Weddings are not kind to people who love music. Whether it's Kenny G. during the reception dinner or the funk medley traipsed out for dessert, the main matrimonial fare is inevitably heavy on the cheese.
Which seems weird. Here is a ceremony that is intended to cap years of romantic commitment, celebrating the couple's past and raising a toast to their bright and shining future. If it's not the best day in the bride and groom's life, it will certainly be the most expensive. And yet the sonic manifestation of all that unique, once-in-a-lifetime, stars-colliding energy is usually some guy with big hair wanking out lite jazz and a track-by-track visitation of K-Tel's Disco Rocket CD.
Crappy wedding music has, in some sad ways, actually become a great social unifier, spanning generations and bridging cultural divides. Vows may differ and wedding fashions change, but, Hindu or hayseed, you know the lucky couple is going to be dancing to "Love Shack" by the end of the night.
But the winds of change are blowing through the Bay Area's chapels and overpriced reception halls. A couple of music enthusiast friends of mine got married last month and hired a totally normal wedding DJ who, if left to his own devices, would have happily played "Macarena" all night long. But he didn't, thanks to a simple technology called the "Do Not Play" list. This, according to my friends, is an increasingly popular covenant that the bride and groom enter into with the DJ, clearly laying out which songs he should avoid if he is interested in getting a tip at the end of the night.
It seemed like such a good idea, this Do Not Play business, that it got me wondering why more couples don't rein in their wedding DJs in a similar fashion. Mostly, though, it made me desperately curious to know what songs brides and grooms are finding so repellent that they ban them from their big day.
I called up Mark Wakelin over at Platinum Entertainment. Wakelin's company DJs weddings all over the Bay Area. "The list is amazingly, amazingly consistent," he says. Couples, he reports, typically want to protect their guests from any song that has a dance associated with it. That, and Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."
"'We Are Family' is another one people hate," Wakelin says, chuckling.
When popular tunes end up on the blacklist, though, DJs are put in a tricky situation. If "The Chicken Dance" is outlawed, as the saying goes, only outlaws will chicken dance. If the entire bridal party sidles up to the DJ booth with a request for "Boot Scootin' Boogie," the DJ is going to have to make a difficult decision: Does he alienate the masses and cause a potential rift at the reception, or does he stick to the agreement made with the bride and groom? Most professionals know exactly on which side their bread is buttered.
"People will come up and say, 'Hey, can you play 'YMCA?'" Wakelin explains. "And we'll go, 'I'm sorry, we don't have that song.' And they'll say 'What! You don't have "YMCA?" How can you not have "YMCA," you're a DJ!' Of course you have about eight versions of it. People give us the most incredulous looks."
Over time, good wedding DJs learn to feign ignorance about a whole host of popular, yet likely objectionable, wedding fare. Oakland's Peter Sandifer, who spins records at weddings under the name DJ Boomerang, learned the hard way that EMF's "Unbelievable" fits into this category.
"A lot of people interpret it as a flattering love song," says Sandifer of the '80s hit (which contains such love-struck lines as "You burden me with your problems" and "I'm going to shoot through and leave you"). "I actually made the mistake once of playing it before I had listened to the lyrics. As it was rolling I was like 'Oh my God, this isn't a very good song to be playing at a wedding.'"
Sandifer has also noticed that enthusiasm for Do Not Play lists tends to break down along gender lines, with the bride-to-be much more likely to have a long list of verboten tracks than the groom. And after the bride, Sandifer has found, the responsibility of policing the DJ tends to be taken up enthusiastically by random inebriated family members.
"I was playing 'Dancing Queen' once at a wedding," he recalls, laughing. "A drunk uncle came up with a bottle of beer, and he tilted it above my record player and said, 'Turn this off right now or I'm dumping the beer on it.' Drunk uncles usually cause problems."
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