The 20 Most Beloved Wedding Reception Songs of All Time, Ranked

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Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Wedding season is back, baby. For too long, we were kept away from the goodness of a beautiful, 15-minute ceremony, followed by four hours of open bar service, half-decent food, and of course, damn good music. And I can look past the food, but if I'm coming to your wedding, donning a full suit in the dead of summer, and getting you a wine decanter that you're certainly going to let collect dust, then you better have bops on bops for me to dance to.

Now, some history on this list. Initially, Esquire ranked the top 13 songs to play at your wedding: an eclectic mix of classics, new hits, and party anthems. Hell, we even threw in a couple niche tunes to play while guests got refills or looked at phones—selections that weren't totally stereotypical. And then the wedding vultures descended online, called our list more vanilla and dry than your sister-in-law's taste in bridesmaid dresses, and then questioned: Where are the staples? So I took time to think. What wedding songs should be added to the list and which should never be taken away? I revamped our opinions. What do we call that? Growth.

Some rules and caveats, before we get to Esquire's new ranking of the best wedding reception songs:

  1. Songs with dance instructions will now be included on this list, but only because of peer pressure. These songs get the reception moving, despite having little to no musical value.

  2. Ed Sheeran is specifically for the married couple. If he is played after the first hour of the reception, it's a wedding travesty. This includes "Shape of You," and anything else he "raps" in.

  3. Meghan Trainor has been permanently banned from this list, as she is the Tonya Harding of wedding music.

Now, onto the ranking.

20. "Dreams" - The Cranberries

This song is in the number 20 spot because it evokes joy whenever it's played, despite not actually being a great song to dance to. Does that make it worthless? I think not. On occasion, you need a refill song. A bathroom song. A talk-to-someone's-aunt song. And if such a song is playing, it should be a banger.

19. "Jump Around" - House of Pain

For when you want to jump around.

18. "Wobble" - V.I.C.

I'll be honest! I didn't particularly want to put "Wobble" on the list because it's an insane song. I mean, wobble, baby, wobble, baby, wobble, baby, wobble. But the thing that anyone well-versed in wedding playlists knows is that the "Wobble" does something inexplicable to people. People come to life when it starts. Same energy as Walmart on a Black Friday, but joyful. And for that reason, it must be included.

17. "Higher Love" - Whitney Houston and Kygo

This will not be Whitney's only appearance on this list, but damn if this song isn't a good one to have in your back pocket. A new entry into the canon, "Higher Love" gets the diehards on the dance floor. Thanks to Kygo, Whitney Houston's voice has found new life, years after she left us, and if there's one person who has the power to get people out of their chairs at a wedding, it's Whitney.

16. "Come On Eileen" - Dexys Midnight Runners

This song is specifically for that person in your family who insists he's Irish—even though it is definitely from England. People get amped for "Come on Eileen"—even if most of the lyrics make very little sense at all. It's a crowd pleaser with a killer beat. Too Ra Loo Ra Aye responsibly.

15. "You Are the Best Thing" - Ray LaMontagne

Looking for a slower song with a strong beat? Look no further. A solid follow-up to "Shout!" or something equally exhausting, Ray knows how to take it down a couple notches and make it romantic. It's the kind of song that doesn't require you to know how to slow dance, but makes you feel like you do regardless.

14. "YMCA" - Village People

If you think you can have a wedding playlist and skip out on every party anthem, you've never planned a wedding. But you can curb people's appetites by offering them one of the best of those anthems—"YMCA." It's also low-key about young gay men in the '70s cruising for sex, so between drunken bouts of Uncle Greg telling your friends how "he doesn't mind homosexuals, as long they don't do it in front of his kids," you can watch him throw up a Y for all that gay disco sex.

13. "Uptown Funk" - Bruno Mars

Do you love Bruno Mars? Do you hate Bruno Mars? Doesn't matter—trick questions. This song is one of those that demands a bit of dancing. It plays well with moms, but it's also current. And if you think I'm giving Bruno Mars too much credit, I will tell you that I'm not in the camp that loves him. "Uptown Funk" really is that song, though.

12. "Footloose" - Kenny Loggins

Again, this is a great example of a song that feels like a dance anthem but actually does not have any commonly understood dance moves to go along with it. But people hear "Footloose" and are obligated to move their bodies. At their core, that's what wedding playlist songs are supposed to do. The wobble is the vertical expression of erectile dysfunction. "Footloose?" A slightly less chaotic jam.

11. "You Make My Dreams" - Hall & Oates

I blame (500) Days of Summer for this song's introduction into the wedding reception canon. With the danceability of "Footloose" and the lyric recognition of "YMCA," the Hall & Oates special is exactly the kind of banger you're looking for after the drinks start hitting.

10. "Cupid Shuffle" - Cupid

The first of the two "instructional dance songs" on the list, "Cupid Shuffle" isn't quite the monster hit that "Cha Cha Slide" is, but it's still a massively popular track on the reception rotation. All that Aunt Margaret has to do is listen—to the right (three times), to the left (three times), now kick (four times), and boom. You're back to where you started.

9. "Love On Top" - Beyoncé

If four key changes don't get wedding guests on their feet, you need to go to a different wedding.

8. "Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey

You can't mess with a classic. If there's a song at the reception that the whole crowd will know every word to, it's probably Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." This isn't so much a dance anthem as it is a song where everyone stands in place and offers glances of affirmation to those around them for being so passionate about "STREET LIGHTS! PEOPLE!"

7. "We Found Love" - Rihanna, Calvin Harris

While slow dances are fine and well, you have to rebound hard afterwards, and "We Found Love" is just the track to do it. Rihanna comes with no gimmicks, stupid dance moves, or singalongs. She just wants you to have a damn good time at this Sunday-Best-Fast-Casual-Creative-Black-Tie wedding.

6. "Dancing in the Moonlight" - King Harvest

"Dancing in the Moonlight" is highly underrated. As the only successful single from French-American band King Harvest, it's also quite the legacy to leave behind. It's just one of those songs everyone knows as soon as they hear it.

5. "Valerie" - Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson

Weddings are complicated because if you play all oldies, then you lose a younger crowd, but if you don't tip a hat to the old favorites, you alienate all the aunts and uncles in the room. Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson's "Valerie" is the perfect crossover. With one of the greatest voices of this generation set against a melody that sounds like a throwback to the late '60s, "Valerie" is wedding song prime rib.

4. "Cha Cha Slide" - DJ Casper

Of all the posts written at Esquire, none have gotten as much vitriol as this list once did. Why? Because it didn't include "Cha Cha Slide." Upon reflection, I acknowledge the error. To quote DJ Casper, "This time we're gonna get funky (funky, funky)." The thing about the "Cha Cha Slide" is that not only will it get everyone on the dance floor (because it literally gives you the instructions), but it also highlights who is actually decent at dancing. Grandpa Robert clearly has no idea what "cha cha real smooth" means, but your cousin somehow has the capability to get within an inch of the ground without falling over. It's the veritable truth serum of wedding dance songs.

3. "Shout" - The Isley Brothers

You know how sometimes you want to get a little bit louder now, but also a little bit softer now... in the same song? That's what "Shout" offers—another crowd pleaser that pulls everyone onto the dance floor. There's a lot of screaming. A sultry little bridge. The onus of dropping to the ground and coming back up slowly. It's ideal for drunk shenanigans in the reception's eleventh hour.

2. "Kiss" - Prince

"Kiss" is a total ringer. You don't have to know the lyrics particularly well to get behind the beat, though if you don't, you should work on that. It's a good entryway song; it's not so fast that you're intimidated, but it sets the scene. At this point in the wedding reception, we're ready to say goodbye to overly emotional father-daughter dances and get to what's important: '80s pop and rock.

1. "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" - Whitney Houston

The understated crown jewel of every wedding reception. No one immediately thinks to get this in the playlist queue, but every time it comes on, people say, "Oh shit. Whitney. This overly iced buttercream cupcake can wait!" And this Whitney is top of the heap because she's speaking directly to you—you do want to dance with somebody! Weddings make even the strongest-willed among us a little soft, and by night's end, you do want to feel the heat with somebody. Preferably someone who loves you.

BONUS: "Baby I'm Burnin'" - Dolly Parton

When Dolly Parton plays, most people expect "9 to 5," but screw expectations, because you have the deep cuts. In Dolly's short disco stint, she produced "Baby I'm Burnin'," which will not just disarm the crowd, it will get everyone up and discoing.

BONUS: "Mr. Blue Sky" - ELO

Not a common entry on most wedding playlists, the classic "Mr. Blue Sky" will absolutely be a hit regardless, particularly among that cusp of Gen X and Boomer. Plus, if you want to get wild, you can whip out the Weezer version, which is almost as good as the O.G.

BONUS: "Phone" - Lizzo

Scene: The wedding is coming to an end. Everyone *really* made good on the open bar situation. You have lost your phone, like an idiot.

This song is your inner monologue, obviously, because where the hell is your phone? It's a deeply relatable anthem, dedicated to messy wedding guests who promised to give nothing shy of 110 percent. They're toasted. They're dancing. And they love a good beat.

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