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Top 10 Wedding Songs and Wedding Oldies

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This is a list of what your oldies guide (me) considers the Top 20 wedding oldies -- not just oldies popular at weddings, or oldies about weddings, but a little of both. It's subjective, of course, but it covers the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies in search of what I consider the greatest oldies used in the wedding ceremony, and at the reception. If you have a suggestion for a wedding oldie, be sure and e-mail me!

1. "Unforgettable," Nat King Cole / Natalie Cole

The World Of Nat King Cole
Smooth and silky as only Nat can be, this 1952 hit became a smash all over again forty years later as a posthumous "duet" of sorts with Cole's daughter Natalie. Ah, the wonders of technology. Whichever version you prefer, this song remains a wedding favorite for its slow danceability (it works great for a couple's dance) and also for its lyrical insistence that this state of unforgettableness will last "forevermore." In that context, the duet even makes sense.

2. "Can't Help Falling In Love," Elvis Presley

Elvis: 30 #1 Hits
It's one of the most beautiful ballads in pop history, done by one of rock's most remarkable and identifiable voices. But what really sets this standard -- modeled after the French standard "Plaisir D'Amour" and recorded at Elvis' insistence -- apart from similar songs is the way it makes love seem inevitable. "Darling, so it goes... some things are meant to be." Indeed. It also doesn't hurt that the King repeatedly insists the woman in question take not only his hand, but his whole life too.
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3. "Let's Get Married," Al Green

Al Green IS love, but ironically, this is one of his least convincing love songs, mainly because he seems to be proposing out of boredom and a desire to stop "playin' around... a girl in every town." Oops. So why does this funky little number get played at receptions anyway? Because it's funky, for one thing, and because Green's angelic voice can sell anything. When the song breaks down and Al starts singing about making everything all right, you believe it. Even if you don't want to.
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4. "What A Wonderful World," Louis Armstrong

More irony: this song only became widely known -- Satchmo's signature song, even, eventually beating out "Hello Dolly" -- after a decidedly ironic appearance in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam." But Louie's version of paradise was so tempting, it couldn't help but touch the hearts of generations. This is one of those rare songs that makes the entire world seem right for a few minutes, not just the singer's corner of it. And that makes it perfect for wedding day.
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5. "Wedding Song (There Is Love)," Captain and Tennille

A minor hit in '71, this modern folk standard nevertheless got that way because it's perfectly suited to the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage: it imagines a benevolent God in the room itself, brought there by love, and actually quotes the books of Matthew and Genesis in order to sanctify the ceremony. This song was actually written by "Paul" of Peter, Paul and Mary for bandmate Peter Yarrow, and all copyright proceeds go to his charitable organization, which is one more reason to own it.
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6. "I'm Gonna Get Married," Lloyd Price

A fun little song, much in the same vein as Price's massive Fifties hit "Personality" (also not a bad choice for the reception). Here, "Johnny," not Lloyd, gets his intentions mocked by a sexless Greek Chorus of backing voices that declare him too young. But Johnny/Lloyd doesn't care, not when the woman in question makes him "jump and holler and bump my head into a door." Maybe getting married is a good idea, Lloyd, now that you mention it. And you're not smart enough to hide an aching heart.
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7. "With This Ring," The Platters

This 1966 gem doesn't sound like the more famous Ike-era Platters of "Twilight Time" and "My Prayer," and indeed, the two versions only have the name in common. However, this agreeable little pop-soul number is a perfect testament to the ceremony (or the engagement, anyway) since it portrays a man who no one ever thought would settle down, and yet does. That's what the ring stands for: commitment. And this is definitely the song for you if you're getting married on the beaches of South Carolina.
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8. "When We Get Married," The Dreamlovers

Although this, their biggest hit, went Top Ten in '61, the Dreamlovers will probably always be best remembered as the backup vocal group on Chubby Checker's big dance classics. This latter-day doo-wop ballad, however, remains a beautiful testimony to weddings in general. And not just the day itself, but the whole process: invitations, dancing, old folks cooing over the young couple, the whole works. A great slow dance for the young couple, and a fond daydream for the rest of us.
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9. "Hey! Paula," Paul and Paula

One of the last big old-school rock and roll ballads released before the British Invasion came along and changed everything, this sweet little number remains popular at weddings even though not many guys named Paul buck the odds by finding a girl named Paula to marry. However, considering that the singers themselves, billed as Paul and Paula, were actually named Jill and Ray, well, there you go. The song remains a perfect picture of blushing young innocence.
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10. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," The Beach Boys

Context is everything. Although this gorgeous and yet somehow rocking milestone in pop music (it was the leadoff on "Pet Sounds," after all) imagines two teens not old enough to marry, it still gets lots of airplay at weddings as a fond look back on the beginnings of young love. The production, songwriting, and harmonies, as usual, epitomize the aching beauty of same, and for those who view weddings as both an end and a beginning, this little symphony sounds like a sweet victory lap indeed.
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