While we’re on the ladies, you might as well consider LaVern Baker’s swinging, smoldering first release for Atlantic Records (1953), “Soul On Fire.” If you want a lost treasure, and don’t mind getting accused of ripping off the 2010 Blue Valentine soundtrack which rediscovered it, try Penny and the Quarters “You and Me,” which to my ears, has a riff similar to that of the Isley Brother’s “This Old Heart of Mine,” also useable if you don’t mind going way up-tempo. (It’s technically an unrequited love song, but nobody will hear the difference.) If you want to slow it way down, Curtis Mayfield’s “So In Love” is in my hall of fame.
There are any number of more contemporary songs that would work. Since I’ve already gone on long enough, I won’t include them. Doing so would require me to lyric-check for wedding appropriateness. The trick, I think, even if you pick something newish is for it to sound like it’s already logged some years. You want a song that comes sturdy and well-crafted, that can weather the storms, much as you hope your marriage will. To that end, if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably go with the perfect song, Tom Waits’s “Picture in a Frame.” It’s a song that arrived ageless. It could’ve worked a hundred years ago, and it will work one hundred years from now. The only problem with using it, for my purposes, was it arrived in 1999, five years after I was already married. That’s unfortunate for me and my wife, for whom it would’ve represented the perfect embodiment of our eternal love. Which is why I’m keeping it in my back pocket. My trophy wife, once she’s finally born, will probably love it, too.
What did I actually pick, in case you’re curious? As memory serves, I wanted to go with Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home To Me,” one of the yearningest, burningest soul songs of all time (the infectious yeah-yeah call-and-response on the chorus being sung by Lou Rawls). Though if you really drill down into the lyrics, the song is about a man trying to convince his woman to come home after leaving him. Probably not the best choice for a first-dance song. So unbeknownst to me, my wife swapped it out for Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways.”
This last is a lovely little underplayed gem. Though she caught me by surprise on the dance floor during our wedding. I must’ve looked stumped, because she said, “Remember, we slow danced to this in my room.” She might’ve been right. I don’t remember, as I’d made it to her room, and thus, had other plot points occupying my concentration. But I nodded in recognition of our shared history, hoping to make a lot more of it. I pulled her in by the small of her back, grabbed her hand, and swept her across the floor. Or at least I awkwardly shuffled her across the floor, since I’m not much of a dancer. Which leads me to our last do/don’t. Don’t dance (if you’re a straight man) unless you absolutely have to. But you do kind of have to first-dance at your own wedding. So if your spouse swaps out the perfect song for a song they think is more perfect, do pretend like it’s not a big deal. If it all goes right, you’ll be together forever. Plenty of time to even the score.
Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.