the light. She jumped out and I jumped out after her (a little too far out in the water, so I ended up waist-high in the harbor). As soon as she stepped on shore, the entire band launched into a full-on samba and the bride and groom broke into an impromptu first dance. Moving to the beat, we all made our way up to the Harbor View Hotel for the rest of the wedding where we played more samba along with calypso and islandy music.

Eric Johnson, guitarist, bass player, and DJ: I’ve had some strange requests for songs in wedding play lists, not so much for first dance songs, but one couple requested the theme from SpongeBob SquarePants and another couple used “I’m So Sexy” for their entrance music. This summer, a couple asked me to play a very mellow acoustic version of the funky hip-hop hit “Hey Ya!” for their first dance. We started out with this smooth, peaceful rendition, then cut to the original funky version by Outkast. The couple, who had been slow dancing, changed to a pretty wild dance style and it was a big hit.

John Alaimo, pianist: About six or seven years ago, I was playing a wedding at the Beach Plum Inn in Menemsha with a bass player for accompaniment. Just as we were about to begin the couple’s first dance song, the best man called out a surprise request. “Play ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,’” he insisted. The bride and groom took it in stride, everyone sang the song and laughed. It wasn’t the first dance song, but it set the mood for a great celebration.

Jon Bates, band leader, vocalist, and drummer, The Jon Bates Band: I have
had some requests for first dance songs or other wedding songs that I felt were questionable. One couple said they loved the Beatles song “Yesterday” and wanted it to be their first dance song. I asked them if they had really listened to the lyrics and they seemed a little vague. I mentioned that “Yesterday” is a very sad song and is about the breakup of a relationship. I recited some of the words: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.” It clearly didn’t have a good vibe for a wedding song.

I also did a wedding where the groom suddenly came up with an impromptu dedication to the bride of Billy Vera’s hit, “At this Moment.” It was popular when they met and was sentimental to them. Again, if you listen to the lyrics, it’s a really sad breakup song.

Jeremy Berlin, pianist and member of Johnny Hoy & the Bluefish: We were scheduled to play a wedding at Edgartown Yacht Club and the couple wanted us to do “True Companion” by Marc Cohn as their first dance song. We didn’t like the choice because we felt it wasn’t a good match for our style, so we explained that our band “can’t do justice to this song.” The couple wouldn’t budge, so we bit our tongue and learned it. Somehow as we were playing it at the wedding, we started thinking that “True Companion” is really a dog and we began making barking noises as we performed. Everyone got into the spirit and I think we managed to get away with it.

I did hear a funny story about a recent wedding in Edgartown. Apparently the singer hadn’t been told what the first dance song was going to be – either that or he hadn’t learned it. The bride caught on when the band started playing and the singer didn’t join in. Just as she began to freak out, the bartender, who was also a singer, jumped out from behind the bar and sang the song. She nailed it.

Mike Benjamin, guitarist and singer, Mike Benjamin Band: We did a wedding last summer for a couple who had seen me play in smaller gigs around the Island for years. They chose one of my own songs, “Simple Love,” for their first dance. [Mike quietly sings a few lines: “All we really need is a simple love. And when the tears start falling and you feel just like you’re sinking down, I will jump right up and bring you to the solid ground.”] After we played it and they danced, the couple came up and showed me the inscription engraved inside both their wedding bands: It said, “Simple Love.”

We surveyed Vineyard musicians on their advice to couples about choosing a first dance song. Here are their tips:

Don’t over-think it. If you have a song that’s very significant to you as a couple,
use it – as long as it’s not going to offend Aunt Martha or Grandpa.

If the band you’ve chosen feels uncomfortable with your song choice because
it doesn’t match their style, ask if they can play the original on a CD or an iPod at
the reception. You know you can count on the version you fell in love with, so why take a chance?

Make sure you’ve really listened to the lyrics – all of them – of the song you’ve
chosen. Sometimes you can fall in love with a line or two, but when you hear the whole song the sentiment is totally wrong for the occasion.

If you can’t come up with a song you’re both happy with, ask your band for ideas. Some post a list of favorites on their websites. They’re generally love songs and they’re there because the band feels confident playing them.

Still stumped? Check the web for first dance songs. There are many sites devoted to long lists of popular choices, from classics like “At Last” by Etta James to Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately (that I Love You).”

Remember that a first dance song can become “your song” forever. There’s
something to be said for timelessness. As one Vineyard musician said, “A great
song stands up like great architecture. It’s called classic for a reason.”